For anyone considering or looking into publishing their own books, one of the points of contention that you will eventually reach is whether or not you should cough up to buy your own ISBN numbers, or go with the oh so appealing option of using the free one that many print on demand services offer you. In no uncertain terms, the former is the better option, and it’s due to the following:
An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is the identifier that allows your book to be referenced through The International ISBN Agency and found regardless of differences in website descriptions or issues with search terms. It’s also required by any bookseller in order to stock your book (e-book, paperback, or hardcover). This means that for the average self publisher, you will need somewhere from 1-3, depending on whether you are exclusively digital, or are also moving into print.
Many services, such as print on demand services, will offer you a free ISBN number when you use them to print your book. While this is appealing, for anyone looking to create a publishing business, side venture, or who is interested in better control of their work, doing so is not the wisest choice. Part of the ISBN system includes the “publisher of record,” meaning the person or company who purchased the ISBN number, and will be listed as the publisher when the number is searched. This means that when company X gives you that free number, your book is listed as published by company X according to the ISBN database.
For someone publishing a one off book for the heck of it, this isn’t necessarily an issue. In the same token, this doesn’t mean that retailers are going to start listing your book under the company whose ISBN number you’ve been given. But it also means that if you are trying to build your back catalog, you don’t have complete control over your work, and among other things, you can run into issues with moving your work from one publishing company to another. So the moral of the story?
Cough up and buy the ISBN numbers from the organization assigned to your country or region. Find out where at the The International ISBN Agency site, and be aware of the number you will need. Personally, I’d be inclined to lean towards the bundles which are ISBN numbers alone, as the “self-publishing” styled bundles available under the U.S. site doesn’t seem to be the most useful for someone who isn’t able to physically put books on shelves in stores, but get whatever fits your needs. You’ll be happy you did in the end.