We are all familiar with seeing barcodes on the back cover of books, and most authors know that books and ebooks also have a unique identifier, the ISBN.

An ISBN is a must-have, a requirement for your book. It provides your book with its own identifier, and bookstores and libraries use this information for ordering and tracking information. It also ascertains the book’s publisher of record. If a publishing house assigns an ISBN to your book, they become the publisher of record. Ideally, for self-publishers starting out, you will want to be your book’s publisher of record.

A barcode is not required but definitely recommended for printed books and is generated using the ISBN and the price you have assigned to the book.

As an author, you might have learned that big sites like KDP and IngramSpark give your book a free ISBN number, and will even put a barcode on your book cover for you … free of charge. However, they then become the publisher of record for your book (the book is now associated with the service’s imprint, not with your imprint). AND, what you might not know, even though it is the same book, the ISBN cannot be used interchangeably at either company. Meaning: If you allow KDP to assign your book an ISBN, you cannot use that same ISBN at IngramSpark. This could potentially start mucking things up as you work to get your book distributed through different avenues.

It is strongly recommended that you purchase your own ISBN(s) for your book(s). That way, you can apply one ISBN to a book (and another to your ebook), and upload it to any publishing platform you choose. When you do this, you remain the book’s publisher of record.

TIP: Avoid the “stigma” of using your name as the publisher of record. Create a publishing company name. Later, as your book takes off, you might consider making your publishing company into a real business. But, for the sake of purchasing ISBNs and maintaining yourself as your book’s publisher of record, create a publishing company name. Do your due diligence and be sure the name you pick is not used by someone else. An intense Google search is a good starting point for this.

One place to purchase ISBNs is Bowker.com. One ISBN is currently $125.00. If you are a prolific writer and plan to write several books, or if you are publishing your book in several different formats, you can bulk-buy 10 ISBNs for $295.00, or 100 for $575.00.

Please note that each format of your book will require its own ISBN. Hardback would have one, paperback would have another, and EPUB would have still another, for example.

You can also purchase a barcode for an ISBN for $25.00 while at Bowker.com. Barcodes are not needed for ebooks, but for printed books, they are. It makes the ease of ordering them and tracking their sales, inventory, cataloging, etc. easier for booksellers, making the book more appealing to book buyers and libraries. Before having the barcode generated, you will need to know the price. So, at Bowker.com for instance, when you purchase both an ISBN and a barcode, wait to generate the barcode until you are about to print the book. You will know your price by then.

NOTE: If, at any time, you change the price, a new barcode will need to be purchased and generated. Also, if you make any changes to your book and make it a new edition (2nd edition, 3rd edition, etc.), you will need a new ISBN and barcode.

So, while your book is being edited or formatted, obtain its unique ISBN(s) to be included on the copyright page. As for the barcode, be sure your cover designer leaves the appropriate amount of space for it on your back cover design, lower right corner, positioned at least .25” from the spine and trim of the cover.

Let me know if you have any questions and, if I don’t know, I will investigate!

ISBNs and Barcodes