In the last couple of weeks I have been asked this questions at least a half dozen times. Frankly, this is something the industry is still figuring out, but the “industry” (meaning NY) doesn’t really understand eBooks yet. So, what is an ISBN anyway?
ISBN: International Standard Book Number
This is a 10 or 13 digit number that is used to identify a particular book. The main purpose is establish and identify one title or edition of a title from any given publisher. The ISBN itself has imbedded meaning. There is a group or country identifier. A Publisher identifier. A title identifier. And the the final digit in an ISBN will validate the ISBN. One thing I want everyone to focus on is the part that covers the Publisher Identifier. When you get the “free” ISBN from places such as Smashwords, they are the publisher, not you. I do believe you can pay 10$ to have the assigned publisher be you, but I’m not exactly sure how that works.
Generally (and in the past) the ISBN helped with ordering through bookstores and libraries. With the introduction of eBooks, it became standard to have two ISBN assigned to one book–but it represents two formats. At Cool Gus Publishing we track sales by ISBN for Print and for eBooks. Granted, KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Pubit don’t require ISBN, but I highly recommend you use it. Which brings me to the question: Do I need one for each format? for each platform?
There is a lot of discussion on this topic and a lot of confusion.
Here is the deal. You need an ISBN for your Print edition, if you have one. Why? Because that is how the book will be distributed/ordered, etc. Even if you don’t have “distribution” the ISBN is how someone in Barnes and Noble physical store is going to look up your book, place the order so you can come and pick it up in the store. It is also how your books are pushed into the system if you use something like Lightning Source as your POD service.
Then you need an ISBN for your eBook. You need one ISBN. Not one for Kindle, one for Apple, one for B&N, etc. And here is why. The file types these platforms and devices use are what is know as a reflowable eBook. The file extensions such as epub, mobi, pdp are basically interchangeable. Yep. They are. A mobi file can be easily converted to an ePub file and vice verse.
Now, one could argue that the PDF edition should have its own ISBN because technically a PDF is not a reflowable format. Its a static-paged format. But how many people are buying PDF’s? Okay, at Cool Gus Publishing we do sell a fair amount of PDF’s to customers who don’t have eReaders and don’t want to buy the print edition. But on most of the major platforms, PDF is not an option. Kindle has Mobi, Nook as ePub, Apple has ePub and Kobo has ePub. So, in reality you only need ONE ISBN for your eBook.