ISBN Monopoly or An Inefficient Way Publish Books

I’m frustrated. After writing a book and wanting to Self-Publish it, I ran into ISBN numbers. Apparently, authors need to understand them as otherwise, they can get into a lot of trouble.

Essentially, it is a mess out there. And while some people are trying to explain what is what, it is still easy to get lost. I’ll try to keep it simple. An ISBN is like a legal contract that, which if you sign with a wrong person, can limit the amount of sales you can do, or even worst you just give all rights to your book to someone else. Great right?

But authors need to have ISBN numbers and that there is no way around it. In fact, they need several numbers each one costs approximately $125 USD (cheaper if you buy in bulk).

Here are some people you can offer ISBN numbers, but you have to be careful with:

CreativeSpace – Amazons Self-Publishing platform (one of the two main players, another one being Ingram Spark) that offers a FREE ISBN. Thank you, Amazon, but by getting ISBN from them some companies will essentially refuse to work with you. This has probably something to do with how Amazon behaves like a bully on a publishing market [1]. Thanks, Amazon.

– All non-legal resells of ISBN numbers – These are people who buy ISBN from authorities and resell them at a cheaper price. These are the people who you can give away your rights to your book if you use their number.

So here what you should do:

– Buy an ISBN from a registration authority (e.g., Bowker in US), which are essentially a monopoly who you have no chance but to go use. And you need to pay $125+ per number, with some discounts possible if you buy them in bulk.

– Buying 10 ISBN numbers, which cost around $295. This is the best option because you need several ISBNs. One is for your ebook, one is for a paperback, and one for every file format jpg, jpeg, pdf, mp3, and so on.

– Or you can get a publisher, who probable will provide you with their ISBNs, barcodes, and everything else that you may need, which is acceptable since you are already signing a contract with them with clear rights/obligations.

Here are some other problems you can run into online:

– Advice on the Internet is confusing and all over the place. I spent two days researching and still made several mistakes.
– I first accepted a free CreativeSpace ISBN, which in a short-term, hopefully, will be no problem, but in a long-term, I might want to change. Still, I need to research if I can even change my ISBN, as once assigned you can’t use.
– ISBN authorities are location based, meaning that you have to research who exactly will represent you. Sometimes these authorities work only with publishing houses with can be a bit more tricky for self-publishing. Also, some of these authorities are just resellers, meaning that still have to double check who we are working with.
– Even the ISBN authorities have horrible user non-friendly websites because quite honestly they just don’t care. People have no choice but to deal with them because they are monopolies (which supposed to be illegal) and they have to pay fixed prices (which also supposed to be illegal).

ISBN Overview

Overall we are dealing with a system that is in place since 1965, meaning that it is outdated, inefficient, and illegal, but no one is doing anything about it, showing once again how screwed up our society is.

I had a lot of problems getting the right information on ISBN numbers and on publishing overall. I had problems finding any authors that would help me with advice. I still not 100% sure of anything. Still, please reach out to me, and I will offer my best advice to everyone who will want it, as I would want someone to do the same for me.

Let’s change the world through our writing!


The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

Article by Roman Russo

Author, Blogger & Happiness Coach. Just published my first book called - HOW TO ACT NORMAL !!! It is about how Marketing failing to make us Happy and what we can do about it. Indeed, we are surrounded my marketing every day, but we seldom think what is an accumulative effect of all these ads does to our Psychology and Happiness. Still, happiness today and forever is possible. The only thing we need it to change the way we think! The goal is to make this world a happier place for everyone to live, as happier world will be a better place to live in. Do you agree? Please help me spread this cause!

This Article Has 2 Comments
  1. Standards bodies and those that issues “addresses”, “licenses”, or “permits” are perfect examples of network effects. Unfortunately their pricing doesn’t reflect the social benefit that should be shared with the participants (registrees). As with a universal service settlement system, network effects math needs to be better understood to develop algorithms that make this process more automatic and in the process ultimately more generative and sustainable.

  2. The algorithm of course needs to reflect the marginal cost/usage difference among the end points which is what naturally leads to consolidation and monopolization within the value ecosystem; ie what Bowker or the book publishers achieve vis a vis ISO. See my comment on your property rights blog.

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