To Use or Not to Use: Free ISBNs

To Use or Not to Use: Free ISBNs

When it comes to self-publishing, authors want to get the most for their money, right? But free doesn’t always mean free. My husband hates the ‘free’ show tickets in Branson, Missouri because he knows we’ll have to sit through an hour presentation in order to receive those ‘free’ tickets. While an hour of his time may not be worth it, I still think it is worth my time.

So, are free ISBNs worth your time?

If you utilize a publishing platform’s free ISBN, you will be locked into that specific platform with your book. When I first published on Createspace back in 2012, this didn’t seem like a problem. I didn’t realize there were any other options on the market and all I wanted to do was have my printed book available for readers to purchase. Fast forward ten years and I have learned the error of my ways.

When should you use the free ISBN? In my opinion, never and here’s why:

You will limit your distribution/visibility

  • If you publish on KDP, you will have worldwide distribution but you will only receive 40% royalties on expanded distribution sales (books sold on other websites).
  • If you publish on IngramSpark, you will also have worldwide distribution but IngramSpark will place you on their Amazon account and you will lose visibility to Amazon sales. You’ll also be more likely to receive returns from Amazon when they are unable to sell copies of your book.

You’ll be listed as an Independent Publisher

  • When you purchase your own ISBNs, you’ll be required to create an imprint to associate with your book. The imprint will be listed as the publisher of your book. So, instead of saying publisher: independent publisher, your listing will now say Publisher: XYZ Press or Publisher: IMA B. Publishing (or whatever else you choose to name your imprint).
  • Being listed as an independent publisher could also limit your ability to get your book on the shelves of some bookstores.

If you are not interested in a wider distribution and don’t mind about being listed as an independent publisher, than utilize the free ISBN option for the publishing platform of your choice.

However, if you are now considering purchasing your own ISBNs to be the best option for you, visit

Pro Tip: If you plan to publish more than one book it is best to buy ISBN numbers in bulk instead of individually.  Find out why in “How Many ISBNs Do I Need?”

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