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Do you need an ISBN? How about a UPC code? And what’s an ASIN? On this episode, Chris and Gena talk about the pros and cons of getting an ISBN when you’re self-publishing.
Episode 10 Transcription:
[00:00:13].920] - Gena Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Writing Momentum Podcast. We're so glad you're tuning in. We hope that you are getting lots of good content, lots of good information from us. We hope that we are helping your writing succeed. And we are here, Chris, in beautiful Northern Arizona, having one of the only snowy days that we have had all year. I kind of have felt cheated this winter, I'll have to admit, because we haven't had any snow. So we are enjoying the white powdery stuff today. [00:00:50].020] - Chris That's right, Gena. Now here's the funny thing about Arizona, though, is that when it snows, everything shuts down. They canceled school, businesses have shut down, which is also kind of funny because it really wasn't it was snow, but the roads weren't all covered with snow or anything. All that melted almost right away. So that's the way it goes, though, when you're in an environment where people don't know how to drive on the snow. [00:01:13].490] - Gena Yes, we definitely have friends and I just got some updates or some Facebook updates from a friend of ours up in Michigan. And oh, my goodness, when they show their pictures of what they have in Northern Michigan, it's such a foreign concept to me. I am not used to anything. This is the most snow that I've ever lived in. And I get one or two days out of the year I get snow and I'm happy, I'm good. I get my fill and I'm off, no doubt. [00:01:46].670] - Chris Well, speaking of foreign concepts, today we're talking about some interesting stuff, aren't we? [00:01:51].900] - Gena We are. That is a great segue. I am very impressed that you were able to put that together. We are talking today about ISBNs. [00:02:04].510] - Chris ISBNs. So our friend Sheila sent in a question and she said, hey, I'm getting ready to publish my book on Amazon. And I want to know, do I need an ISBN or a bar code in order to be published? And that's a very good question, actually, when we hear quite a bit, isn't it? [00:02:22].500] - Gena It definitely is because I think what we've experienced and you and I have been in the publishing world for a long time. And the idea that ISBN is something that you don't have to have is really pretty foreign to a lot of people our age or around our age. So, yeah, I think it's a good question. Do you need it? What is it? Why do you need it? Why don't you need it? And what's an alternative? [00:02:50].490] - Chris Yeah, I know growing up in school, we always learn that every book had an ISBN. And so ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. And it is essentially the number that is given to your book. It's a unique number that no other book has so that your book can be identified internationally all around the world as that book. So when it comes time for compiling numbers for bestseller lists or seeing how well a book sells or someone just needs to find it in a library catalog, it has a unique number that no other book has. And that's why it's called an ISBN. And that is why every book has to have one so that it can be located under this common number. But then came along Amazon. Right. And Amazon uses ISBNs. They have ISBNs. If a book has an ISBN, they will have it in their system with that ISBN number. But then they decided that they were going to create their own cataloging system that's unique just to Amazon. Right. And their number system is called an ASIN. That is Amazon standard identification number. So this is the unique number that only your book has on Amazon. [00:04:18].450] - Chris And I actually believe that all products have an ASIN, too. So it's not just books on Amazon, it's everything. But because of that, it's like we have two conflicting things here. Right. And so if you're wanting to get published or you're wanting to publish your book, you might be thinking, do I need an ISBN if I have an ASIN or do I need both or what? And I think that's a good question. [00:04:40].890] - Gena I think that's a great question. And I think the new answer for that is because like you said, Amazon has changed the world. Amazon, you don't have to have one. If you have an ASIN the Amazon standard identification number, you do not need an ISBN. An International Standard Book Number. [00:05:01].800] - Chris No, but that said with the caveat, and that is that is only if you want to be only on Amazon. [00:05:08].460] - Gena That's true. [00:05:09].330] - Chris So if you're wanting to only publish on Amazon. No, you do not need an ISBN because the ISBN will be replaced by Amazon's ASIN. They will use the ASIN. And it's something they issue for free for every book. They also issue bar codes for every book for free automatically if you published through Amazon. However, if you publish through anywhere else, you will need an ISBN for that. And then you can use that ISBN on Amazon instead of the ASIN. It's confusing, isn't it? [00:05:48].440] - Gena I don't want to go on a bunny trail here, Chris, for too long. But give us some examples of why you would publish someplace other than Amazon. [00:05:57].530] - Chris Right. Well, some people like to do what they call publishing wide. And it is essentially, if you say, look, I want to, first of all, be published in a lot of different places, I don't want to put all my eggs in the Amazon basket. And so because of that, I'm going to get an ISBN and I'm going to publish with Ingrams Park or I'm going to publish with a local publishing company or a printing press or anything else like that. Or maybe you're getting traditionally published in which case they will get an ISBN for