I am preparing my book for print-on-demand through Amazon's CreateSpace service, and I am trying to understand the options for getting an ISBN.

I am a little confused. CreateSpace offers a "free" ISBN, and calls it an "ISBN", but says "This ISBN can only be used with the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform." So... it's not really an ISBN, it's just an internal version of an ISBN that only works within Amazon's services?

It seems that buying an ISBN elsewhere, even though I've read hints here and there that it is possible to do it for cheap or free, seems to cost around 125 US$, or the equivalent in other currencies (I've looked at Canadian and UK options). That CreateSpace is offering me one for free does seem appealing.

Is this ISBN offered by CreateSpace a real ISBN or not?

And this is my main question: If I go with CreateSpace's free ISBN now, and then later I the opportunity comes up (or I just decide) to make my book available through distribution channels, can I then buy a "regular" ISBN and go with that? Would I need to?

(Please note that I am not American, and a lot of what I've read on the internet is very focused on options available for people in the US, which makes me even less certain of my options.)

  • Having decided to s/p my latest book series I just want to say how immensely grateful I am for all the info provided above and I shall now apply to join this group. Hopefully I will be able to supply some answers in the future. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 8:10

6 Answers 6


CreateSpace ISBNs are real, legitimate ISBNs. You can use them to distribute your book anywhere in the world.

The key limitation is this: If your book has a CreateSpace ISBN, you must buy your copies from CreateSpace. That is, you can't use another printer to print books with an ISBN you got from CreateSpace.

You can find the "details" here: https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/ISBNs.jsp

I put "details" in scare quotes because it is not obvious (to me, at least) what some of the terminology means.

CreateSpace Free ISBNs. For the free ones, you have to use CreateSpace's imprint (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform). That has the disadvantage of making it obvious that your book is self-published. Some bookstores frown on stocking books with the CreateSpace imprint.

CreateSpace $10 Custom ISBN. CreateSpace offers a $10 Custom ISBN, and you can use whatever name you want for the imprint. If you use that, CreateSpace will distribute your book to bookstores. They will not distribute it to libraries and academic institutions. This Custom ISBN is a ton cheaper than the Bowker price for a single ISBN. (And I think Bowker's price is going up by 50% in a few weeks, though maybe that's only for batches of 1000 ISBNs.)

Your own ISBN. If you use your own ISBN (as I do), you can put your own imprint on the book. CreateSpace will handle the distribution through the channels you choose (with some limits), and will print the books for those channels. You can distribute the book yourself through other channels, and you can get them printed wherever you like (CreateSpace or elsewhere).

CreateSpace $99 Custom Universal ISBN. I'm not clear on the benefits and limitations of this one. It looks like it has all the benefits of an ISBN you obtain from a registrar, but at a slight discount from Bowker's single-ISBN price. I'm not confident that I understand this option fully.

One ISBN per edition. No matter where you obtain your ISBN, you may use it only for one edition of the book. If you publish multiple editions (audio, ebook, another trim size, a significant change of content), and you want ISBNs on those, you will have to obtain a distinct ISBN for each.

  • 1
    So, an ISBN is tied to the particular published edition, a particular physical manifestation of a title. I thought it was a reference to the content, and that all physical manifestations were, in essence, children of that content that inherited the same ISBN. If I've got that right, it seems that having an ISBN tied to this Amazon publication is basically harmless.
    – Questioner
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 14:54
  • Think of an ISBN as being like an item number in a catalog. If you have a regular edition and a large-print edition, or the first edition and the updated second edition, each must have its own ISBN. Otherwise there would be no way for purchasers to specify which they want. A given seller COULD have their own, separate catalog number to identify different editions of a book, but then what would be the point of having ISBNs?
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 17:19
  • Dave: Using the free CreateSpace ISBN does not in any way limit what you can do with other editions of the book. The one disadvantage is that CreateSpace will be listed as a publisher. If that matters to you (and it matters a great deal to me), use one of the other options. Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 19:24
  • 1
    First, I'm trying to build my publishing brand. That means I want my imprint on my books. Second, book stores sometimes hesitate to stock books whose imprint marks them as obviously self-published or POD. So I want my books to appear to come from a real publisher, which they do (albeit a publisher with a very limited stable of authors). Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 1:41
  • 1
    Worth noting that according to createspace.com/Products/Book/ISBNs.jsp CreateSpace’s ‘Custom ISBN’ and ‘Custom Universal ISBN’ options are only available to U.S.-based members. If you are outside the U.S., your only options are the basic free CreateSpace ISBN (which will see your book listed as being published by CreateSpace) or supplying an ISBN of your own.
    – RickL
    Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 13:50

The original question: "If I get a free ISBN through Amazon's CreateSpace now, will that impact any decisions about getting my own ISBN later?"


