Home » Self-Publishing » Self-Publishing ISBNS Climbed 8 Percent Between 2015 and 2016

Self-Publishing ISBNS Climbed 8 Percent Between 2015 and 2016

12 October 2017

From No Shelf Required:

Since 2011, International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) for self-published titles have climbed 218.33%, according to the latest report from Bowker. A total of 786,935 ISBNs were assigned to self-published titles in 2016; in 2011, that number was 247,210.

This new study from Bowker highlights the latest self-publishing trends in print and ebook formats. For 2016 vs. 2015, the numbers indicate a continuing growth trend for print (+11%), though at a slower rate than a year ago (+34%). Ebooks show a slight decline in the number of title registrations (-3%), but this is a significantly smaller decrease compared to the prior year (-11%).

“Overall, we believe that these numbers point toward an ongoing maturation and stabilization of the self-publishing industry,” notes Beat Barblan, Director of Identifier Services at Bowker.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

PG wonders what percentage of indie authors use ISBNs these days.


39 Comments to “Self-Publishing ISBNS Climbed 8 Percent Between 2015 and 2016”

  1. I do, and one of the reasons I bought 10 was the requirement of using them to get listed in iBooks/Kobo through Smashwords. These days I go direct through Kobo, so when the ones I bought run out I’m not sure I’ll renew.

  2. I use them for print books.

  3. I use them for both print and digital. One number, one book, one time. I hate that I get ripped off by Bowker for it, but there seems to be no end to that particular monopoly anytime soon.

    • Funny how some quarter will decry Amazon as a monopoly and want gov’t to do something, but I never hear them b**** about Bowker’s overpriced-product monopoly.

  4. Pack of 10 for $250 and name my publisher. It’s worth it to me for the various lists that need them for my print books.

  5. Pack of 1000 when they still cost $1000. At the time, if you were ever going to use, say, more than 100, it was less than buying 2 packs of 100 instead.

    As I pass my 5th anniversary, I’ve used more than 70 on my 20 titles so far (various formats), and it’s incredibly liberating to think of them as trivial – $1/each.

    My biggest business investment at the time (no longer — audio is more expensive, and for each book), but it IS a business, and there are expenses in running them.

    Perkunas Press is just starting to branch out into imprints for additional authors, and the ISBNs are usable for the imprints, too.

    • Sigh. $14.28 each at the moment. You are amortizing a prepaid asset, with no guarantee of asset exhaustion. (We won’t get into the present value of $1,000 invested, even in a money market, five years ago. Just makes it worse…)

      Of course, that doesn’t even address the nice monopoly of issuing a simple number for an outrageous price – when I would be very surprised if the total lifetime cost to the “producer” is even close to a dollar. There is a reason that they are a privately held LLC that does not have to reveal their financials, and very closely associated with the oligopoly of scientific publishing.

      • Asset exhaustion wasn’t the issue — the minute I need #101, it was cheaper to have bought the 1000 than the 2nd batch of 100. So the exhausted asset count is really 100, and I’ll hit that in another year or so. And since I needed ISBNs during the 5-year wait, the notion of investment income is also moot — I would still have needed to buy more than 50 ISBNs, and at a smaller batch size they would have been much more expensive.

        Everyone’s so busy resenting the Bowker pricing as if it were an injustice of the universe rather than an understandable business opportunity that it obscures the utility of the actual object being bought. For the price of an ISBN I get a worldwide universal identifier, allowing me to plug into any of the book industry supply chains, using eCommerce standards like ONIX.

        Not everyone wants to get past Amazon & Createspace, much less the cozy retailers like Kobo, or broad print distributors like Ingram, but once you do, in that cold hard world of broad distribution through aggregators/distributors like PublishDrive and StreetLib, you’re going to need ISBNs for those EPUBs and Print and Audio (if you do your own) editions, just like the big boys. Might as well get them as cheaply as possible — it’s just a cost of doing business.

        Other small businesses, even one-man businesses, have license and registration and product/industry-specific production/distribution costs. Book publishing is no different. Why should it be?

        And those of us who have ambitions to branch out beyond our own titles over time might suddenly find a use for more ISBNs than we ever considered. I’ve got half a dozen titles not my own suddenly in my imprint pipeline, something I didn’t anticipate a couple of months ago. Glad to have a batch of cheap-in-bulk ISBNs already in hand.

        Maybe I’d rather be writing, but I enjoy building small businesses, too.

        • Other small businesses, even one-man businesses, have license and registration and product/industry-specific production/distribution costs. Book publishing is no different. Why should it be?

