If you are considering becoming a publisher, International Standard Book Numbers or ISBNs are your license to practice publishing. You are not a publisher without them. If you publish a book without an ISBN you have simply bound a stack of paper. ISBNs are serial numbers for published books. They link books to both publishers and countries. This system of numbering books is a world-wide standard.
What does this mean to you?
It means you can get ISBNs in any country and they will be internationally recognized.
ISBNs have helped publishers, libraries, schools, and retail outlets keep tract of all items that can make use of ISBNs (written & audio titles, etc.). For instance, having US ISBNs entitles you to have your book listed in the "Books in Print" directory maintained by Bowker. This is the database used by libraries, schools and retail outlets to find books that are in print, soon to be in print, and out of print.
Getting Your Own ISBNs:
When you obtain your own ISBNs, registered to yourself or your own company, you are a Publisher. Those ISBNs belong to you and only you. You can not transfer ownership of ISBNs to anyone. You can assign them to titles written by various authors, but the authors will never have ownership of your ISBNs.
If you decide to become a publisher and publish your own work and/or the works of others all you need to do is obtain your own ISBNs. There are several ways to do this.
You can purchase ISBNS from Bowker, the US broker for ISBNs. You can also purchase ISBNs from other countries if you meet their requirements for obtaining ISBNs (Tip:
You can get an unlimited number of ISBNs from Japan for the same price as 10 US ISBNs). There are also countries that will assign your company ISBNs for free if you meet their requirements. One such country is Sweden.
Bowker - US ISBN Agency:
International ISBN Agencies:
Traditional & Vanity Publishing:
Traditional publishing is pretty straight forward. A Publisher (a person or company who owns their own ISBNs), offers to publish your title. They will negotiate a contract with you. You pay NOTHING for them to publish your work. They may or may not PAY YOU an up front advance (it depends on what you negotiate with them). They assign your title an ISBN from the ISBNs they own. Note: I will go over what a traditional publisher's responsibilities are once you have signed the contract in another post.
It is important for self-publishers to understand the various workings of "Vanity" publishers. These are usually companies that CHARGE YOU money to "publish" your book. These aren't terrible services if you understand and agree with the arrangement. The primary goal of these companies is to make money off of authors. No matter what they claim they will do for you in terms of sales and marketing, their goal is to make money off of authors. If you keep this in mind, you can make an informed decision about using a "Vanity" Press.
Another important thing to note about using "Vanity" Presses and Self Publishing Services:
"The ISBN identifies not only the specific product to which it is assigned, but also the publisher to be contacted for ordering purposes. If an ISBN is purchased from a company other than R.R. Bowker or through the special programs of the companies listed here (Aardvark Global Publishing Company, Bethany Press, Espressio, FilmMasters, Instantpublisher.com, Lulu.com, PPC Books, Publisher Services, RJ Communications, RKD Press, Signature Books, WordClay), that ISBN will not identify you as the publisher of your title. This can have implications for your business in the publishing industry supply chain. " - Bowker - US ISBN Agency