you. And then when your book is put on Amazon, they will also track it with that ISBN. The other reason is because, remember, the ISBN is the way that sales are tracked across platforms. So if you want your book to be considered, for instance, for a USA Today bestseller list, I don't think and this may have changed, but I don't think they take into account the ASIN or Amazon's number. I think it's only ISBNs. But that may have changed because Amazon does have a lot of power. But I know there's authors that say, look, I want to make sure that I'm considered for all best seller lists. [00:07:10].730] - Chris And so I'm going to get an ISBN. That's a couple of reasons. You may want to get an ISBN. Yeah. There's one more reason to some bookstores, they kind of balk at ordering books that have ASINs even though they have access to the books. They don't like doing it because they kind of feel like Amazon has put them out of service. Right. They're taking away their customers. So they don't want to support Amazon. So they won't generally order books with ASINs on them. They will only order books with ISBNs. And so that's something to consider. If you want to be in local bookstores and that sort of thing, you may want to get an ISBN. So all of that said, those are some compelling reasons. And you may be thinking at this point, why in the world then would I want to not get an ISBN? [00:08:12].070] - Gena Well, and I even think if you are a go getter and you've published your books or you're writing your books and you have a strong marketing option of having that sold through maybe some of your local bookstores, you want to do some signing events or special events at different things, even like conferences, if you're a speaker or through bookstores. Then again, an ISBN may be the safer way to go so that whoever wants to order your books can without being in competition with Amazon. [00:08:47].910] - Chris Yeah, that's exactly right. But now let's flip this around. Now, let's say why would you not care to have an ISBN and just go ahead and go with the ASIN if you're going to be published on Amazon? Okay, there's a couple of reasons for that. First of all, if you want to be self published on Amazon, it's really easy to do with just going with the numbers they give you and the bar codes they give you. And here's the best thing. It doesn't cost anything then to get an ISBN it costs a bit and within ASIN it doesn't cost you a thing. You just go ahead and get published. So that's pretty compelling for a lot of people. [00:09:24].420] - Gena Yes. And I just want to add a little bit of a plug here. We did talk a little bit about what it takes in an earlier episode of what it takes in order to be published through KDP Kindle Direct Publishing through Amazon. So if you want to know more about that publishing process, be sure to check out that episode. I believe it was episode episode number four. Episode number four. So be sure to check that out if you're wanting some more information about what it takes. Just a quick overview of what it takes to be published through Amazon. Kindle Direct Publishing. [00:10:00].640] - Chris Yeah. And so I've worked with authors who just say I just want the ASIN. I'm not looking to be on any big bestseller list. I'm not writing something that I think will be like that. I don't want to spend a lot of money on this. It's just something that I want to do on a smaller scale. And that's totally cool. And in that case, I say, yeah, just go for an ASIN it makes things really easy. The other reason that some people just go with an ASIN is because in their opinion, almost all their sales are going to come from Amazon anyway. So who cares, right? The joke we've said before, some people have said should I publish through Amazon or should I publish through? And then they'll name four or five other places. And the answer is, well, if you want to sell your book, you're going to publish through Amazon. If you don't want to sell, you go through the other places, which is really just a joke because that's not true. All those places are really good for publishing through for different reasons. But for a lot of authors, they just figure, you know what, 90% of my sales anyway are coming through Amazon. [00:11:08].710] - Chris So I'm not going to go along with the mess of trying to go through all those steps of trying to get published wide publishing in other places and having to go through tracking all my other sales. Because a lot of times if you look at your sales sheets, you'll find out that 90 to 95, sometimes higher percentage, all come from Amazon alone. And then there's a couple of percentage points from another places. And then you think, well, why am I spending all this energy trying to keep my book updated and active everywhere else when it's just being sold on Amazon anyway? Which is kind of a cold, hard truth in today's world. [00:11:43].340] - Gena But that's a cold, hard truth. But I do think that there is a moment to consider whether you want to put all your eggs in the Amazon basket. And so there is an element of just having security, knowing that you're diversified so that if for some reason Amazon decides you've done something wrong, they can't pull your book and shut you down or whatever like that. [00:12:13].050] - Chris You still own your book. It's not like Amazon's ever going to take the Copyright. So if they did, for some reason ban your book or whatever, it's not like you can't just upload it somewhere else and sell it there as a secondary. But I understand what you're saying. [00:12:26].670] - Gena If you do want an ISBN, Chris, how do you go about getting it? [00:12:30].460] - Chris Yeah. So if you want to get an ISBN, you might find a few places that are selling them. But if you want to get it from the one place that actually is legally selling