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Do indie authors need an imprint and ISBNs?

Updated: Oct 22

One of the key decisions for an author is how to publish and distribute a book. If you decide to self-publish as an indie author, should you create an author imprint and buy an ISBN (Industry Standard Book Number)?

Two authors I follow regularly have good factual information and perspectives about author imprints and ISBNs. You can see a detailed discussion on the blog of author/ industry analyst Jane Friedman in a guest blog by author/ digital publishing professional David Wogahn (see https://www.janefriedman.com/why-self-publishing-authors-should-consider-establishing-their-own-imprint/).

And the Reedsy blog has more perspectives about ISBNs (see https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-get-an-isbn/).


Some indie authors I follow created author imprints and bought ISBNs from Bowker for print and audio versions. Others, with or without author imprints, use free ISBNs from Amazon KDP for print versions and audio versions and use an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) from Amazon KDP for Kindle versions. It’s a matter of personal preference.


Amazon KDP makes it easy to self-publish a book without buying ISBNs. With a few clicks, an author can create an Amazon KDP account and upload the book content and a cover at no cost. After the author proofs the book and clicks to publish, the book will be available for sale on the Amazon site within 72 hours or less. As a result, one industry analyst estimates that writers self-publish about 50,000 new Kindle titles every month and many Kindle titles don’t have an author imprint.


It’s important to understand that Amazon KDP requires ISBNs for print versions and audio versions, but it will provide free ISBNs so the author doesn’t have to buy one from a service provider like Bowker. For Kindle versions, Amazon KDP doesn’t require an ISBN and provides the free ASIN.


Perhaps the most important reason to buy an ISBN from Bowker is that using a free identifier from Amazon KDP restricts you to the Amazon KDP distribution system. That’s in the online overview comparing ISBNs from Amazon KDP with ISBNs you buy for yourself: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201834170#Howto_free_ISBN.


One less important point in the same comparison is that the publisher information associated with a free ISBN from Amazon KDP is that the Amazon listing will say the book is “Independently Published.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is a clear sign that the book is self-published.


These two considerations create obstacles for libraries and academic institutions and bookstores that don’t want to order or sell books by indie authors distributed only by Amazon. This may not matter to you unless you want to distribute your print and audio versions beyond the Amazon online marketplace.


There are other factors to consider. For example, without an author imprint and an ISBN, you cannot get a LCCN from the Library of Congress to include in the information about the author and publisher at the front of the book. However, not every book—especially works of fiction—needs a LCCN. See http://www.go-publish-yourself.com/self-publishing/what-is-an-lccn.

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