What the F*%# is an ISBN?
On your publishing journey you are going to be asked if you want to assign your own ISBN or let Amazon or Smashwords or whomever is distributing your book assign one for “free”. I say “free” because is anything really free? Generally, no, no it’s not. If you allow them to give you the number, they are the publisher. I don’t know about you but I decided to travel down the Indie Publishing road so I could be the publisher.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. You wanna know, what is an ISBN? It stands for International Standard Book Number, and it’s an identification number for your book. They can be purchased in bulk (blocks of 10 or 100) or one at a time. You need one for each format of your book. That sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Originally, you were supposed to have one for each version (mobi, ePub, etc.) of your eBook as well as your paperback, hardcover, and audio books. However, since Amazon assigns its own number (ASIN) to your book, and pretty much ignores your ISBN (You still have to provide one to be the publisher), now it is not required to have separate numbers for you mobi file and your ePub file (though some still recommend it) as long as the content is the same.
Once you check out the prices of ISBNs you’ll see why having as few as possible is a benefit. We recommend having one for your ebooks and one for your paperback versions. If you plan on only publishing one or two books, buying them separately can be a bit costly, and many one-time publishers choose to have their distributor provide one for this reason. If you’re like us, however, and are developing a career as a professional indie author, buying a block of ten is the best solution. We use Bowker to purchase ours, and Bookow to create our barcodes.