Use Your Own ISBN

If you are preparing to self publish, you need to make a decision about the ISBN that you will assign to your book. Will you use an ISBN provided by your self publisher or will you supply your own?

About ISBNs

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is unique to each format of each title published. It’s permanent, once assigned it cannot change, and it cannot identify multiple formats or editions of a title.

ISBNs are assigned at the country level by an administrative body, sometimes governmental, sometimes private entities. In the United States ISBNs are managed by Bowker

Your Own ISBN

An ISBN is property. Once you buy it, it’s yours and you are free to attach it to your book (provided your book doesn’t already have a number). Since the number is yours, you get to choose the publisher of record. This is a major benefit to the self published author; with your own ISBN you can list yourself or your publishing company as the publisher of record, helping you shed the (obsolete) stigma of self publishing. If assigned by a self publishing company, that company will be the publisher of record.

There is always a ‘but’, and it’s often the same: cost. Obtaining ISBNs in the United States isn’t free, in fact it’s probably the single most costly part of preparing your book. ISBNs in the US are sold by Bowker individually or in blocks of ten, 100, and 1000. The price per ISBN drops substantially as you buy larger blocks, but for most self publishers just starting out, a block of ten is the preferred option. Ten ISBNs cost (currently) $250, or $25/number, whereas an individual ISBN (again, currently) costs $125 (you may be able to obtain through your publisher at a discount). The economy of the ten block comes when you decide to publish two titles, or one title as a Create Space trade paperback, Kindle version, epub, and mobi formats (again, each must have a distinct ISBN).

Publisher Supplied ISBN

There’s nothing wrong in using a publisher (such as Create Space) supplied ISBN. It’s free to do, and easy. However, the publisher of record will be the self publishing company you use; because the self publishing firm owns the ISBN, they are not obligated to cede it to you should you decide to publish the title elsewhere.


  • Each title, edition, and format must have its own ISBN.
  • Self published authors have the choice of whether to use an ISBN supplied by their self publishing firm or that they procure. 
  • Self published authors are usually better served using their own ISBNs, and should strongly consider buying a block of ten. 
  • Oh, and one more thing, there’s no need to buy a barcode from Bowker, your cover designer can produce it based on the ISBN, or you can use web based software to do so.

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