10 Interesting Facts About ISBN
This week our Indie Scriptorium group assigned me to write about that mysterious number listed in published books, the ISBN. What is it? Why do books need it? How do you get it?
A quick internet search reveals plenty of information, so I will endeavour not to reinvent the proverbial wheel. A simple and straightforward site which deals with the basics of ISBN can be found in Self-Publishing Australia. A more detailed explanation is offered in Wikipedia.
Hence, here are ten points of ISBN interest:
- The acronym ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s a system designed to allocate a unique number to every book published.
- This system was conceived in 1965 by British booksellers wanting to have a system for identifying and finding books. The current format was designed in the UK by David Whitaker in 1967 and was developed in collaboration with Emery Koltay in the United States
- Emery Koltay, was a refugee from Transylvania, had been a survivor and escapee of not just one, but several communist concentration camps. After developing the ISBN number, he then went on to become the director of the US ISBN agency R.R-Bowker.
- The ISBN code was introduced in 1970.
- Each country has an ISBN agency responsible for managing ISBNs for that country. In Australia the agency is Thorpe-Bowker.
- Books published after 2007, have an ISBN that is 13 digits long.
- The final number in the ISBN sequence is the “check”; a control that ensures that the ISBN has been record correctly. From what I can understand of the mathematical process, there is a formula that the ISBN has to go through to make sure it is correct.
- It is not compulsory to have an ISBN, but most mainline bookshops will not accept books for sale unless they have an ISBN. Also, an ISBN is handy when you first publish your book online as you can find it by typing in its ISBN in the “search” section of the browser. I have found that on Amazon, when I first published back in 2015, the book was so far down in ranking that it was invisible. Having the ISBN to type in helped me and others find my book.
- You can obtain a free ISBN for your book through some publishing platforms such as Amazon, Lulu or Smashwords. The problem with that, though is that those platforms then own the publishing rights which can come with restrictions to publishing elsewhere, or take your book off the “bookshelf”, as a relative of mine found out. Hence, if you want freedom to be able to print your books with ever whom and wherever you like, it is best to a buy private ISBN.
- From personal experience, when registering your book for a private ISBN, it is more economical to buy a block of ISBN numbers. In Australia, as mentioned, the go to is Thorpe-Bowker. Their website is easy to navigate, especially once you sign up and register an account. I suggest if all things computer confound you, fix yourself a cup of tea or coffee, sit down make yourself comfortable, then taking things slowly, follow the step by step instructions. You may find having ready all the details pertaining to your book, for example: synopsis, cover, dimensions, idea of price etc., will help with a smooth process. And, if you get stuck, don’t panic, you are able to save your progress, have a break, collect the information you need, and come back later.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2023
Feature Photo: Seeing the wood for the trees, Chookarloo Camping Ground, near Kuitpo Forest © L.M. Kling 2017
[Kuitpo Forest is a forest plantation ensuring sustainable timber for South Australia. Relevance? Print books are made with paper which comes from trees.]