          Why should it be different? Amazon is different because they don’t need an ISBN for eBooks. They assign their own ASIN.

          It’s reasonable to expect industry practices to change as the products and players change. What was once necessary for publishers might not be at all necessary for new players dealing with books.

          ISBN is a tool. Some find it useful, others do not. Depends on what one is doing.

          My need for a hammer tells us nothing about anyone else’s need. My choice to build a deck tells us nothing about the tools the other guy needs to build a canoe.

        • Give you that one. Asset exhaustion is at 100, as you say.

          Apparently not the case, now – although 1,000 is still cheaper than three 100s.

          In any case, although the per number price is much higher, I’ll probably be buying only ten at first if I ever go “wide.” Some have wild success when they break away from Amazon – but all too many do not.

  6. Only in America can some one charge 125 bucks for a 13 digit number….

    I’ll shed no tears if Bowker ever has their stranglehold on ISBNs broken

    • Actually, domain name authorities charge more for the equivalent by charging by the year. If Bowker followed their model, you would have to renew each ISBN each year for a fee.

      I’m not trying to justify Bowker’s prices– I agree that they are high, but you are getting a service more than a number– the service assures you that the number is yours and yours alone and will not be reassigned to someone else. It also makes it possible to trace a book bearing your ISBN back to you.

      Part of what you pay for is the fact that Bowker, and the international body that authorizes ISBN authorities, is a single control source. Registration from an empty storefront isn’t worth anything.

      Charging more than Bowker for the equivalent service happens. Domain names are one example. Registering a federal trade mark was over a grand with legal fees the last time I looked. ISBNs are free in Canada, but that just means Canadian taxes pay for the service.

      You can publish without an ISBN, you have to decide whether the service is worth it to you. I use Createspace supplied ISBNs, but I haven’t decided whether I will buy ISBNs in the future. Depends on how I see my business going.

      • You’re safe, could you imagine them trying to keep up with it all? And it’s not like they can reuse a number if you don’t renew it. Then the copyright holder dies/folds – do all those ISBNs expire? How would anyone find any book?

        • The domain name authorities thrive on keeping up with changing domain names and they do allow people who want to pay the fee to reuse abandoned domain names. Some shady operator might think of taking over Bowker as an opportunity.

          I’m not losing sleep over this. I imagine the ISO would prevent yearly fees now, but who can predict the future? Can you imagine US indies going to Canada to preserve long tail profits?

  7. I use an ISBN for the ebook, and different ones for 4 x 7 and 5 x 8. In order to get into Createspace’s expanded distribution, I use one of their freebies. ISBNs are free in Canada.

  8. How do they know which are self-published and which aren’t? Are they only counting the ones where the publisher name is the author name? How would they know if a publishing company name is a single author or a small press?

    • I suspect it’s based on the number of blocks bought, and cross-checked against the number of titles published. A small press would likely buy the 1000 block, like Karen, or the 10,000 block, and publish titles by different authors.

      Indies often just buy either a single number or a block of 10.

  9. Yes, I use them, but they’re free in Canada, so why not? The Bowker monopoly on them is insane, though.

  10. Never bought one and never will (with the caveat that “never” is a very long time). My publisher assigns them to my commercial fic, but my self-published stuff has never suffered for their lack. I’m not interested in Kobo or what have you as an alternate publishing source–too much money and (sounds like) too much work, to go that route.

  11. I bought a 10-pack way back when, and I’m writing very, very slowly so that I don’t use them up too quickly. If it wasn’t for that, I’d have a dozen novels out by now, I swear.

  12. I bought a pack of 100 about 18 months ago because of the number of books I publish both for myself and other authors. At last count I have about 35 remaining.

    I tend to use them for “bigger” books – novels or novellas that I anticipate will sell more. (Those books also get their copyright registered.) I use them for both the ebook and print versions.

    I’ve been discussing with my husband recently about how I should continue with ISBNs. Do I buy more when I run out? Do I buy 1000 and then offer them at a very reduced cost to my fellow indie writers?

    Or do I just use the Createspace free ones for the print books and not bother with ISBNs anymore with ebooks?

    I don’t have to make a decision at this point. I’m leaning toward not buying more. But we’ll see.

    • If you try to give your ISBNs to someone else, your imprint will be listed as their publisher. Likewise, if you use the free ISBNs (Createspace, etc) they get listed as the publisher.

      • In other words, there’s no benefit to your author friends for you to sell to them what they can get for free; an ISBN with some one else’s Publishing company listed on them.

