The Official Agency | How to Apply an ISBN to Online Literature
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How to Apply an ISBN to Online Literature

Whether you are an author that works with a publisher or you’re an independent author, it is in your best interest to obtain an International Standard Book Number or ISBN to operate your business properly. How do you know if you’re a publisher? You’re a publisher if your business is publishing books or other textual content that can be assigned an ISBN. Your sales analytics for your work should matter greatly to you. Without obtaining an ISBN, this data is lost, it’s never tracked or analyzed. If the platform you offer your book on does not require an ISBN, you should still obtain one so you can track analytics and improve the visibility of your book. Whether you’re an author, publisher, or both, you’re running a business and you need meaningful sales data.

ompanies that track sales and conduct research are not able to do so for books that were self-published without an ISBN. In the past, the ISBN was 10 digits. As of January 1st, 2007, all ISBNs are now 13 digits. In the Kindle store and iBook store, ISBN numbers are used to track bestsellers. Any reports that track revenue, profit or sales derive the data from these numbers. Nook, iPad, and Sony Reader all require you to provide an ISBN. Take this into consideration if you want maximum visibility for your book. Author Earnings is a company that conducts surveys and reports on the e-book industry. You can review your ISBN data on Author Earnings and use in order to access and maintain your metadata. ISBNs are not only for print publications, it does not matter what medium the text is in. So get creative and be open-minded to the types of projects that would benefit from this widely used tracking number.


What exactly is an ISBN?

Having an International Standard Book Number makes your book significantly more identifiable both in the physical world and online. These numbers provide detailed information pertinent to readers and booksellers alike, so they fully understand the author and what the book is about. The ISBN is the key to entering the global supply chain of books. There are over 1.3 billion searches conducted per month on retail, online, and library databases. Making yourself available to a massive amount of search volume such as this will undoubtedly improve the visibility of your work.

It’s important to note that barcodes and International Standard Book Numbers are not the same. The key difference is that an ISBN is an ordering number, while a barcode is a price tag. With physical books, if you wish the change the price, you will need to purchase a new barcode. Barcodes are only needed by physical bookstores and you’ll need to obtain your ISBN as a prerequisite, most retailers won’t accept the book otherwise. E-books do not have a barcode requirement from anyone in the digital supply chain. Increase the chances of the survival of your work and allow it to be retrieved from databases many years from now. Save your analytics and data from being lost in the event that the platform that hosts your book goes out of business or if the company ceases to use identifiers. Give your literature the best chance possible of standing the test of time.

The meaning of ISBN numbers

The predominant purpose of the book number is to allow databases and readers to find the book. However, the number has an additional purpose. The number also tells information about the publisher. The ISBN is broken down into four parts. The first number in the sequence is the “language identifier” if the title is in English it’s a zero.

The next series of numbers represent the “publisher identifier”. Large publishers have short publisher identifiers while small publishers have a long identifier. The third set of numbers identifies a particular edition of a title and is called the “title identifier”. The very last digit is called the “check digit” and is present to show that the ISBN has been recorded properly.

Qualifications for an ISBN

The types of work that qualify for this tracking number are very distinct. There are rules on many different types of work but the details are clear. Advertising and promotional materials are not eligible for an ISBN. Also, websites and online databases that change frequently such as a blog, are not eligible either. However, brochures and pamphlets are eligible, because it is in a fixed format that will not be changed later. Note that an e-newsletter or e-zine is not eligible for an ISBN because they
are delivered in a series. You’re not able to obtain an ISBN for a text-based series. A serial work such as a magazine should be assigned an ISSN or BIPAD number. The exception is that a periodical may be sold as an individual book and that issue may receive an ISBN.

The work that you want to register must be text-based and available to the public. Any private documents that you don’t plan on releasing for some time would not be eligible. Therefore, consider completed works; digital coloring books, maps, podiobooks, graphic novels, comics, and even cell phone novels qualify. Given that an app is text-based, it qualifies for an ISBN. Knowing this opens another avenue to track the sales and data of apps on your own. There is only one ISBN agency assigned to each specific country. The U.S. ISBN agency can only assign numbers to publishers and self-publishers within the U.S. This includes territories Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, etc. Only obtain an ISBN from an official ISBN agency to ensure that the publisher is identified correctly. Those in the U.S. can locate the appropriate website at:

So what is the cost of obtaining an ISBN? You can purchase them from Bowker Identifier Services which is the authorized provider of ISBNs in the U.S. A single book number costs $125.00, while ten are $295.00, and 100 numbers are $575.00. The more book numbers you buy, the greater the discount.



