ISBN’s – Get your own, or accept a freebie? A cautionary tale.

So I started my self-publishing journey a bit half-assed. Typical Aussie, I hear you say? Well, here’s a little backstory that might redeem or further incriminate me – I have a cousin who self-published an eBook with Amazon a while ago and, already having finished one novel myself, finally got to the point a few weeks ago where I thought – yeah, I’ll do that. Except, I want a paperback version too.

Having this in mind, I went to Amazon – self-publishing – and found CreateSpace. A nice, easy to use site where you can upload the inner text, a cover and then get a Print On Demand (POD) book out of it. Sweet. Sounds good. Let’s give that a go.

I sign up, start the process of getting my book up and come to the ISBN part. Free CreateSpace ISBN, or my own? Hmmm, decisions, decisions. After a brief look into ISBN’s and finding information that wasn’t particularly helpful, I decided to go with the free one – cause, hey, it’s free and most importantly – I don’t have to fill anything out! (I hate filling in forms – one reason why I’ll probably never join the Police Force even though I think I would totally rock as a cop).

But then! Half way through the process of getting my book up through CreateSpace – Dun, dun, daaaaaa! I found a most informative article that pretty much told me that I’d made the wrong choice given the publishing channels that I have in mind – i.e. lots of different ones. Doh!

Your ISBN is the title-specific number the industry uses to track your book. The ISBN identifies your book in distribution catalogues; buyers use it to order your book; online retailers use your ISBN to create product pages; and tracking services like Book Scan use your ISBN to track sales numbers and locations (If you hope to snag a traditional publishing deal, this is important: the house is likely to check previous sales before making an offer.)

With Createspace you may use your own ISBN only for books you sell through the Createspace store or to Amazon. If you sell through the Createspace expanded distribution channels–to libraries, institutions or bookstores–you must use a Createspace ISBN.

With Lightning Source you always use your own ISBN number.

As long as only one ISBN number is associated with your book, you should have no problem either way. The decision is important, though. Again, for their expanded distribution channels Createspace requires you to use their ISBN. If you go this route, then later decide to make a bookstore push and distribute via Lightning Source, you’ll need to purchase your own ISBN number (you cannot use a Createspace ISBN for Lightning Source distribution). Once your book has two ISBN numbers, things get messy.

In online bookstores, a title with two ISBN numbers will have two product pages — a page for each ISBN. Sales are tracked by ISBN. Say two customers order the same book but from different product pages: one sale will be attributed to each ISBN. Suppose you sell 500 books a day. Depending on the day, 500 sales could get your book into the top 100 on Amazon. But suppose 200 customers bought from one product page and 300 from another — one ISBN will record 200 sales, the other 300, and the title will be ranked accordingly. Under one ISBN your book may be ranked # 500, on the other # 1000.

With two ISBNs there is no way to merge sales numbers, so your book will never appear to be selling as well as it really is.

If you want to distribute via Createspace (for Amazon) and Lightning Source (for bookstores, academic institutions and libraries), the only way around this issue is to use one ISBN for both. Use Createspace only for Amazon distribution and list under your own ISBN and use Lightning Source for expanded distribution.

Note: Your ISBN is separate from your copyright. You retain all rights to your work, whether you use your own ISBN or an ISBN issued by Createspace.

Paperback Distribution: Createspace vs. Lightning Source | Terri Giuliano Long. Published 2013.


So I want to change my option from a free CreateSpace ISBN to my own – but I can’t. I could have if I hadn’t pressed the submit for review button. I’m told – via forums – that I could have pressed the trash button and started again with my own ISBN.


But I pushed that button, didn’t I?

facepalm kitty


Hindsight is 20/20. I shouldn’t have drunk that many.

– Ze Frank sings this in a highly amusing song and I quote it quite a bit in my head everytime I do a stupidish thing that could have been avoided if I’d just done a little more research beforehand. But sometimes I’m not very patient…

So what to do? Since this book format and cover are now locked in with CreateSpace, I could change the cover and format in order to sell through other merchants – I was thinking Kobo and BookDepository because that’s where I usually buy my books (but with some research, I might actually find out that this is unnecessary because they source their books through Amazon or something, making this midnight rant obsolete). Always a valid choice, of course, but the whole book sales tracking thing still applies.

Live and learn, I guess.

Of course, when I’m picked up by a publisher and my book goes bananas, this whole issue won’t even matter anymore because it will require a new ISBN anyway… Here’s hoping.


Edit – So I found out that the Book Depository is now owned by Amazon – so if it’s listed with Amazon it goes to the Book Depository after 6-8 weeks. Nice to know.

You may also like...

Leave a Comment/Reply