Step 1: Securing an ISBN Block

Please note this is a continuation of the post "Setting Up Your Title for Production & Distribution."  My hope is to demystify the process of doing so for entrepreneurs and upstarts new to the world of Publishing.

Step 1 in this process begins with securing an ISBN block.  What I'll cover:
a) Definition of ISBN
b) Decoding the number
c) Bowker and How
d) Block vs Single
e) Barcodes

Definition of ISBN
According to Bowker (will introduce you in a moment), "An ISBN is a number that uniquely identifies your title.  The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies books...  The Purpose of the ISBN is to establish and identify one title or edition from one specific publisher.  This allows for more efficient marketing of your products by booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers, and Distributors."

The ISBN is the accepted industry standard worldwide.  Identify your titles with one, especially since most of us wish to do business with retailers, small and large.  Without an ISBN, this will be virtually impossible.

Decoding the Number
Newly issued ISBN numbers are all 13 digits.  Take, for example, The Tale of Edgar Trunk, the first book in a juvenile lit series I'm publishing.  The ISBN number is 978-0983144137.
--EAN: the first three digits, "978" in this case, represent the EAN, which is an acronym for European Article Number.  You don't need to know this to run your business, but so you know!
--Group Identifier: Then next two digits (09) represent the language of the title.  0 or 1 denotes English-speaking countries.
--Publisher Code: The following four digits (8314) are unique to your publishing company, in my case Thimble Publishing.  This is where purchasing in blocks can be handy.
--Title Code: A three-digit code for your title, with The Tale of Edgar Trunk being 413.
--Check Digit: Finally, the 13th digit, called a Check Digit, is a form of redundancy check used for error detection.  Someone with a Programming background can explain that one better.

Bowker and How
I mentioned Bowker earlier.  Bowker is the official US ISBN agency.  Not only can you find information and process ISBN purchases (and barcodes) through their commercial site MyIdentifers, but they also provide detailed information to a widely used catalog called Books In Print.

OK, so how?  Through MyIdentifers, purchase a single ISBN or a block (recommended).  Then you are able to assign a specific title or edition to each ISBN, including all of your catalog in publication data (the same information tracked by the Library of Congress), making your title accessible to purchasers.  This does not mean anyone will buy your titles.  This is just record-keeping at this point.

This is also where you convert those nifty ISBN-13 numbers to useable barcodes for your book cover.

Block vs Single
Look, you only need one title to run a successful publishing company.  There's no universal law stating otherwise.  However, if you only have one title, the success of your company is stuck with that one book.  Maybe your sole title is the next Harry Potter (like mine!).  Fantastic.  But from a business standpoint, it is safe to assume most of us will release more than one title at some point and stage in the business.  Or, maybe that great lone title will get a special edition or second printing.  The fact of the matter is: buying a block of 10 vs one lone ranger is just cheaper.  If you buy 100 or 100, even more so.  A single ISBN will run around $125.  Ten of them will cost $250.

Barcodes are just digital translations of ISBN numbers that are incorporated into your artwork or at least on the back cover and allow the book to be scanned at the Point of Sale.  They are universal in the United States and absolutely essential.  Bowker converts them in seconds for about $25 a pop.  You do have to know the book price when you get your barcode.  The price becomes part of the barcode image as well as the encoded information.

Visit for more information on ISBN, barcode, or the Books In Print database.