The Big ISBN Question

Young beautiful student girl behind booksThe International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a stock-keeping identifier. Just grab a book – any book – and look at the back. See that number with the barcode in the bottom right corner? That’s the ISBN.

Any physical book sold through retailers needs one. The problem is… they don’t come cheap. At, one ISBN sells for a whopping $125! Pay twice that ($250), and you can be the proud owner of 10 ISBNs. But that can be a hefty price tag for indie authors.

Of course, the more ISBNs you buy, the cheaper it is. For example, you can get 5,000 ISBNs for $5,000, which comes to a mere $1 per ISBN. So author services companies – like CreateSpace – are snatching up ISBNs for a song. That’s why CreateSpace can offer it to you for FREE.

Yes, you can get your ISBN for free!

When you publish your book with CreateSpace, you can select the option that allows you to get an ISBN without paying one red cent. However, there’s a catch…

If you use CreateSpace’s free ISBN, CreateSpace will be listed as the publisher of your book. That’s a bummer if you’ve set up your own publishing company. And that’s not all…

Using CreateSpace as your publisher screams newbie. It announces to the world that you are a new, independently-published author who is working on a limited budget.

Plus, it discourages booksellers from carrying your book. Barnes & Noble and the other book retailers hate Amazon – and those feelings of animosity extend to CreateSpace. If they see a book has been published by CreateSpace, they tend to avoid it like the plague.

Of course, if you do want to use your own publishing company, CreateSpace gives you other options:

  • Custom ISBN ($10) – The name of your publishing company is listed, but you can only use this ISBN on CreateSpace.
  • Universal ISBN ($99) – You are listed as publisher, and you can keep the ISBN if you leave CreateSpace. This is kind of pricey and best used if you only plan to publish one book.
  • Provide your own ISBN ($125+) – As discussed above, this is your most expensive option. You are listed as the publisher, which makes your company easily identifiable in the bibliographic databases. If you plan to publish more than one book and are working toward a profitable self-publishing business, this option should be seriously considered.

But what if you also want to make your book available to libraries?

CreateSpace will tell you that your book will NOT be available to libraries UNLESS you choose to use their free ISBN.


While it’s true that CreateSpace will only get your book into the Library of Congress catalog if you choose their free option (and pay an additional fee of $25), there’s absolutely NOTHING stopping you from doing it yourself.

And it’s FREE! All it costs you is a little time.

Just go to the Library of Congress website and select Open an Account to complete the Application to Participate. Then, you will be given the account number and password you need to access the appropriate form for requesting Library of Congress control numbers. Piece of cake.

So… what did I do?

Frankly, I agonized over the ISBN decision. I didn’t want to part with a lot of money. But I also wanted my book to be listed with my own publishing company.

Here’s what ultimately decided it for me…

Yes, I am publishing my first book. But, I have many more books inside of me. And I really want to make a go of having a successful self-publishing business. So, I bit the bullet and ponied up the money to purchase 10 ISBNs.

They broke down to just $25 each, which didn’t seem so bad. And they should last me for a while!

What should YOU do?

If you are on a limited budget and are determined to see your book in print, by all means grab CreateSpace’s free ISBN. You can always republish your book with your own ISBN in the future.

However, if you are seriously about establishing a self-publishing empire (I mean, business!) like I am, then I highly recommend purchasing a set of ISBNs from Bowker.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you.

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