Hi Jim,

I’m in the process of publishing my book. I’m still a few months away, but I wanted to ask you something while I still have some time…

I’m publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing. So my question is… should I buy my own ISBN or use one of their free ones? I’m already spending a ton on my book, I’d rather not spend too much more if I don’t have to, so please let me know what you think? Is this necessary?


Hi Michell,

Good question, though I’m going to say straight off that this one seems obvious to me, so if I come off as a little condescending, I apologize. It’s not intentional.

First off, congrats!!! Getting to this point with a book is no small task and since you’ve decided to go the self-publishing route, you’ve got a lot of hurdles you have to overcome personally. So I can understand the temptation to go with a ‘seemingly’ free route.

However, as my grandfather used to say, ‘Nothing in life is free. Nothing, no matter how small, everything costs something.’

It’s true, argue it all you want, and these ‘free’ ISBNs are no exception.

First, let’s talk about ISBNs, what are they?

Well, simply put… the acronym ISBN stands for “International Standard Book Number”.
This was a system that was implemented in 1967 as the previous method of documenting and cataloging books was… chaotic to say the very least. When you write a book and get an ISBN# your book is then registered and recorded. It goes into a specific library file permanently.

So, why do you need one?

Because… outside of the ASIN you get from Amazon on Kindle, bookstores and sites typically won’t carry your book without one. You can stick to the ASIN assigned by Amazon if you want to go that route… however… you won’t be able to make a print copy AND you won’t be able to sell your book anywhere else.

So basically, if you want to make hard copies and not be restricted to Amazon, you need an ISBN.

Now, onto your specific question…

“Should I buy my own ISBN or use one of their free ones?”

That get’s a tad more complicated.

As you have noted, the KDP (now merged with CreateSpace) offers you the option to get a free KDP ISBN. many on-demand and direct publishing offer this to their authors. Is this a good idea? Well first, let’s take a look at what Amazon has to say about this under their FAQ…


So what does all this mean, exactly? Why should you pay when you can get a free one?

Well… Here’s the catch. Remember how I said nothing is free? It’s not.
In most cases, with most of the ‘free’ ISBNs, your rights to what you can do with your published work becomes limited. In most cases, you can only use those free ISBNs with channels and companies the publisher that provided you with approves of. In other words, you can’t market it to places they don’t approve of. 

Let’s say you get a free ISBN from Amazon, but then you notice that there are some retail channels you can access through say… Draft2digital that you can’t with Amazon. You can’t use that ISBN with the Direct2Digital. So then you’d have to get another free ISBN with them. Then you have to do the same with another distributor… and another… and… okay, you get the point.

You end up with multiple ISBNs for the same book in the same format.

Well… so what? Still better than spending  $150!

Eh… not really. Keep in mind, word of mouth and outward appearance is everything when it comes to publishing. This is part of the reason I tell authors to keep their personal and public profiles separate, including family and political things, but I’m getting off topic.

So here you are with multiple distributions, each with its own ISBN for the same book and your rights on your book is somewhat limited. It gets even worse if you have a hardcover and a softcover. You’ll also need to register them separately if you ever need to make a copyright claim. That will prove to be expensive and it really looks unprofessional, which is poison in the literary world.

Another issue is that each of those free ISBNs identifies the self-publishing company as a publisher, not you. So now you have multiple ISBNs from multiple publishings for multiple editions… you’re going to have a hard time marketing your book because… well simply put,  there are a lot of stores that will refuse to stock your book on this basis. Some don’t want to deal with specific companies as the publisher, others don’t like the look of putting a book on the shelf like that. 

So in the end, this is a decision you have to make yourself. Though I would strongly recommend biting the bullet and shelling out the cash to Bowker for your own ISBN.

However, this is just me. Let’s open it up to my readers and keep the conversation going. I’m curious to hear from people who actually did go the free route.


Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.


I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.

I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.

Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.

Also, feel free to check out my works of Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Available on Amazon and where ever books are sold. See the link below:


If you have read my books, PLEASE log into Amazon and post a review. I really love to hear everyone’s thoughts and constructive criticisms. Reviews help get my book attention and word of mouth is everything in this business!

Thanks friends!

Catch you on the flip side!


13 Comments on “Buy ISBN or Sign My Work Away?

  1. A very useful, informative and balanced post.
    I took the Amazon free-route for purely ‘easy-way’ reasons.
    Basically I write with as much effort, joy (and despair) as any other writer, but when it comes to the publishing/marketing side my interest wanes to something bordering the ‘yeh y’know, whatever’ and thus the easiest route is taken; which is why I will never become a writer with lots of sales (free books…not so bad!).
    This is not a recommended route, but being in my late 60s it seems the ‘garage band’ approach never wore off…..
    Still love to write though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How do you choose the right genre? Do I need a barcode? FOr each book too? I have heard that it’s not needed to register with the library of congress? Is this so?


    • Hi Mireya, you need an ISBN for each edition. One for hardcover, one for soft, and potentially one for digital format, though there is the train of thought that the ASIN should be sufficient.
      You do not need one to register with the copyright office, though I would recommend doing it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: