Essays on Self-Publishing

ISBN Numbers and UPC Codes

So you want an ISBN number, huh? Here's how to get them, and a couple of harsh realities about them.

  • You can only buy them through, which is owned by a parent company, R.R. Bowker. If this sounds like a monopoly, that's because it pretty much is. No, there's no place else that sells them. Don't bother asking.

  • They come in packs of ten (10).

  • The pack of ten costs about $250 USD with all the handling fees. No, I'm not kidding.

  • No, you can't buy them one at a time.

  • No, you can't sell the rest to other people -- they're directly tied to your Social Security Number. That's for taxation purposes. If you sold your ISBN number to anyone else, you would have to pay taxes on any revenues derived from that ISBN number. Again, I'm not kidding.

  • You must have one to even be considered by major retail chains such as Borders or Barnes and Noble.

  • Bowker is converting all old ISBN numbers from ten to thirteen digits. They have a handy online converter and an informational page to make the transition easier. All new ISBNs are being issued as 13-digit numbers.

So, you've made your first real investment as a writer -- now you have to write another 9 books to use up all your numbers!

The advantages to having an ISBN

There are, however, plenty of positives to having an ISBN number:

  • They make it a thousand times easier for retaiers and libraries to locate your book.

  • They are globally recognized.

  • You don't need one for individual floppy comics, just Graphic Novels, or regular novels.

  • They never expire -- you can leave the unused ones to sit around for fifty years if you like.

  • Any printer can use your ISBN number to generate a UPC code (bar code) for free.

That last one's important -- some printers or companies will charge you anywhere from $50 to $300 to create a UPC code from scratch, but given an ISBN number, any reputable printer can generate you a UPC code for free. Mine did. Ask your individual printer for details.

That's pretty much all the info I have on ISBN numbers. Go visit the website and read their FAQ for any other questions you might have.

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