But I would add to what others have written above. Amazon CreateSpace (not including KindleSelect) does not restrict you from selling your book elsewhere. You just cant use their ISBN to publish the book elsewhere. They say: "This ISBN can only be used with the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform." That doesnt restrict you from selling your book anywhere. Its just got to be done through Amazon. Thats why the ISBN is free. If you later want to publish the book yourself through a fake publisher or your name, or through a real publisher, then a new ISBN will have to be assigned. And it can. Amazon cant stop you (unless you signed up for one of their special Kindle packages that might restrict that for a few months).

But personally, I wouldnt use the free Amazon ISBN. The main reason is in the imprint, it still has them listed as publisher. And thats going to not be as accepted into bookstores and libraries, mainly because its a print on demand book (ie lower quality than offset). Also, if you get your own ISBN now, you can not only use it at Amazon (with some distribution channel sales restrictions) but use it to print your own books and sell them. And some online retailers might also be willing to buy your books as the publisher you now are, because you have a real ISBN with a real publisher.

Thats my advice.....of course of you cant afford to buy the ISBN's thats another story.


You should check into the requirements to get an ISBN in your own country. In many countries you can get one for free, which will then be your own that you can use as you like.

For my first book, the publisher gave me an ISBN of theirs. For my second book, I bought a block of 10 ISBNs from Bowkers, the American distributor of ISBNs. I think it cost me $250 for 10, which, if I do the intense calculation, comes to $25 each. I've only used one so far, but when I finally get my next book out -- so many distractions and procrastination! -- I'll have another available. I may not get through all 10 in my lifetime, but hey, maybe when I retire from my day job I can get serious about writing.

I think Dale Emery went through Create Space's options nicely so I won't repeat his material.

Note that if you were to start out self-publishing a book, and then managed to convince a mainstream publisher to pick it up, they're going to use an ISBN of their own, not one you bought and not one from Create Space. So that's pretty much a non-issue.

If you get a Create Space ISBN and then sell the book door to door or from your own web site, I don't think there's anything that would stop you from selling the book with the Create Space ISBN, as long as the copies you sell are still printed by Create Space. If you went to another printer, then there might be issues with using a Create Space ISBN.


Please note that the "N" in "ISBN" stands for "number", so "ISBN number" actually means "international standard book number number".

If you look at the structure of an ISBN you will note that it is made up of parts that identify, in this order, the country, the publisher and the publication. Actual terminology is different, but for this explanation these terms are more comprehensible.

So if you publish (!) your book through the publisher (!) Amazon, the book will get an ISBN that says that the publisher of that book is Amazon.

If you buy your own ISBN, then you are the publisher, and obviously you cannot use that ISBN to publish through another publisher, like Amazon.

At the same time, you can of course publish the same book through several publishers at the same time. For example, the US Science Fiction Book Club often publishes books (under their own ISBN) that are available through the original publisher, also. Usually distribution channels differ for these different publications of the same book. Or, another example, different editions of the same book (hardcover, paperback, movie-tie-in etc.) are sometimes published by different publishers (or different imprints of the same publishing house) and carry different ISBNs. Or, a last example, some, usually large scientific, publishers have dependencies in multiple countries, and sometimes the same book has multiple ISBNs, one for each country.

So, your book can have as many ISBNs as you want, but the publishers that you work with might not agree to such a publication scheme, because if they put money and effort into publishing and marketing your book, they might not want other publishers to profit from their effort. I would suspect that Amazon's contract details forbid you to publish your book elsewhere, if you publish it through them. So read their terms and conditions, before you employ their services.

  • Well, Amazon is quite happy to print and distribute a book with an ISBN that belongs to you. I did that for my second book: I am now technically a publishing company, but Create Space prints the book and it is sold on Amazon.
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 13:22
  • Amazon does not claim to be the publisher of books which use non-Amazon ISBNs. The analogy is a bookstore: a bookstore sells many books, none of which it publishes. Amazon happens to act in both capacities: as a bookstore for third party publishers and as a publisher AND bookstore for books sold under its own ISBNs. Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 20:20

I arrived at your question from my query: should I use a CreateSpace ISBN? so my answer is not so much answering if having a CreateSpace ISBN will impact decisions about getting another ISBN, but it does shed light on another important consideration for allowing an entity other than yourself to contol the ISBN: metadata.

Metadata is how people will find your book while searching for it.

This mediashift article has a handy screenshot of the metadata you can enter on Bowker.

You will have the opportunity to insert gobs of data here — title, author, description, number of pages, size, language, currency, copyright year, date of publication, contributors, category, title status (out of print, active, etc.) price, currency, and a photo of your book cover.

The article goes on to state:

The ability to control and edit the metadata for your book whenever necessary is a key reason you need to buy your own ISBN direct from Bowker and to not let an author services company buy it for you.


Over the past 90 minutes of searching that I've done trying to educate myself, I haven't been able to find the definitive answer on the metadata you do control if you use CreateSpace's free ISBN. I'll have to report back, when I go through the process.


In answer to your question, the ISBN from CreateSpace is a real ISBN, but some people don't like it because it is under the "CreateSpace" name. So for example if you don't want to have your book listed on Amazon with the publisher name "CreateSpace", then you might consider alternative options.

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