I started this blog post nearly two months ago now, ranting about my troubles with ISBNs for my upcoming books. I was frustrated about how expensive they were and wanted to get that frustration out the only way I knew how. I’d complained about it to my family, and they were sympathetic. But I was still left with the discontent inside me that I couldn’t make go away, so I thought if I put my frustration into words it might help. So I started a blog post. It just has taken me this long to finish the darned thing.
Unlike most of the other posts I’ve done, this one is kind of informational. When I started the post, I had knowledge of what an ISBN is. I knew ISBN is an initialism for International Standard Book Number, and that it is a unique identifier that is on every piece of literary work made available to the public. That way, whether the book is on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, or on the shelf at a local library, or on the cyber shelf at Amazon, or even on the shelf at a small store advertising books written by local authors, it can be identified. Each book deserves to be treated equally with an equal voice, so to speak. Each book for sale gets an ISBN whether it’s 5 words or 5 million words, whether it’s written by Stephen King or unknown author Steven Smith.
I knew WHAT an ISBN is, but what does it mean? What do all those numbers say? Well, I found out. Below is the ISBN for the paperback version of Blood Bound.
The ISBN is 13 digits long: 979-8-9867837-0-3, and each number, or group of numbers, represents information. Although useful to some, the numbers on the ISBN are pretty useless to the average reader. I’m the author of the book and I have to admit, the numbers are pretty useless to me. And that is precisely why I decided to figure out what the heck they mean.
All books published before 2007 only have a 10-digit ISBN. After 2007, the industry adopted the 13-digit number you see today. The numbers are in sections separated by a hyphen. The first section, called the prefix element, identifies when the book was published. Since the inception of the 13-digit ISBN, the first three numbers have only ever been 978 or 979.The second section, called the registration group, indicates geographically where the book is published and what language it’s published in. Historically, all books with the number 0 and 1 will indicate that the book is published in any English-speaking country. Recently, since the introduction of the 979 numbers, the first two sections of 979-8 will be unique to books published in the United States. Since all my books are published in the United States, all of my ISBNs begin with 979-8.The next section, called the registration element, indicates the publisher of the book. Each country that assigns an ISBN will assign publishers in that country their own registration number.In my self-publishing career, I have used 2 different publishing companies. I started out using Purple Flower Publications and recently started a new company called Dreamwriter.earth
I will get into the purchasing of ISBN a little later in the blog, but I purchased 2 separate blocks of 10 ISBNs, the first using my initial company of Purple Flower Publications and the second under the current name of Dreamwriter.earth. As a result, I have two separate publisher numbers. Some of the earlier books use the original number of 9830839, but the recent ones use the registration number assigned to Dreamwriter.earth, which is 9867837.
The next section, called the publication element, identifies the book title and edition. Each title and edition will have its own unique number. Blood Bound has the number 0. Since I purchased 2 separate blocks of 10 ISBNs, each of the publishing companies will have assigned the unique numbers of 0-9. I have yet to purchase a second block of ISBNs under the same company, so I am eager to see what those numbers will be. The ISBN is only 13 digits, so the next block I purchase for Dreamwriter.earth cannot use 11-99 as the publication element since that will make the ISBN 14 digits. So, what, then, will be used? Stay tuned for that because I don’t know the answer but will hopefully soon find out.The last number of the 13-digit ISBN is the check digit. This is basically a calculation to validate the ISBN. In other words, it’s used to make sure the ISBN is legitimate. At the price they charge, I can imagine the inclination to just make up a number and save yourself the cost.
If you’re not a number person, I won’t be offended if you want to skip this next section and read the rest of the post.
Hint: scroll down and look for Shaun the Sheep and start reading after that.I am a number nerd. I always have been. Math was my favorite subject in school and numbers have always made sense to me. I love Sudoku and other number puzzles. I once took a class on how many things in nature depict the Fibonacci sequence. What the heck is the Fibonacci sequence, you ask? Well, check out this short video and find out.
Okay, now let’s bring the post back to the subject of ISBNs because I’m going to geek out and explain how you calculate the check digit. It’s a 5-step process, and really isn’t all that complicated, despite the need for algorithms to figure this number out quickly. The algorithms are used because people are lazy and want an easy way to verify the ISBN is legit. For this example, we will go back to the ISBN for the paperback version of
Blood Bound.
First, we will need to identify the odd numbers and the even numbers. Sounds easy, but we’re not figuring out which of the first 12 numbers are odd. We are using the odd-numbered places. For example, of the first 12 numbers, 9799737 are all odd numbers, but what about 0? Is zero an odd or even number?
