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Breaking it down: ISBN

Updated: Mar 1

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique, 13 digit identifier for a specific title or edition of a book. It is instrumental to publishers, retailers, and even self-published authors to keep track of inventory, and keep accurate records of what books have been published in a given country.

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A standard numbering system for books was first developed in 1967. David Whitaker got together with his friends and decided they could easily make money off creatives by making a system that would charge a fee to organize published works. David chaired the first exploratory panel to develop a standard in the UK, and it quickly garnered international interest.


The keys to the kingdom are still held in London, at the International ISBN Agency, where all international ISBNs are administered, and even though technology has made the issuing of ISBN's easier, the price has increased over time.


The majority of ISBNs purchased by US based writers are done through BOWKER. BOWKER is an affiliate business of ProQuest, a privately owned company who's leadership board as of 2021 is comprised of 12 positions all held by white people. 10 white men and 2 white women who in addition to their positions at ProQuest many are in leadership positions in various other very powerful corporations.


From their website: ProQuest is a key partner for content holders of all types, preserving and enabling access to their rich and varied information. Those partnerships have built a growing content collection that now encompasses 90,000 authoritative sources, 6 billion digital pages and spans six centuries. It includes the world’s largest collection of dissertations and theses; 20 million pages and three centuries of global, national, regional and specialty newspapers; more than 450,000 ebooks; rich aggregated collections of the world’s most important scholarly journals and periodicals; and unique vaults of digitized historical collections from great libraries and museums, as well as organizations as varied as the Royal Archives, the Associated Press and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Read more here.


The original ISBN number consisted of ten digits and is called the ISBN-10. But in 2007, the ISBN-10 was discontinued and replaced by the ISBN-13, which has more numbers in it to allow for the ever expanding global book industry. The combined total of self-published print books and ebooks with registered ISBNs grew from almost 1.2 million in 2017 to more than 1.6 million in 2018. The vast majority of those books came from the top three independent publishing platforms, which Bootstrap Publications estimates totaled over two million in ISBN revenue alone.


So do you have to get an ISBN number? Well, technically you're not required to have one, but all modern systems, like Amazon KDP publishing and Ingram Spark, have been developed with them in mind. If you want to be able to get your book into stores, libraries, or wholesalers (and trust me, you do!), you're going to need an ISBN number for your work.


Now there is a cost associated with getting an ISBN. But here's the kicker, when you publish your book through Bootstrap Publications, because we use Amazon KDP, we are able to get that fee waived for you. It's typically about $125 which is a big deal if you're just starting out.


One last thing, keep in mind you'll need a separate ISBN if you ever choose to publish your work in other countries.


Well there you go! ISBNs can be a tricky hoop to jump through, but we here at Bootstrap Publications take the time to learn all the insider secrets, pass that knowledge on to you, resulting in proven success.


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