Getting ISBN Numbers

Before you publish on Amazon, you need an ISBN number for your book. (International Standard Book Number). Any published book needs one of these numbers if you want to market it at all. It makes the book uniquely identifiable. To get one, you have to go through R.W. Bowker, the only agency licensed to issue ISBNs in the USA.

As of January 1, 2007, all newly issued ISBNs have 13 digits. Prior to that, they had ten and the old numbers can be converted free of charge on the highly confusing Bowker website ( Now, when you buy an ISBN, you get one in each format. I think you also get a bar code, but I haven’t had to deal with that yet.

As I mentioned earlier, many people choose to use electronic publishers to help them get their book online, and I am beginning to understand why. For one thing, by using a publisher, you get your ISBN directly from them and don’t have to get your own. That, in itself, is almost enough reason to hand over part of your percentage to them.

I have a feeling that as things go along, I will discover many more reasons why using a publisher is an easier route. I like to do things the hard way, though.

To begin with, let me say that buying my ISBN took up the better part of a day. This was mainly due to Bowker’s poor service. As with all monopolies, they just don’t care. I finally found salvation toward the end of the day with “Serge,” their Ukranian techie, who made things work where they hadn’t before. He said it was “magic.”

When I registered, they said I was already a customer. I have never ordered a number or anything else from them. I accepted the fact that they knew my email address somehow, and tried a variety of my common passwords. None worked, so I sent in a Lost Password notification. They said it would come back in my email, but it never did. NEVER DID.

So then, I tried to register as a new account using a different email address. It would not accept the registration, for some reason. I finished the form, but their system didn’t accept the form. When I pressed Upload (or whatever), nothing happened.

In the late afternoon, I started trying to reach them. I sent a note to tech support but they didn’t respond, so I called them in New Jersey, and no one answered the phone. I left a detailed message. After waiting a while, I called the Sales department, who also wasn’t there.

Then I tried tech support live chat, which just disappeared as soon as I typed my question. It never came back.

Amazing. Does everyone have to go through this? Not only was the site kafka-esque, but it just flat-out didn’t work at almost every turn.

I called tech support again and got a recording, so I left a rather desperate message. A few minutes later, my knight in shining armor, Serge, called, and walked me through the website, adjusting things on his end to pave the way. He was actually getting the system to accept my data by doing god-knows-what at his end.

Now that I have an account, I think it might be easier to use the site if  Iwent back for another ISBN.

Other websites had told me that in order to be a publisher, you had to buy a block of ten ISBNs (about $250). But the Bowker site said that buying just one still made me a publisher, so that’s what I did. The site said that one number cost $25 but it turned out to be $125 if you wanted to be listed in commonly used book searches and reference databases, which is a major reason to get the ISBN in the first place.

Then I had fun filling out all the incomprehensible Bowker forms for info about my company and my book. I named my publishing company Intelligent Life and made my book a reality by putting in the searchable keywords, defining the approximate size, publication date, and so forth. It was pretty exciting.

So thank you to Serge, or it wouldn’t have happened.

Now all I have to do is finish the book and then I can confront the next challenge – uploading to Amazon. It looks simple, but I am deeply suspicious.

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
This entry was posted in Getting EBooks Into Circulation Online and Paperbacks published. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Getting ISBN Numbers

  1. Marianne Kehoe says:

    If you’re looking for yet another career, you could become an ISBN expert, registering new authors for, let’s say, $100 a pop. Or the whole experience could become the plot for another book – how did they know your email address? Serge is actually a Cuban spy whose real name is Sergei. Amazon is a front for the publishing syndicate, Nozama, whose authors are lured to a convention only to be overcome by……

  2. So buy 10 and become a publisher by selling one or two to me and others. I know that musicians do that, they know they will put out a few CDs so they buy 10.

    You have 10 books inside you anyway.

    Or wait till things screw up some more and start a class action lawsuit and ding them for a few million.

  3. Does there have to be an actually book printed? So couldn’t you just register a book title and not print it?

    Or for that matter not even write it?

    You could register the title, have it submitted to databases and search engines and then you have carved the niche. Write it after there is interest.

    WHat a world.

  4. Maybe Amazon has an interest in selling this:

    Aiming at Amazon:The NEW Business of Self Publishing, or How to Publish Your Books with Print on Demand and Online Book Marketing on (Paperback)

    Just a hunch, though there are so many possible theories that I get tired…. for YOU! Buen Suerte.

  5. Andy says:

    Hello Mr. Gorbman,
    With great regrets I have read your blog and as a senior manager at Bowker I want to apologize for your troubles with acquiring ISBNs from our systems. I’m not familiar with when you attempted these efforts, which web site ( or but saw you interfaced with our customer service and technical support teams.

    I would like, as a senior manager, to solve these issues for you. Please let me know how we can reach you on Monday and a good time to call and discuss. I can tell you that last week we had some systems issues that were temporary and resolved, which may have coincided with your attempts. Either way, our systems are reliable and i can facilitate resolution.

    Thanks. I look forward to hearing from you. My email is

    Sincerely yours,
    Andy W

  6. Rainie says:

    Dear Mr. Gorbman
    I’m looking forward to the results of your communication with Andy on Monday.
    Put me down for a few ISBN’s through Gorbman Publishing
    Ms Rainie

  7. Mr. Gorbman – I am also interested in acquiring an ISBN – please let me know how to proceed.


    Mrs. Lawson

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