it, basically at what they say is that cost. It's a ridiculous price. You go to a company called Bowker, B-O-W-K-E-R. They have a pretty easy URL or website link to go to. That is myidentifiers.com. So if you go to myidentifiers.com, you can buy an ISBN for your book for $125, or you can buy them in bulk. You can spend about $300 to get ten of them or $600 to get 100 of them. [00:13:14].580] - Gena Can I ask why would you need ten or 100 ISBN? [00:13:18].730] - Chris Well, if you're publishing a lot. Right, or if you're someone who helps other people publish and you want to go ahead. I mean, this is what a lot of publishers do, right? They'll buy 100 at a time because they just know they want to have a bunch of them. It's the lowest cost that way. If you're someone who wants to publish really more than one book, you might as well buy ten. Right. Because it's a little over double the price. Just a little over double the price to get to go from one to ten. So it's actually pretty cheap to do it that way. [00:13:46].330] - Gena So it's not a problem to buy ten, but not to register them right away. [00:13:50].460] - Chris Yeah. No, they just stay in your account wide open. And so you can just use one at a time as you go through. And those ISBNs, by the way, can be used for both physical and digital. Books. Normally, like ebooks, don't need ISBNs, but you can assign an ISBN to an ebook if you want to have it count as part of all this, too. Again, Amazon assigns ASINs to any Kindle book, so you don't need one there unless you want to. And then there's a field on the KDP Kindle Direct publishing page when you're uploading your book to assign an ISBN to that. [00:14:24].920] - Gena So it's not a problem to have both an ISBN and an ASIN. [00:14:30].030] - Chris Well. No, because Amazon is going to assign an ASIN no matter what it's whether you want to assign an ISBN to be linked to that ASIN. [00:14:38].990] - Gena Okay. [00:14:39].370] - Chris Yeah. So that's for the ISBN alone. Now, if you want a bar code for the back of your book, if you're self publishing, that's going to cost you about 25 more dollars. And instead of spending $125 on that ISBN it's going to be $150. But then it comes with the barcode. Now, you don't have to do that. There are barcode generators online that will create a barcode for you and that sort of thing. But honestly, for 25 more dollars. I just like to keep it simple and keep everything in one place. And then you've got your ISBN and your barcode there. Now, the other things you will need when you register one of those ISBNs with your book, when you're ready to say, okay, I'm going to attach a book to this. You need to have the book title, you need to have the author name, you need to have the description, and you need to have the cover for your book so that all those can be loaded on there. So the title, description, author, and the cover. And then you're pretty much ready to go. They're going to ask you what categories it drops in and that sort of thing. [00:15:38].360] - Chris But all those are just drop down lists that you select as you go through. None of this is very hard at all on myidentifiers. They walk you right through it. So it's certainly something to consider. Again, there are a lot of authors I discouraged from getting ISBNs. If they are going to simply publish a book for their friends and family or it's going to be on a smaller scale, there's really no need to get an ISBN. You can just publish at a lower cost through Amazon using the ASIN system. It makes it easy and makes it quick. A lot of people do that. We've published a book. We have a book called Write Well, Sell Well with some friends of ours that we sell at writer's conferences. We're not looking for that to be on any best seller list. We're not looking to sell it anywhere else. We just like to have it available for when we go to conferences to make available for sale. So why get anything other than an ASIN for that? So it depends on your use case. But overall, that's the answer. Do you need an ISBN? Do you need a barcode? [00:16:41].670] - Chris Maybe. [00:16:43].890] - Gena Do you want to help us out here by just summing up and recapping what you talked about today just very quickly? I know you covered a lot here. [00:16:52].160] - Chris Yeah. So do you need an ISBN or barcode? Well, you might. And ISBN is the way to be cataloged across the world. And ASIN is Amazon's way of cataloging things. You can get both if you want to link them together. Otherwise, if you just want to be published on Amazon and ASIN is fine, you can get them through myidentifiers.com to get an ISBN. It's about $125 or $150 for a barcode with it. And otherwise, if you just want to publish just through Amazon, just go on Amazon KDP and they'll sign you on. What is the Amazon KDP website? You've talked about that before. [00:17:32].560] - Chris Yeah, it's KDP. Amazon.com. It's as easy as that. [00:17:36].400] - Gena And it's easy to fill this out. Right? I mean, it's something that you ask your clients to do and they do it without any problem. [00:17:42].580] - Chris Yeah. I'm happy to do a form because it's so easy. It just takes a few minutes. But almost all my clients, I just tell them, yeah, go to this website, fill it out, send me your info and then we'll attach it to your book. [00:17:55].190] - Gena Great. Well, you guys, I hope that that was a lot of good information for you. I hope it clears up some of the questions you might have about whether or not you need an ISBN or an ASIN or both. And right now we just ask that if you would just rate this podcast that we're bringing your way, review it and even subscribe if you haven't subscribed yet, we want to keep you updated on whenever new ones drop. So we look forward to catching up with you later. And we hope that your writing always, always has momentum.