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Vanishing $10 ISBN

Killing the cheap ISBNThe $10 ISBN is dead! We are sorry to report some sad news for our clients.  Someone has killed the cheap ISBN. Round up the usual suspects!

CreateSpace has dropped the $10 custom ISBN option. They now offer just three options:

  1. Free ISBN, which lists CreateSpace as publisher.
  2. $99 for a custom ISBN (a discount from Bowker’s usual $127)
  3. Buy your own ISBN from Bowker directly.

We recommend the Free Option. For most of our fiction clients, we now recommend going with the free option. It has been our experience that most fiction sells far more in e-book format than as a paperback. The exception might be if you expect a great interest from bookstores wanting to carry your paperback and are worried that the “CreateSpace-as-publisher” designation will cause them to reconsider. Frankly, most clients will not be carried by more than a handful of independent bookstores, and then it is usually due to a friendship the author has already established with the owner.

Non-fiction clients are a bit different. Such clients often have a much larger percentage of their sales coming from the print version. However, we would still recommend the Free Option to most, since a majority of print sales are still coming from Amazon. If you anticipate a large interest from other sales venues (college bookstores, specialty outlets, etc.) then maybe consider a custom ISBN.

Does this mean no more custom Imprint names? No, it does not. Many clients are still choosing to create their own imprint name, but are using it only on their e-books. They will still put their imprint name/logo on the print book’s cover and title page, but are choosing the CreateSpace ISBN as their official publisher for that version.

At Public Author, we still offer the optional service of researching imprint names and designing a basic imprint logo as an add-on to your book project.

Before we go on, let’s talk about some of the basics of ISBN.

What is an ISBN and why do I need one? All print books must have one. However, most online retailers (such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble) do not require an ISBN for an e-book, although a few will assign one. Here is how CreateSpace explains it on their website:

An ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is a unique 10-digit number assigned to every published book. An ISBN identifies a title’s binding, edition, and publisher. An EAN, or European Article Number, is a 13-digit number assigned to every book to provide a unique identifier for international distributors. The 10-digit ISBN is converted to a 13-digit EAN by adding a 978 prefix and changing the last digit.

We superimpose an ISBN barcode on the back cover (in the lower right corner) of every book we manufacture.

Who is listed as the “publisher” when I take a free ISBN from CreateSpace? Your book’s imprint-of-record will be listed as “CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.” They are some retailers who avoid any books from CreateSpace because they know it is a division of their arch-enemy Amazon but, for most authors, that enmity will have no impact on their sales. Frankly, most of our clients report over 90% of their retail paperback sales coming through Amazon already.

What about books I sell in-person? When books are sold by hand (at events, signings, conferences, etc.), there is no way for the customer to know who is designated the official publisher, unless they are one of the few people who can actually read an ISBN and know how to recognize CreateSpace’s unique prefix. You can still add your imprint name/logo to the cover and title page and they will not know the difference.

Who did this?

Who did this dastardly deed? For those suffering from Amazon Derangement Syndrome (ADS), the obvious one to blame is evil Amazon. They lured independent authors in with the bait of a cheap ISBN and then snatched it away from us! (Cue the evil Bezos laugh.)

But consider the facts. There is one company that has the monopoly on issuing ISBNs in the USA, and that is Bowker. While Bowker charges $127 per individual ISBN, when they sell in bulk they only charge pennies per number. Big Publishers buy these numbers by the hundreds or thousands and then shuffle them out to their various new titles and reprints under dozens of imprint names. CreateSpace also buys ISBNs in similiar quantity, but now all those numbers purchased from Bowker must be listed as coming from one imprint- CreateSpace itself.

Who is the culprit behind this change? Most sane people will point to Bowker, assuming that they are trying to squeeze more cash out of authors/ publishers, and that is a good assumption. But, then again, maybe it is CreateSpace who decided this, since it simplifies the process for them. Either way, this was probably an economical decision and not some nefarious attempt to sabotage the careers of independent authors. You can still get a custom ISBN, but now you have to pay $99 or go direct to Bowker and pay as much as $127.

For more details, talk to your publishing consultant at Public Author. As always, the pricing on our publishing services remain reasonable. You pick the services you want and we only charge one-time fees. Simple, yet professional author services.

Public Author


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