Self publishing: ISBN or ASBN?

I’ll be posting regularly about my trials and travels of the writing process and “bringing my piggy to market” ordeals and triumphs. Today’s Publishing Notebook post is about the ISBN. I discovered that the simple task of getting an ISBN number may not be in the budget for my current book, Bipolar Almanac: Create a life worth living.

First of all, why is the ISBN important?

The International Standard Book Number is an essential number for any book that is sold in the U.S. or internationally. It is the go-to identifier used by bookstores, libraries and all organizations who purchase your book. R.R. Bowker is the only provider. My original plan was to purchase ISBNs and have flexibility in selling to multiple platforms. That was, until today. Here’s some background: I spent over 20 years helping self publishers set up their own publishing houses and bring their books to market. Back then we completed handwritten forms, mailed a $100 check and received a sheet of 100 ISBNs. My, how the times have changed!

Current ISBN costs from Bowker

1 ISBN - $125.00

10 ISBNs - $295.00

100 ISBNs - $575

Amazon's low-cost alternative

A new alternative is Amazon’s ASBN (Amazon Standard Book Number). This number is only valid when selling on Amazon. Since I plan to sell initially through the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) program, the ASBN is a good fit. But hang on. I also want to publish an audible book, and eventually plan to sell on other platforms. The ASBN quickly becomes worthless. What to do? After much analysis and a quick peek in my checkbook, I've decided to go with the freebie from Amazon. However, I am saving my pennies for the set of 10 ISBNs, which are clearly preferred for multiple platform publication,

Other costs to consider


Bowker’s sophisticated website sells an assortment of goodies, including marketing services, for whopping costs. Here are some basic items you may need to know about.

SAN (Standard Address Number) This is required if you own a physical brick and mortar business and expect to ship physical copies of your books. If you’re publishing e-books and audio books, don’t waste your money on the $150 one-time per location fee.


Barcodes are a nifty way to encode your price and details about the book in a very small space. People scan them with their cell phones and it proves that you're a truly sophisticated seller. If you have any changes to the description of the book or its price, forget it. You’ll have to get another barcode. Bowker's price seems a bit steep at $125 per code. I'll keep shopping for lower costs on the bar code front and will let you know what I find.

Time budget analysis

As usual, the time expected to perform simple research has become a bit of an Easter egg hunt. I was going to pay for the ISBN, download and insert onto my copyright page and expected this series of tasks to take 30 minutes. Instead, this research, analysis and nail biting took over two hours. Perhaps you will benefit from my musings, dear reader. Good luck in your own book project and return to this blog regularly for more Publishing Notebook posts.


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© 2019  Ann Christensen  

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