        Actually, there’s one benefit. They would be able to use the same ISBN with multiple POD services, so it all shows up as the same book. So, CreateSpace for selling on Amazon, and LightningSource for selling everywhere else, but Bookscan registers them as the same title.

  13. Desmond X. Torres

    I’m on my second grouping of 100- in Canada you get a block of 100 when you register, and when they run out you’re asked if you want more. You send a request and it’s set the next day.

    I’m not trying to carp or anything, but is that right at the top of the comments that they go for as much as $25.00 a pop in the US?

  14. I’ve used my own right from the start. In Australia, Thorpe-Bowker sell a package of 10 for $88 AUD. That must be something like $10 USD each [after a very rough conversion].
    I’m astounded that Bowker in the US can price-gouge in this way. 🙁

    • You can imagine how astounded WE are to find they are FREE in Canada and $10 buck equivalent in Australia. Nice job of our gov’t protecting us from gougers. (sarcasm drips)

      • Our gov’t licenses Bowker the right to sell them. Bowker pays out the butt for the privilege. So, its our Gov’t that’s causing this.

  15. I use them for paperbacks (or will, once I make some), and I bought a pack of 10. Not sure which package I’ll go for after I run out of those. I find it infuriating the way Bowker gouges for them, but it’s important to me to list my own press name as the publisher, and this is the only way to do it. I wish there was someone we could all complain to as US citizens to get the government to revisit this awful deal they’ve made with Bowker.

    • I’m confused. My own press (Trilka Press) is listed as publisher, and I paid Createspace $10 for the privilege.

      • Did you do that a while ago? My understanding is that Createspace used to allow you to do that for a small amount, but they’ve since taken away that option.

        • I published the debut novel in Dec. 2015. I wasn’t aware they had changed, as I’m a very slow writer and the next one isn’t ready yet.

          I had hoped to just continue doing it; I may have some adjusting to do. It would be ridiculous to have the identifier be the most expensive thing about a book (other than the author’s time, of course).

  16. Bowker is such a scam. If there were any cataloging costs associated with ISBNs, they should cost more for larger blocks than smaller blocks.
    They’re completely free here in Korea. You just submit the CIP information to the national library, and they send you the ISBN. I’m not even sure that another human being is involved in the process.

  17. Bowker dutifully reports what they can measure.
    It’s what they can’t measure that is far more interesting.

    For the last 5 months, I measure:

    20.1 million units sold and $110 million dollars spent on indie ebooks with ISBNs
    45.8 million units sold and $125 million dollars spent on indie ebooks with no ISBN whatsoever

    Seeing that, it kind of throws doubt on Bowker’s ability to use their ISBN-registration data to conclude anything meaningful about the state of the self-publishing sector at all.

    • Do you have any numbers on print books sold with and without ISBNs? It sounds like that’s the more common format to use them with, so I’m curious about how many self-publishers are using ISBNs for their print books.

      • You got me curious, so I checked.

        I looked at 6 months worth of print sales on Amazon.com : a total of 110.7 million units and $1.955 billion worth of online consumer spend on print books.

        All in all, Createspace POD titles made up:
        – 65,375 titles or 8.0% of the unique print titles sold
        – 4.48 million units or 4.0% of the total online print unit sales
        – $42.3 million or 2.2% of the total online print consumer spend

        Very few of these titles had no ISBN at all: the ones that didn’t sold essentially zero volume
        (some 1,200 units and less than $10,000)

        A more interesting question might be “whose ISBN”?
        Createspace was the publisher of record for:
        – 46,749 titles or 5.7% of the unique print titles sold
        – 2.77 million units or 2.5% of the total online print unit sales
        – $22.1 million or 1.1% of the total online print consumer spend

        And finally the most interesting question of all:
        How many of these Createspace titles are titles not in “expanded distribution”,
        and thus whose Amazon sales are not reported to Bookscan or anyone in the industry.
        The answer:
        – 18,521 titles or 5.7% of the unique print titles sold
        – 1.22 million units or 1.1% of the total online print unit sales
        – $10.0 million or 0.5% of the total online print consumer spend

        So it looks like most indies who do print via Createspace just use the Createspace issued ISBN,
        and about a quarter of them don’t enable the “expanded distribution” option,
        making their Createspace titles available in places other than Amazon.

        (Note that the true non-expanded distribution total might be a lot higher,
        because the smartest way to do print is to use Createspace for Amazon sales
        and not do expanded distribution, but instead also do a totally identical
        LightningSource print edition of the same title, and distribute *that* one
        through Ingram for sale everywhere but Amazon.)

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