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Summary: This article we will look at the reasons you will need or not need an ISBN

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Today we will look at the various reasons you will or will not need an ISBN for your Print or eBook.

Whether you need an ISBN or not depends on several factors including where the book will be published and where it will be distributed. Use this as a guide to help you.

Type of Publishing

The first thing you need to determine is if you will be publishing in traditional, indie, self, or vanity (but please don't publish with a vanity press!). Any publishing company you work with should assign you an ISBN, so if your path to publishing includes anything other than self publishing, you do not need an ISBN.

The complication arises in the self publishing world. Depending on your strategy, might need to pick up an ISBN, so read on. Of course, consider the number of books you write and the cost of an ISBN. Buying bulk, they are pretty cheap, but if you buy a single ISBN, they are expensive.

Multi-listing Sites

A Multi-listing site is a company where your book information is spread out to a multitude of bookstores. I personally use IngramSpark which lists my books at pretty much every online retailer. A number of other multi-listing sites are also available. IngramSpark does require you to purchase an ISBN; there is no assignment possible. Other multi-listing services will supply a number, so research the listing services you will be using to determine if you need an ISBN or if one will be assigned to you. Note that you cannot use an Amazon assigned ISBN to list your book on other services.


KDP is unique in that it both a multi-listing service (through their Expanded Distribution program) and a 'publisher'. Though they are not technically the publisher of your book, the ISBN will list them as the publisher.

If you opt to use their ISBN, you will be able to list your book on all Amazon properties and around the world in other stores as well, though you will receive much lower royalties, which is why I explain my distribution strategy why I list on both KDP and IngramSpark. If you are going to use the Amazon Expanded Distribution, you have to use the ISBN they assign you.

You can also use your own ISBN on Amazon so you can also list your book on IngramSpark or other multi-listing services to receive the highest commissions for each type of sale.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that if you are planning to write more than a single book, it is worth the investment to purchase a block of ISBN's and use your own numbers. These are the cases I think it is best to not buy your ISBNs:

  • You are planning to use a publishing company (in which they assign your ISBN)
  • You are trying to keep things simple and distribute only through Amazon or Amazon + their Expanded Distribution (You will have to have their ISBN)
  • You are only planning to write a few books (Small quality of ISBNs are expensive)