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Earlier this week, I had to go through the process of ordering a new set of ISBNs. As many American authors and small publishers know, if you want to have your own ISBN (as opposed to getting one controlled by Smashwords, Createspace, etc.) you have to go through Bowker, the sole provider of ISBNs in the U.S. As a monopoly, Bowker charges outrageous fees for buying single or small lots of ISBNs ... and there are other exploitative costs and practices as well. I outlined the situation in the following blog post:

Bowker's 12,500% ISBN markup for new authors

What do other KBers think?
 
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It isn't exploitive. Bowkers doesn't want to deal with selling ISBNs one at a time. They are a B2B company, not a retailer. They are use to dealing with companies that buy 10-1000 ISBNs at a time. They have been offering the single ISBN for years, but more as a "Good Gods! Fine! Here!" than an attempt to do business with individuals. You can buy 10 for $275 ($27.50 each). Frankly, if you only need one ISBN...you probably don't need an ISBN. ISBNs are really most needed for people who are going to make a concerted effort to push into brick and mortar stores and institutions like libraries with print offerings.  Readers don't pay attention to the name on the ISBN.
 

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I do agree: nobody needs a single ISBN.

Only someone who is serious about publishing is going to need ISBNs, and the minimum they'll buy is the ten pack. (I bought 100. And if you ask around, I'm sure everyone here knows I'm cheap. :p )

People who "need" a single ISBN can go through whatever source they're publishing through and get them.
 

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I was on myidentifiers yesterday to assign one of my ISBN numbers to my new release.  They are price gouging, plain and simple.  50 years ago the excuse of only wanting to deal with a handfull of publishers who pushed out 99% of the books that excuse might have flown.  Everything is automated and computerized now.  They don't do a damned thing other than collect money.  Trying to get us to buy a number for pdf, mobi, epub and every other format is a technological farce.  If they seriously wanted to stay relevant, they should be charging $5 or $10 for a single number.  Instead, every e-book retailer has dropped the requirement for an ISBN number.

Also they charge $25 to "create" a bar code for you and offer e-book conversion services, but not for projects that might be complicated.  Lots of pictures or indexes and footnotes.
 

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I don't even get the ISBN thing. It's just a number, recorded somewhere, isn't it?
We get them free up here in Canada - surely if there were some tremendous effort involved in issuing these numbers they wouldn't be free. Canadian's aren't THAT nice.
 
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SBJones said:
I was on myidentifiers yesterday to assign one of my ISBN numbers to my new release. They are price gouging, plain and simple. 50 years ago the excuse of only wanting to deal with a handfull of publishers who pushed out 99% of the books that excuse might have flown. Everything is automated and computerized now. They don't do a damned thing other than collect money. Trying to get us to buy a number for pdf, mobi, epub and every other format is a technological farce. If they seriously wanted to stay relevant, they should be charging $5 or $10 for a single number. Instead, every e-book retailer has dropped the requirement for an ISBN number.
Um, they don't need to do what you want to "stay relevent".

1. They are the only legal entity that can sell ISBNs in the U.S.
2. They are a B2B company, not a retailer. You are not their target market. You are a peripheral, secondary market.
 

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Bowker's pricing makes a lot more sense in a "time to program" capacity if you think of them as selling degrees of freedom = digits in the block for you to choose.

You're not actually buying ISBNs from Bowker. You're buying a block of ISBNs--literally buying a prefix of a certain size. If your ISBN has 12 determined digits, your block is very small. If it has 9 determined digits, you're buying a larger block. When I bought 100 ISBNs, I actually got the ISBN block 978-1-937248-0XX-Y, to do with as I wished, not 100 random ISBNs.

So:

1 ISBN = 10^0 ISBNs = 0 digits for you to choose from in choosing an ISBN for a book from your block = $125
10 ISBNs = 10^1 ISBNs = 1 digit for you to choose from in choosing an ISBN for a book from your block = $250
100 ISBNs = 10^2 ISBNs = 2 digits for you to choose from = $575
1000 ISBNs = 10^3 ISBNs = 3 digits to choose from = $1000

Their pricing is almost exactly $125 * 2^n where n is the number of free digits in the block that you buy. The only deviation from this formula is the 100 ISBN lot.

I still think their pricing at the lower levels is kind of ridiculous, but I understand why they're pricing the way they do.
 

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There were 6, now there is 5.  When there is only one left for them to sell to I guess even then it won't matter.  I would think a business to business company would like to do business with my business and the tens of thousands of other new businesses that have come into being in the last 10 years but I guess not.

What we are doing is the future of publishing.  Why shouldn't they do what I want to stay relevant?
 
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SBJones said:
There were 6, now there is 5.
You do know that there are a few thousand small press and university presses outside of the "Big Six", right? There is this whole world of publishing that has nothing to do with New York City. By the gods, you've got Amazon opening up a half dozen of its own imprints. Where do you think they get their ISBNs from? ::)

And as Matt said, if you intend to really buckle down and run a business that needs ISBNs, why wouldn't you just buy a block?

