I’ve seen a lot of information on the Internet lately about what authors need for self-publishing, and one topic that never ceases to interest me are ISBN numbers and ASIN numbers. Up until I self-pubbed my first book, Chase of a Lifetime, I didn’t know the difference. My publishers took care of all this and the ISBN numbers appeared magically. At the time, I didn’t give it a second thought.
But there are a few things you need to understand if you are looking into self-publishing.
First, ISBN means: International Standard Book Number…this number identifies a book as unique. You can read the full definition here. It’s the least complicated definition I’ve found.
And ASIN means: Amazon Standard Identification Number…this is the number Amazon uses to identify products. In the case of Amazon books, the ISBN is the ASIN. You can read the full definition here.
In my case, with e-books I only want to release on Amazon, I don’t have to pay for an ISBN. I don’t need one. Amazon assigns me an ASIN and that doesn’t cost me anything.
However, if I release and distribute a book anywhere else…like Smashwords…I need the ISBN. They won’t recognize the ASIN from Amazon.
E-publishing services like Smashwords offer ISBN numbers when you sign up for a package, but someone is paying for it.
ASIN numbers are assigned to you through Amazon when you self-publish with them and they don’t cost anything.
But once again, you can’t use the ASIN number anywhere else. You can only use it on Amazon. I think that’s an important point to repeat. With my new release, Internal Desires, I’m putting it up on Amazon for three months to opt into the lending program. I won’t be distributing the book anywhere else for three months because this is an exclusive with Amazon. I love the fact that the ASIN number doesn’t cost me anything and makes my life easier.
This is interesting, too. You can buy an ISBN through a place like Smashwords, or another option is to have a free ISBN assigned, but you must state that the work was published through Smashwords. It gets even more complicated. You can read more here. In most cases the cost is affordable, though. And to be honest that’s what matters to me the most.
I have also seen other self-publishing services that will sell you ISBN numbers. The cost varies and I’ve raised my eyebrows more than once. So beware.
But there is a lot of information out there.
Bowker, a ProQuest affiliate, is the official ISBN Agency for the United States and its territories. The company is headquartered in New Providence, New Jersey, with additional operations in England and Australia.
You can read more here, where they go into a detailed explanation about self-publishing in general.
If I continued, I would only be repeating what others before me have said and written on the topic, but I did think it was important to point out the difference between ISBN and ASIN, especially for newbies who might be thinking of self-publishing…or even seasoned authors who would like to get their backlisted books out.
Now, as if that isn’t enough. You don’t need and ISBN or an ASIN if you are going to sell your book yourself. I’ve mentioned this before, how I think authors will one day be selling their own books on their own web sites and bypassing third parties altogether. This web site answers a few more questions.
If you are selling your book on your own, you are not required to have an ISBN. If you want to sell your book in bookstores, place it with distributors and wholesalers, and put it in libraries, you are required to have an ISBN on your book.
The ISBN not only identifies the book, but also the publisher. So if you have self-pubbed a book and a publisher acquires it the publisher will give the book a new ISBN.
It gets tricky sometimes. But I try to look at it in simpler terms, and I try to do this with posts like this one. I knew I needed either an ISBN or an ASIN when I self-pubbed my books because I wanted to distribute them widely, and I found the best and most affordable ways to get them. And that’s all you really have to know about this for now. Don’t let anyone charge you too much. And if you think it’s too much money, check around.