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I thought that the ISBN was needed to publish all books, but the KDP guide says that they will provide their own Amazon Publishing number.

I also want to publish on other platforms potentially, so should I get one anyway?

Are there disadvantages to publishing on KDP without an ISBN if you intend to potentially publish on other platforms at a later date?

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You'll get better rates from Amazon if you'll publish exclusively and you don't have to pay for the ISBN. I can't see any real problem for you, if you'll start without an ISBN. Usually you can get one at any time.

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  • Thank you very much Mela. I am not going with Kindle Select, but just the standard KDP. Do I still get better rates if I go exclusive with the regular KDP? – MoniqueH Mar 7 '16 at 0:52
  • I'm not quite sure. Would have to look it up. – Mela Eckenfels Mar 7 '16 at 16:49
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If you want to publish elsewhere, you will need to have an ISBN.

Consider the Amazon Publisher number as a national ID card for your book on KDP. It's necessary and only this is necessary on KDP. But if you want it goes on another publication circuit, your book have to got it's passport. It's the ISBN. But you can take it later.

Like Mela said, Amazon will probably give you more visibility if they have exclusivity, at least for some time. But I've to admit it's more a expectation than a certainty.

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I'm going to disagree pretty vehemently here.

You need an ISBN for printing no doubt about that. But if you're publishing only ebooks, all the ebook distributors (except for Apple) will stick an ISBN onto your ebook file. (so you'll have one for Smashwords, one for Kobo, one for Google Play, etc). There is absolutely no need to spend your precious dollars to purchase ISBN numbers; it's just one gigantic racket from Bowker to make money for doing nothing. It would be different if Bowker charged individual ISBNs for only a few dollars, but they sell individual ISBN for ridiculously high prices compared to what it costs to buy in bulk.

Even with Apple, it doesn't matter because you can publish on Smashwords, use Smashwords' ISBN to get it into the Apple store.

The Big 5 probably assign their own ISBN's to their books (partially because they are publishing in print too and have already bought a gigantic block of ISBNs in bulk). But individual authors have no need to do this unless they are thinking of selling printed copies as well.

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I thought that the ISBN was needed to publish all books[.]

To be clear, NO electronic book "requires" an ISBN. ISBNs are the basically the domain of printed books.

For electronic books, it is essentially superfluous. Much of the things that an ISBN is used for in the "real" world (e.g. sales tracking, returns, etc.) are either not applicable or are accounted for in other ways (e.g. downloads, customer order history, etc.).

Any "need" for electronic books to have an ISBN is dictated by e-book retailer policy and the desire of R.R. Bowker (who distribute ISBNs in the U.S) to make money -- not because it is practical in any way to that medium.

Here is a list of services you might (or might not) need an ISBN for when publishing an e-book through them.

ISBNs are purchased in the U.S. via R.R. Bowker and their MyIdentifiers.com service.

It's a bit expensive, but one thing to consider is that if you use an e-book retailer ISBN, they will be the official listed publisher for that work, not you. This is because whoever bought the ISBN is listed as the publisher and this is non-transferable.

Per this ISBN.org FAQ:

"ISBNs cannot be transferred on an individual basis. If a self-publisher wants to be identified as the publisher, the self-publisher must get their own ISBN. A printing company or publisher services company cannot sell, give away or transfer one of their ISBNs to a customer."

If that makes a difference, you should buy your own ISBN(s).

I also want to publish on other platforms potentially, so should I get one anyway?

The general recommendation is that every edition through every medium (hardcover, softcover, Amazon, Apple, etc.) should have a unique ISBN, so you will likely want to buy a block of ISBNs in this case.

Also note that ISBNs cannot be reused. So if a book goes "out of print" (stops being produced), the ISBN for that book can't be assigned to any other book. So you will likely need more than you think. =)

Are there disadvantages to publishing on KDP without an ISBN if you intend to potentially publish on other platforms at a later date?

Assuming I am reading this correctly, there should be no obstacle assuming that there truly is no ISBN attached to the book (i.e. not even one assigned by KDP). Otherwise, if an ISBN is assigned, not being listed as the publisher for the book could (potentially) create issues.

KDP guide says that they will provide their own Amazon Publishing number.

According to this KDP FAQ Topic, as you note, an ASIN (Amazon Number) can be used by Amazon, avoiding the need for an ISBN on KDP.

My Recommendations

Despite the silliness of ISBNs for electronic books, if you can afford it, I would buy at least 10 ISBNs, preferably 100, at least if you are semi-serious about writing (this isn't a one-off thing) and plan to publish on multiple platforms, in multiple formats or multiple editions. ISBNs do not expire and there are no renewal fees. It is best (again, if you are serious) to treat it as a "real" business and make a financial investment in that business.

Note, however, I would shy aware from Bowker's "extended" services, such as bar codes, etc. There are options for that later if need be.

I would also highly recommend you consider offering the book for download yourself. You certainly don't need an ISBN in that case. However, the trade-off are (of course) potentially marketing boost and technical details.

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