What we are doing is the future of publishing. Why shouldn't they do what I want to stay relevant?
"We" may be the future, but "you" do not speak for "Me" or the rest of the industry. Most of us either don't need an ISBN or buy them in bulk. So "we" have no need to try to force Bowkers to do anything. Bowkers no more needs to bend over backwards to cater to you than I need to listen to my sister-in-law who thinks I should publish YA paranormal romances full of furries. She can think that all she wants, but that isn't what my business is based on.
 

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Quiss said:
I don't even get the ISBN thing. It's just a number, recorded somewhere, isn't it?
We get them free up here in Canada - surely if there were some tremendous effort involved in issuing these numbers they wouldn't be free. Canadian's aren't THAT nice.
We have the same thing here in New Zealand. The National Library co-ordinates and you just fill in a form and they issue them. After working with them a while I can apply for a block rather than one or two at a time I am currently getting, just need to establish a relationship first.
 

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They should be free, that's my view. The ideal solution, and something I really hope is adopted in the future, is for everyone to generate their own QR codes and print them on the backs of their physical books, and in their ebooks. Normal people are already using these things every day without complaint. They're free and easy; I like free and easy.
 

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It's interesting to me the way some authors justify authors being price gouged, and being taken advantage of other unfair ways, such as by saying vicious crazy spite reviews should not be replied to. Evidently some authors feel and believe that as authors it is their duty to be taken advantage of, and not complain about it. These natural masochists embrace suffering, and do harm to the writing profession. Authors! Because you write and publish does not mean you deserve to be treated badly, in any way. Stand up for yourself. I never use ISBN's because in my opinion they are useless for me, and they ARE price gouging.

Phil Duke
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Courtney Milan said:
Bowker's pricing makes a lot more sense in a "time to program" capacity if you think of them as selling degrees of freedom = digits in the block for you to choose.

You're not actually buying ISBNs from Bowker. You're buying a block of ISBNs--literally buying a prefix of a certain size. If your ISBN has 12 determined digits, your block is very small. If it has 9 determined digits, you're buying a larger block. When I bought 100 ISBNs, I actually got the ISBN block 978-1-937248-0XX-Y, to do with as I wished, not 100 random ISBNs.

So:

1 ISBN = 10^0 ISBNs = 0 digits for you to choose from in choosing an ISBN for a book from your block = $125
10 ISBNs = 10^1 ISBNs = 1 digit for you to choose from in choosing an ISBN for a book from your block = $250
100 ISBNs = 10^2 ISBNs = 2 digits for you to choose from = $575
1000 ISBNs = 10^3 ISBNs = 3 digits to choose from = $1000

Their pricing is almost exactly $125 * 2^n where n is the number of free digits in the block that you buy. The only deviation from this formula is the 100 ISBN lot.

I still think their pricing at the lower levels is kind of ridiculous, but I understand why they're pricing the way they do.
Thanks Courtney. This is the most interesting explanation about the "why" of Bowker pricing. But I don't think Bowker can use it as a justification to gouge writers/small publishers who are purchasing smaller lots. And it is gouging -- besides the pricing for ISBNs, the company also targets new writers with services like embeddable social widgets that cost $120 for the first year.

Some people questioned whether anyone would buy a single ISBN. Bowker sold 34,000 ISBNs to "small presses" in 2011 (publishers or authors with less than 10 releases, CreateSpace, Smashwords and others excluded). Some portion of that figure must include single-sale ISBNs, either to authors who just want to test the waters, can't afford a bigger block, or simply don't know any better.
 

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phildukephd said:
My ebook sales have fallen off a cliff, and if anyone might like to read any of my 24 titles, in various genres, take a look. I offer buy one get one free from my website Philduke.weebly.com With all the free ebooks available, and with 2000 new titles published everyday, paid sales that amount to anything may become largely a thing of the past, for most authors. :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek:

Phil Duke
Really dude? Friggen really? Every post. Every one your posts ends this way, regardless of topic. Enough. It's annoying as all hell.
 

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My ebook sales have fallen off a cliff, and if anyone might like to read any of my 24 titles, in various genres, take a look. I offer buy one get one free from my website Philduke.weebly.com With all the free ebooks available, and with 2000 new titles published everyday, paid sales that amount to anything may become largely a thing of the past, for most authors.

Phil Duke


THe sky is falling! The sky is falling! (Exactly why I started the Conspriacy Theory thread yesterday. Enough already!
 

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ilamont said:
I don't think Bowker can use it as a justification to gouge writers/small publishers who are purchasing smaller lots. And it is gouging
All businesses are "price gouging" everyone for everything in small lots. I work in the software business, another virtual good. You buy one copy at retail, $50 or whatever. You buy 10, it's $40. You buy 1000, it's $10. You buy 10000, it's $2. I've seen $50 software sell for less than 20 cents due to volumes. Physical goods have more fixed costs and don't drop off as steeply but you can see the same principles in your local grocery store with the different quantities of a single product, between your local grocery store and Costo, and conceptually through the entire distribution chain which is just a method of pooling and distributing bulk orders as a way to make a profit.
 
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