Copyrighting services are also available from Bowker to protect your work if you have not already done so. Also, you’ll never have to worry about an ISBN expiring. Once you’ve made the purchase the number is yours forever. Although, it cannot be reused or assigned to multiple products. If you have a hardcover, paperback, and audiobook all with the same title, you will need to obtain 3 separate ISBNs. Once this number is obtained, you’ll be able to sell and track the data of
your book anywhere in the world.

The importance of Digital Rights Management (DRM) Software

You don’t have to use digital rights management software, though it is in your best interest as a writer or publisher. Give yourself the ability to list your e-book in your own publishing company’s name with an ISBN. Receive the profits that are rightfully yours when your work sells. By obtaining this number for your work, you also get the benefit of your work title ranking higher on Google. You want to distribute and monetize your content, so you’ll need to choose digital rights management or DRM software. Adobe Content Server is trustworthy and common software for this purpose.

Your readers also benefit when you use DRM software, they know what they can and cannot do with your book. They will know whether the e-book will work on their device, restrictions, and whether they can print, copy, lend, etc. The combination of the software and the file format defines these parameters for the reader. You can describe the usage constraints of your work using product codes from ONIX for books. ONIX is the international standard for communicating electronic product info in the book industry.

If you have different versions of a work with the same format that all use the same DRM software, you can apply a single ISBN to the different versions. If the settings are different, such as one version can be printed and the other cannot, you would need to use two separate ISBNs. If you are using DRM software that connects a version of the e-book to a specific platform, software, or device, a separate ISBN is required for each version. If you apply any changes at all between versions of your work, it may be best to simply get separate ISBNs.

Regarding your master file, if you use a DRM and you send your file to a conversion service, you’ll need an ISBN. Assign different book numbers for each version generated by a conversion service. The International ISBN Agency recommends that if the computer system you’re using requires your master file to have an ISBN, you should use this internally. Use this purely as an internal identifier that you don’t release to the public at large.



When publishers need to assign separate ISBNs

Choose a conversion service and provide them with separate ISBNs to identify each individual version of your work. If you don’t provide these intermediaries with an ISBN, they may assign their own. In the event that an intermediary obtains an ISBN on your behalf, they are to provide that metadata back to the publisher, bibliographic agencies, and the national ISBN agency. In the event that this happens, you should be able to obtain the data. If the number is obtained for you, it does not implicate ownership, you still own your work.

The way your content appears and the features of the e-book could possibly vary depending upon the device it is viewed on. The DRM usage restrictions, file format, and content are set either by the publisher or the intermediary and then delivered to the reader. How many ISBNs should you buy? Consider each file format you wish to have to be a different ISBN. For example, ePub, MOBI, PDF, and more all require their own book number. If you have a version of your e-book that includes video, audio, or other content and one that does not, these require separate ISBNs because they’re considered as different products. So you’ll need two ISBNs, one for the standard e-book and another for the enhanced version. If you have a print version of your e-book, do not use the same ISBN from this book when you submit your book to Kindle or Amazon.



Assigning an ISBN to an app

It may be surprising that you can assign this number to an app. As long as there is a great deal of textual content in your app, it qualifies for ISBN assignment. If you have created different versions of the app for different operating systems, this will require separate ISBNs. If the app is available from a single source, an ISBN is not necessary.

Assign an ISBN for each version of your book released on proprietary platforms such as Apple iBookstore and Amazon Kindle. If you have two versions of your e-book and one of them has social DRM applied, would you need two separate ISBNs? You don’t if the social DRM version does not impose restrictions, is transparent to the reader, and does not intrude on the user


Linking together different versions of an e-book

You can utilize the ISTC (International Standard Text Code) to link the different versions of your e-book together. The ISTC is a numbering system for text-based works such as audiobooks, e-books, digital journals, printed books, and even the content that appears in conventional newspapers and journals. Giving your work an ISTC number improves the visibility of your work because the numbering system groups similar or related texts together.

The ISTC provides information to retail websites, library catalogs, bibliographic systems, and sales analysis systems. To register your ISTC number, simply locate an ISTC registration agency that will input your works data to the Standard Text Registration System (STRS). Make ISTC registration requests only when a new work has been created, not for different versions of the same work.

Track analytics for your work and gain more insight on who your audience is. Not only that, but gain more visibility and become recognized for your work with an International Standard Book Number. Take into consideration that many popular e-readers require you to provide an ISBN. Get the credit you deserve and be recognized for your work in industry reports and data by obtaining an ISBN. Many authors and publishers do not take advantage of the many benefits of tracking your data appropriately, as any business owner should. How much better could you market your work when you have data regarding who is downloading your book? Establish official ownership over your work and reap the benefits of intimately understanding your audience.





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