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An ISBN of My Own

Or, actually, ten ISBNs plus a bar code, all for the low, low price of three hundred and twenty bucks.

As a wanna-be author, I had always wanted an ISBN of my own. As a soon-to-be self-published author, I found out just how much of a scam the ISBN system is.

First, ISBN stands for International Books Standard Number. It is meant to be a unique identifier for each published edition of a commercial work. An e-book, a paperback and a hardcover of the same book will each have a different ISBN.

In the U.S., ISBNs are doled out by a company called Bowker. Of course, there is a cost, and as I found out, the pricing follows a very curious economy of scale:

Got that? One ISBN costs $125. However, 1000 ISBNs costs $1500, for a unit price of $1.50. How can such a discount occur? Because they’re just fuckin’ numbers!

Bowker’s got a monopoly on this market and they squeeze ’til we turn purple. It’s a scam, man. Sure, for a big publishing company, shelling out for tens of thousands of ISBNs at a buck or so a pop is chump change. But for struggling self-publishing authors, it feels like we are being taken advantage of. (Yeah, I ended that sentence with a preposition. It’s idiomatic, plus I’m in a pissy mood.)

Of course, there are alternatives, but they kinda suck. First, you can just go without an ISBN, but that severely limits the author’s ability to sell the book. Also, if you’re going to publish through Amazon/KDP, they will kindly provide you with an ISBN free of charge. Of course, Amazon didn’t get to be the behemoth it is by giving stuff away, so you can bet that there are strings attached to their “free” ISBN. Basically, if you accept their generosity, you are pretty much restricted to selling your book through their channels.

So in the end, I ponied up the money for 10 ISBNs plus a barcode (another Bowker scam), even though I really only need two or three ISBNs for Jackrabbit. Guess I’d better keep writing!