ISBN: What They are and Why You Need One

Books are like people. Some are homebodies: personal projects that reflect the closeness and connection of family and friends whereas some are made to travel—to be sold, seen, and out in the world—to the shelves. Books on the move get an ISBN, or International Standard Book Number. Your ISBN is a 10-13 digit number that sits on the back of your book, and it identifies your book to publishers, libraries, book dealers, wholesalers, warehouses, and retailers. It connects your book to the book industry, helping it link into the chain of printer, distributer, retailer, and consumer.

At Blurb, we issue these for free with any trade book we print. The ISBN is the numerical fingerprint for each edition of your book. Softcover, hardcover, and ebook editions will all have a separate one. If you want to be able to sell your book anywhere, or list it in more than one channel, you need an ISBN.

You can still distribute the photo books you print with Blurb in the Blurb Bookstore without an ISBN. If you wanted to distribute your photo books with Amazon, you would simply have to Customer Service to get a free ISBN.

When you think of trade books, think of the sorts of books you might find in a traditional bookstore or on a best-seller list—novels, children’s books, non-fiction, and some photography. These books are made so that they strike the best possible balance between cost and quality. Photo books are printed, with heavy consideration for paper type, to give the best possible representation of an image. For trade books, cost is paramount; for photo books, quality. The sales intent is why trade books are offered at a typically lower price point and come with an ISBN.

A quick note: you can still distribute the photo books you print with Blurb in the Blurb Bookstore without an ISBN. If you wanted to distribute your photo books with Amazon, you would simply have to Customer Service to get a free ISBN and add it to your photo book’s back cover. If you have already purchased an ISBN we can then help you link your ISBN to your book.

An ISBN grants your book access to wider distribution channels: you need it to get into libraries, bookstores (both digital & brick-and-mortar), and in the standard database for all books in print. The database catalog lists the publisher, access and purchasing information, and descriptive data about each ISBN. It distinguishes your book from any other book with the same or similar title since titles are not protected by copyright. When people go searching for your book in any of these places, if they have the ISBN, it’s your book they find.

You don’t need an ISBN for personal projects where you’ll only print a couple copies OR if you are selling your books in the Blurb Bookstore.

Bottom line: You don’t need an ISBN for personal projects where you’ll only print a couple copies OR if you are selling your books in the Blurb Bookstore. You DO need an ISBN if you intend to distribute your book on Amazon and through Ingram, and whether you plan to sell or not, all trade books will have ISBNs. An ISBN helps you get your book discovered, makes it possible to track in distribution, and gives it sales capabilities. If you need that, take advantage of the ones we offer through our tools!

Check out our FAQs if you have any other questions.

Comment

  • Maharg says:
    Jun 24 at 06:42

    I’ve been getting ISBNs free on my photo books. Is this going to stop?

    reply
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