Does Your Ebook Need Its Own ISBN?
by Sue Collier
When I talk to authors about ISBNs and ebooks, they usually have two
questions: The first is do they need an ISBN if they are publishing an
ebook. The second is whether they can use the same ISBN for their ebook
that they used for the paper version of the book. The short answer to
the first question is—it depends. And the short answer to the second
question is simply—no.
Before we get into it, let’s backtrack a bit and talk about what an
ISBN actually is. It’s your ID number in the book world. An ISBN—which
stands for International Standard Book Number—is to a book what your
Social Security number is to you. The ISBN is a mandatory sales tool if
you intend to make your book available in bookstores, as it provides
the basis for identifying books in all industry-wide systems.
Bookstores, wholesalers, and distributors keep track of books solely by
The answer to the first question, then, is that whether or not you need
an ISBN for your ebook depends on your distribution plans. If you are
distributing your ebook only through your website via download, you
probably don’t need an ISBN. But if you plan to sell your ebook through
other resellers, you’ll have to find out what each website requires.
Amazon.com does not require an ISBN if you are publishing content with
Kindle. The website says, “An ISBN (International Standard Book Number)
is not required to publish content with Kindle Direct Publishing. Once
your content is published on the KDP web site, Amazon.com will assign
it a 10-digit ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number), which is
unique to the eBook, and is an identification number for the Kindle
Book on Amazon.com. If you already have an ISBN for your eBook, you’ll
be able to enter it during the publishing process. Do *not* use an ISBN
for the print book edition.”
BN’s new PubIt! service takes a similar stance: “You do NOT need an
ISBN to sell your eBook through PubIt!. If you don’t have an ISBN, just
tell us that you don’t have one by answering No when prompted. In that
case, Barnes & Noble will assign an internal 13-digit identifier to
your title for you when you submit the title to go on sale.”
Apple’s iBookstore, however, does require that you have an ISBN for
each title you intend to sell.
Other sites, such as SmashWords, Sony, and others, all have their own
requirements. If you plan to distribute through any of them, you’ll
have to check each site for instructions.
The International ISBN Agency "recommends" that publishers assign ISBNs
to each ebook format separately available. Which leads us to the answer
to the second question introduced at the beginning of this post: Each
format through which you publish your book requires its own ISBN because
this thirteen-digit numeral unmistakably identifies the title, edition,
binding, and publisher of a given work. So your paper book will have
its own ISBN, the audiobook will have its own ISBN, and the ebookits