Blogathon 10/24: Changing numbers

I’m going to point participants of a writer’s group on FB at this post because the subject recently came up.

Hardcopy books (paperback or hardback) need an ISBN. The International Standard Book Number is a unique identifier used worldwide by publishers, booksellers, and libraries. The ISBN is the single point of reference; it’s the catalogue reference that refers to that book and only that book.

ISBNs are free in a number of countries (Canada, and Australia come to mind, but I think there are others). And outside of geographical boundaries, there are ways to get an ISBN for free, more on that in a moment. However if you are in the UK and you want your own ISBN (and I’ll circle back to the rationale behind this in a moment), you will have to buy your ISBNs from Nielsen. If you want one ISBN (for your single book, it doesn’t matter how many copies, or updated versions or reprints you produce), you pay Nielsen £91 for your single ISBN. If you’re producing a paperback and a hardback, you’ll need two ISBNs because they are viewed as different publications.

If you’re going to publish more than one book, you should considering buying a bulk order of ISBNs, where 10 will cost £174, 100 will cost £379, and so on. The good thing is that ebooks don’t need an ISBN. So if you’re planning on publishing four paperbacks and publish them as ebooks as well, you will still only need four ISBNs. But you’ll need eight ISBNs for your four books, if you’re planning hardback and paperback publications.

The question you’re probably asking yourself about now is ‘Why bother buying your own your ISBNs instead of using free ones from Amazon (or some other outfit)?’ There are two one-word answers to that question. The first one-word answer is Libraries. The second one-word answer is Ownership. Let’s deal with libraries first.

While libraries can (and many do) order books directly through the Amazon supply chain, books that use an Amazon ISBN can cause hiccups on the library ordering system. I only found this out by accident when I was recently talking to a librarian. Whilst senior librarians don’t mind using Amazon as a supplier, there is a resistance to ordering books that use Amazon ISBNs.

The second point I’ve mentioned is ownership. The ISBNs I’ve bought are mine forever. So, I’ve registered them to as the publishing platform. The books will still be printed by Amazon but, if I so desire, I can move printing to any company in the world. Book printed under an Amazon ISBN are tied to Amazon forever. But under my ISBNs, I am the legally recognised worldwide publisher.

Now let’s talk about the difficult corner I backed myself into.

When Tempest was originally published (January 2023), I opted for the Amazon ISBN because it was free and I didn’t know any better. Around October I had that conversation with a librarian which made me reconsider my choice. Then I found out I couldn’t take my book away from Amazon because that ISBN belonged to them, not to me.

So I went off and researched the whole ISBN tin of worms. The few writers groups on Facebook seemed to back up the argument that non-Amazon ISBNs were better for the writer than the free Amazon ones.

After talking with about twenty authors I decided to bite the bullet and get my own ISBNs. and that’s when I realised I’d backed myself into a corner. When you give a published book a new ISBN you are effectively creating a new book (because the ISBN is, as we’ve said, a unique identifier).

The difficulty is that if you give a paperback a new ISBN (create a new book) on Amazon, because you are creating a new book, you will lose all the reviews the book has picked up. The question I found myself facing was ‘How do I create a new book with a new ISBN and carry the current reviews from the legacy book to the new one?’

I noticed that the book reviews applied to both the paperback and Kindle versions. It didn’t matter which version the reader had read (and reviewed); because the versions were linked to the book, so were the reviews. So, using the Amazon publishing dashboard, I unlinked the paperback and Kindle versions, and then unpublished the paperback. That left the Kindle version out there with all the reviews.

Then I got the paperback cover updated to include the new ISBN and the ISBN barcode, and had the inner front page updated with the new ISBN and this, effectively, gave me a new (but unpublished) paperback. I also took the opportunity to correct a couple of errors in the manuscript that I’d been notified of. Then I waited 72 hours for the ‘unpublished’ status of the (now legacy) paperback to propagate around the Internet.

When the new inner front page, updated content, and updated cover were ready, I packaged everything up and published the ‘new’ paperback with my new ISBN.

After another 72 hours I went into the publishers portal on Amazon (as the legally recognised publisher of the ‘new’ paperback) and linked the existing Kindle and the (new) paperback versions of Tempest. A couple of days later, the reviews appeared against the ‘new’ paperback as well as the Kindle version.

I gave the book world another 72 hours to settle down, and then went back into the publishers portal and created Tempest as a series.

Twenty-four hours after that, I published the Kindle and the paperback version of Storm as Book Two in the series. Storm, obviously, was published under an ISBN that I own (I bought a series of them from Nielsen).

And that’s that, in the ISBN world.

It is worth mentioning that errors do get pointed out to me. One of the reviews of Tempest mentioned spelling errors but the reader/reviewer is an American whereas I’ve written the book in English British, not English American. But I’m very grateful for her five-star review 🙂

2 thoughts on “Blogathon 10/24: Changing numbers

  1. Wow, the world of ISBNs is a real minefield to navigate your way through.
    You could probably write a book about that.

    And e-books are ISBN free?
    I’m tellin’ ya: Kindle’s the way forward 🙂

    1. The funny thing is, there aren’t many (if any) books about ISBN management. It’s a topic that doesn’t get much of an airing except in the more esoteric authorish groups on FannyBucket.

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