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The ISBN racket & Indie Publishers

Oddly enough, I always feel behind, so it was a surprise to me when I loaded a few promo videos to Goodreads to see this:


39 distinct works? According to Goodreads.


In fact, my own count is 48 (including audiobooks and hardcovers). That's... more than I thought, to be sure, enough so that I'd quickly chew through half the massively overpriced ISBNs in a Bowker (the monopoly held provider of ISBNs in the USA) 100 pack. (Yes, these digital assets are free in Canada, but those can't be issued in the USA.) As I think about growing my writing habit into a writing business, the consideration of ISBNs becomes a bit of an issue. I produce a lot of IP in the run of a year, and even more when I have down time from my full time job (if that ever comes again). Because these are deals at Bowker.


Fig. Meanwhile Bowker like "Americans deserve to overpay". Canadians: "That stuff is free."


So, clearly, yet again, Americans are being milked like goats and made to pay through the teeth. It seems so cruel that the weight of this is borne up by Indie writers and publishers.


When you think about Indie authors whose books you love, try to remember that while TradPub can buy enormous packages of ISBNs -- so many at bulk that the price of each is in cents -- your Indie Publisher who wants to be in a bookstore starts out $300 dollars in the hole. This is also because 1 ISBN is a waste of money for most people. Each version of your book must have a unique ISBN, after all (ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook).

Like copyright (which, happily, is only $65 dollars) this is yet another hidden cost of being an Indie author publishing. As I reckon it:

The minimal cost for a book to the author is:

  1. $300-$500/$800 for a book cover. [Or make your own.]

  2. $65 for copyright. [Optional]

  3. $295 for 10 ISBNs. [Optional]

This is without getting into the blackberry thorns of hiring an editor (which costs thousands). Or a marketer (one quoted me $6500 -- uh, no). Or anyone to write your sales copy, Amazon description, or run promotions. So your average Indie needs to be learning to do this, themselves, and saving their money!


This is the wisest course! I've never had ISBNs from Bowker before, and I'm sure you can see why. It was with weary discontent that I study the bloated prices for their digital wares. But... it may be in my future, readers!


At the same time, I'm glad to be an artist who can also make many of my own covers on my own! I'm a girl who keeps production costs down! Cross your fingers for me as I come into the end of my masters degree programme! I'll be free to tell you more about it once it's done, but, for now, understand it really has me thinking about what it is I'm doing as I release my books.


Sadly the business of ISBNs, and Bowker's shameless gouging, is part of that process. It remains to be seen what I decide!


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