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February 6, 2008

The ISBN Racket

If you want to get an ISBN number for your book, R.R. Bowker LLC is the only agency in the United States that can issue you an ISBN number. They have a monopoly, apparently. The good news is that an ISBN number only costs $25.00. The bad news is the minimum number of ISBN numbers you can purchase is 10. So, even if you only need one ISBN number, it's going to cost you $250.00.

U.S. ISBN Agency, Bowker assigns ISBNs to firms in the U.S. To order an ISBN, go to the U.S. ISBN Agency website at www.isbn.org. Their website contains the following "Important Message About Unauthorized Resellers of ISBNs"

As the U.S. ISBN Agency, R R Bowker is the exclusive US source of publisher prefixes and accompanying ranges of ISBN numbers for eligible publishers. Bowker provides information and advice on the uses of the ISBN System to publishers and the book trade, and promotes the use of the Bookland EAN bar code format. In addition to their ISBN prefixes, publishers also register their titles with Bowker for inclusion in the Books In Print databases.

Please be aware that there are unauthorized resellers of ISBNs, and that this activity is a violation of the ISBN standard and of industry practice.

Only companies you designate as your publisher should assign ISBNs to your publications from their block of ISBNs. You may encounter offers from other sources to purchase single ISBNs at special offer prices. Companies that provide limited services such as distributing, retailing, bar code services, printing, and/or marketing should not assign ISBNs from their company to your publications unless you allow them to also hold publishing rights.

If you use one of these reassigned ISBNs, you will not be correctly identified as the publisher of record in Books in Print or many of the book industry databases. The result may be extensive costs to apply for a new ISBN and the application of stickers to books already printed and in circulation.

If you are a new publisher, you should apply for your own ISBN publisher prefix from the US ISBN Agency. Assigning ISBNs from your own ISBN publisher prefix will identify you as the publisher of your titles, and link your contact information to the specific publisher identifier. This will ultimately aid in circulating your books properly in the industry supply chain.

If you have any questions about resellers of ISBNs, do not hesitate to contact the US ISBN Agency for further advice.

If you are a publisher who has already purchased an ISBN from a reseller, and you are experiencing problems or need advice, please contact the US ISBN Agency at isbn-san@bowker.com.

Now, what I'm trying to figure out is whether this really matters. R. R. Bowker is a monopoly, so it goes without saying that they're overpriced, bloated, and practically useless.

As far as I can tell, you can't search their ISBN catalog online. All you can do is order a printed copy of "Books In Print" for $300.00.

Furthermore, according to their FAQ's:

"Receiving your ISBNs does NOT guarantee title listings. To ensure your titles get in the Books in Print database you must submit your title information."

How & where do I register my ISBN?
Once ISBNs have been assigned to products they should be reported to R.R. Bowker as the database of record for the ISBN Agency. Companies are eligible for a free listing in various directories such as Books in Print, Words on Cassette, The Software Encyclopedia, Bowker's Complete Video Directory, etc.

Book titles should be registered with Books in Print at www.bowkerlink.com.

However, I purchased a single ISBN number from an organization called RJ Communications. At the time, I thought it was legitimate. But now, I'm not so sure, because I tried to look up my ISBN on Amazon.com and didn't find it. So, I'm wondering where I can go to look up my ISBN number. And, the text on the ISBN.org website seems to indicate that I've been had. So, I did some more searching and found this little jewel from Ron Pramschufer at RJ Communications:

A year ago, a new alternative was made available to the “dabbler� or casual self publisher. This alternative was the legal, single ISBN. While a few companies had been selling illegal single ISBN’s, which were no different than the Vanity Publishers assigning ISBN’s, this was the first time in years that the US ISBN agency, RR Bowker, offered singles to authors.


Once you receive your ISBN, and the specs are known for the title you wish to assign to the ISBN are known, you will register your title in Books in Print, just like any other publisher.

So, this looks like the part where I dropped the ball. I didn't register my ISBN with Books in Print. Presumably, this is where the "industry databases such as Barnes and Noble or Amazon" get their ISBN information.

Here is the application for a Single, Legal ISBN from RJ Communications, an “authorized agent� of the US ISBN agency, RR Bowker.

You can contact R.R. Bowker at isbn-san@bowker.com or at 1-888-269-5372.

Posted by Rob Kiser on February 6, 2008 at 9:25 AM


Your title information should have been submitted by Ron if he is an authorized agent. We offer a similar service as an agent for Bowker, www.publisherservices-us.com/ppp.htm. Since most small authors need assistance, we have customer service representatives who can process applications over the phone. Your title information should be uploaded to Books in Print within 30 days.

Posted by: Carson Babbitt on February 13, 2008 at 4:56 PM

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