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10 Important reasons you need an ISBN for your book

This article on the importance of ISBN was first presented by Amrah Auwal Mashi at Bakandamiya Reading Club WhatsApp group on 6th January 2024.

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a national and international standard identification number for uniquely identifying books, i.e., publications that are not intended to continue indefinitely.

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies books and book-like products published internationally. The ISBN is intended for a monographic publication: text that stands on its own as a product, whether printed, audio or electronic. ISBNs are never assigned to music, performances or images, such as art prints or photographs. ISBNs are not assigned to magazines, academic journals or other periodicals. However, if a single issue of a periodical is being sold as a book, then that issue alone may be assigned an ISBN. (Dr. Sudipta Kumar Ghosh)

For more than thirty years, ISBNs were 10 digits long. On January 1, 2007 the ISBN system switched to a 13-digit format. Now all ISBNs are 13-digits long. If you were assigned 10-digit ISBNs, you can convert them to the 13-digit format at the converter found on the ISBN website. A 10-digit ISBN cannot be converted to 13-digits merely by placing three digits in front of the 10-digit number. There is an algorithm that frequently results in a change of the last digit of the ISBN.

The importance of ISBN

1 – ISBN helps to avoid using the same name in more than one book. For example, when a book called Hakkin Uwa is given an ISBN with its name, then it is not possible to give an ISBN to another story with the same name. Failure to create an ISBN leads to combining many books with the same name.

2 – ISBN in Sales and Marketing- Ordering and sales tracking of books are mainly executed by ISBN. This is a fast and efficient method. So, ISBNs an absolute necessity for multi-channel distribution. Although most distribution channels like Amazon, Kobo, Ingram, Google Play etc provide ISBN of their own but these are distributors’ ISBN and specific to their platforms. Therefore, if you want to go for a multi-channel distribution (which is needed for a wide visibility of your book), you cannot do that. For example you cannot use Kindle ISBN with Google or the other way round. Though many writers rely on distributors’ ISBNs but it is always a good idea to have a unifying ISBN that is valid globally and works on both online and offline stores as books that are sold through conventional bookshops almost always require an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) to ensure order processing is completed smoothly, reliably. So, having an ISBN naturally gives you ease and efficiency with sales tracking, thus making it absolutely inseparable in book marketing for self-published authors.

If you want to sell your book, you need an ISBN. This unique number helps publishers, retailers, and your target audience to easily track and find your book. An ISBN lends legitimacy to your work because it means your book has been formally registered.

3 – Copyright: ISBN is very helpful in avoiding pirates, especially for online writers who often get problems with YouTubers and Bloggers who take their novels without asking for permission and use them or read the audio or use it as their own.

If a person has an ISBN, he has the right to file a lawsuit in court and be entitled to his rights. But if you don’t have it, you have to hear it and see it, but you have to be patient.

Books without an ISBN might not be taken seriously since they’re less official. That means without this identification number on your copyright page, you’ll have a difficult time making a name for yourself as a serious author.

4 – The Benefit of ISBN in Listing: If your book has an ISBN, you can refer it anywhere for e.g. libraries and in-house bookstores. You can edit or update contents (only minor changes though) but your book will still be pulled out with the unique identifier, without having to undergo massive re-distribution. An ISBN also provides maintenance, storage and access to bibliographic databases. Besides this, most online readers’ forum and book cataloguing sites like Goodreads, Reddit etc. will ask you for an ISBN number, if you want your book to be a part of their system. A major advantage to upload your book with ISBN is that a reader can directly buy your book from online distributors. Apart from that, it also avoids duplicate listing.

5 – Impact of ISBN in Distribution- ISBN is an essential element in distribution. Most bookstores will not feature or sell any book that is not first listed within their warehouse database. To get there, your book must have a unique ISBN. Your book should have an ISBN, if you want to put it up for worldwide distribution through Amazon, Ingram and other platforms as these ones. Multi-channel distribution is not possible without an ISBN because that is the only way of finding your book. Who doesn’t know the importance of distribution in boosting sales in case of self-published books?

6 – Unique Identifier for Your Book: ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a 13-digit numeric code that serves as an internationally applicable unique identifier for books. It means that a published book can be pulled up from records with all important details like title, author’s name, page number, cover, edition, binding specification etc. using this unique number from any part of the world.

7 – Correct use of the ISBN allows different product forms and editions of a book, whether printed or digital, to be clearly differentiated, ensuring that customers receive the version that they require.

8 – The ISBN facilitates compilation and updating of book-trade directories and bibliographic databases, such as catalogues of books-in-print. Information on available books can be found easily.

Ordering and distribution of books is mainly executed by ISBN; this is a fast and efficient method.

9 – If you are a publisher or bookseller, it is in your interest to use ISBN as it is likely to help you to sell books. Books that cannot be ordered and distributed by ISBN and that are not listed in Books in Print type listings may not sell as many copies as they could. People will assume that the books do not exist, and even if they do know they exist, they may consider it is too much bother to handle them since they will need to do so using lengthy manual ordering processes.

10 – ISBN can also help publishers and others in the supply chain to evaluate the success of books – the accumulation of sales data is done using ISBN. For example, publishers can monitor and analyse the varying successes of different product forms and editions of publications, as well as examining comparisons between different subject areas and even different publishing houses.

Final thoughts

With the virtue of having an ISBN, your book can be found and referred widely and beyond your lifetime. In other words, an ISBN renders your work technically immortal. Even after years, your book can be discovered from literary database only with the help of an ISBN. In short ISBN may appear to be just a number, but it’s an identifier that punches above its weight. An ISBN can’t guarantee that you will make sales, but it can help pave the way for your book’s success.

Follow-up questions

Q: In nutshell, which library is responsible for ISBN?

A: National Library of Nigeria

Q: Also, what information is needed for ISBN registration?

A: You need the book you are publishing, including the preliminary pages. You also need a CAC certificate if you are registering as a company. For example, let’s say I’m going to publish a recipe book, then I need a CAC for my company before publishing the book. If I use Amrah’s kitchen, then this company of mine must have a CAC. It will be used to make an ISBN. In addition, you will provide a valid means of identification if you are registering as an individual.

Q: Does ISBN help in selling books?

A: Yes, for sure.

Q: If I registered my first book with ISBN and have the 13 digits code, can I use them to all my subsequent books?

A: An ISBN can never be reused.

Q: What is the process of getting an ISBN number?

A: Every country has its own ISBN agency. Contact them by email or another means and talk to them. In Nigeria, for example, you can reach out to National Library of Nigeria.

Q: And how many types of ISBN do we have? If they are more than one which one is more important?

A: ISBN comes in two styles. There are 10 digits and there are 13 digits. But the truth is that the 10-digit one is outdated, as I said before. Now, the 13-digit one is the acceptable one.

Q: Also, can we get an ISBN number for ebook?

A: There are some steps that are followed when composing an ebook. Some numbers are entered (I don’t know how many). If the book has an ISBN, you will enter it in this set-up. But it is not necessary.

I will stop here. Thank you very much for the cooperation you have given me, from the leaders of BRC, who asked questions, to those who follow the program. May God bless us with grace. Amin.

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