Fun fact: zero is actually an even number. Here’s my inner number geek fully emerging. According to Merriam-Webster, an even number is a whole number that can be divided by two into two equal whole numbers. This means if you take the number (N) and divide it by the divisor (D), which is 2, you will get an integer (I). An integer is defined as any of the natural numbers, the negatives of these numbers, or zero.Let’s test this. N = 0, D = 2 If N/D = I, then N is even. 0/2 = 0, which is an integer (I), which means 0 is an even number.
Okay, back to the check digit. We were talking about the odd and even numbers. Now, we don’t take just the odd numbers of the first 12 numbers in the ISBN, we take the numbers in the odd places. So, we add together the first digit (whether it’s an odd or even number), the third digit (whether odd or even), the fifth, seventh, ninth, and eleventh. For my paperback
Blood Bound ISBN, the odd places are the following numbers: 9, 9, 9, 6, 8, 7. And the even places are the following numbers: 7, 8, 8, 7, 3, 0.Step 1: Add all the numbers in the odd numbered places: 9+9+9+6+8+7=48Step 2: Add all the numbers in the even numbered places and multiply by 3: (7+8+8+7+3+0)x3=(33)x3=99Step 3: Add the results of Steps 1 and 2 together: 48+99=147Step 4: Divide the result of Step 3 by 10: 147/10=14 with a remainder of 7.Step 5: If the remainder in Step 4 is 0, the check digit is 0. Otherwise, the check digit is the remainder in Step 4 subtracted from 10: 10-7=3.So, the check digit in my ISBN is 3. To summarize, the Blood Bound ISBN of 979-8-9867837-0-3 tells anyone who understands the confounded things that the paperback version of Blood Bound is published in the United States (979-8). Furthermore, it is the 10th ISBN used by Dreamwriter.earth (986737-0). And lastly, the check figure of 3 tells everyone that the ISBN is legitimate and not some made-up, bootleg number.
Whew! What a lot of information in just a few numbers.
Now that my number-geek section is over, I’m going to go on a rant about how ridiculously expensive the ISBNs are. First of all, you NEED one to publish a book. Sure, you can use the free ones that
Amazon will give you, but you can only sell your book on Amazon. If you entertain the notion of having a few of your books on a physical store bookshelf or in a library, you have to get an ISBN.Passed in 1890, the Sherman Antitrust Act banned business from merging to form monopolies. Additionally, it prevented these groups from dictating, controlling, and manipulating prices in a particular market. The definition of a monopoly is a commodity controlled by one party. Guess how many companies sell ISBNs in the United States? Ready for this? One. Bowker Company is the only place you can buy an ISBN in this glorious country of ours. So, how exactly is that not a monopoly?
I get that they want to limit the places that sell these little highly sought-after morsels to ensure integrity and uniformity, but why should this unique identifier be so expensive?
I can go into a definition of what capitalism is, but it basically comes down to something (hereafter known as “S”) that many people (hereafter known as “P”) want under the control of very few people (hereafter known as “VFP”). The VFP who have control of S can, and will, extort as much return as possible from P to feed their greed. They have S and they are going to demand as payment for S as much as they want, knowing that P has no choice but to comply with their demands because P needs S and can only get it from VFP. That, right there, is what is broken about our world. The desire for money above the desire for better circumstances.
On Bowker’s website, you have the option of purchasing (a) 1 ISBN for $125, (b) 100 for $575, or (c) 1,000 for $1,500. Seriously? Going back to simple math, the price per unit is (a) $125, (b) $5.75, and (c) $1.50. Why is 1 ISBN so much more per piece? Is it a benefit of bulk purchase? No. It’s because a small, self-published author might need 1 or 2, but certainly not 100 or 1,000, so he or she will most likely purchase that option at a much higher cost per unit. To me, that just seems like the small, self-published author is being taken advantage of, and as a small, self-published author, I feel victimized by this capitalistic greed.
Furthermore, this price is just for the ISBN number. If you want to download the actual barcode to put on your book, Bowker extorts an additional $25 per bar code out of you. With publishing costs so high already, it’s no wonder that it’s so hard for self-published authors to make any money. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is a conspiracy between Bowker and the publishing companies to discourage self-publishing. Because why would you self-publish when you can be taken advantage of by a publishing company? Reading back, I find that this blog post sounds uncharacteristically pessimistic of me. Anyone who knows me, knows that I tend to be optimistic about things. Is my view becoming skewed as I age? Maybe. Is that good or bad? Who knows?
Well, that’s all I have to say about ISBNs. Together, we’ve learned what an ISBN is, what all the numbers mean, and how to verify that the ISBN is not a bootleg. Additionally, we’ve discovered that they’re expensive but necessary. But, hey, what isn’t anymore?
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