ISBNs are confusing.
In many countries, they’re free. Apparently those folks have a God-given (or government-given) right to be listed as the publisher of their own work, finances notwithstanding.
In the US, you’ll pay for the privilege of appearing to have published your own book. Bowker owns the monopoly. Like most monopolies, they’re expensive. But at least they’re hard to deal with, too, so you get the full package.
Free ISBNs abound, if you’re willing to let the owner of the ISBN be listed as the publisher. I bought 10 ISBNs back when I cared. That’s the last money I’ll spend on them.
Let’s use CreateSpace as an example, prompted by a question on Linked In.
There are two negatives to using an ISBN from CreateSpace, neither of which is a big deal unless your personal situation dictates otherwise. ISBNs have nothing at all to do with rights, ownership, or intellectual property. They are simply a unique identifier so book sellers will know which book, precisely, they’re selling.
Here are the two minor flaws of a CreateSpace ISBN:
- If you use their free ISBN, you cannot print exactly the same book with that ISBN elsewhere. That means if you want to use CreateSpace and also have your books printed at some big book printery, or Lighting Source, or whatever, you can’t use CreateSpace’s ISBN. You can print elsewhere. Just not with that ISBN. I have no idea why anyone would do this, but it’s a technical issue to be aware of.
- In the catalog from which bookstores and libraries order, Books in Print, the publisher will be listed as CreateSpace. Since bookstores and libraries virtually ignore self-published books, it doesn’t matter if the publisher is them, or you, or whatever. They’ll ignore it no matter what. Anywhere else, the publisher isn’t listed and, in my opinion, doesn’t matter any more than who made the suit you’re wearing. If it’s not Armani, nobody will know, or care.
If you use CreateSpace for your printing on demand, and next year decide to print in bulk or use another print-on-demand service, you simply use another ISBN. Take the CreateSpace version out of circulation if you like, and move on. If you self-publish, you always retain the publishing rights.
I’ll focus on what matters.