Sunday, March 24, 2013

The e-Book Chronicles, Part IV

Today I made the financial commitment to a decision I've been weighing for awhile ... I bought my own ISBNs. Perhaps some of you might like a bit of explanation ...

The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a book's principal identifier in the marketplace; it has been characterized as a book's "social security number." This unique identifier allows any person or retailer, anywhere, to positively ID the book to which it is attached. Every book publisher in the United States has its own unique set of ISBNs, all of which start with the same prefix. This prefix is like the publisher's DNA, becoming a part of each book it publishes. So, if you're going to be a publisher and you plan to sell your book in the public marketplace--both on shelves and in the virtual retail space of the Internet--you need your own ISBNs for your books.

Now, I am well aware that online retailers like Lulu,, and others will provide self-published authors with a unique identifier for books sold on their platforms. However, these aren't the same thing as a unique ISBN. In fact, they aren't really ISBNs at all, since they don't identify the book outside the platform to which they are assigned. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing for everyone. If, for example, you want to self-publish your book and you're content with marketing it through a single channel like or Google Play Books (the latest name for Google's virtual bookstore), then allowing them to assign an internal identifier to your book might be a fine way to go. People will be able to find your book, purchase it, and download it to their devices. Everybody's happy.

However, if you want total control over how and where your book is sold, and if you want to be in control of your book's metadata (the critical information about price, title, author, publisher, format, and other details of your book that retailers and purchasers depend on to be able to find your book in the marketplace), then you really have to have your own ISBN. Since my day gig is working as a managing editor for an academic publishing house, I know the importance of maintaining control over your metadata. One of the catchphrases in the digital publishing world is, "Metadata is king." Although, I guess the grammatically correct form would be "Metadata are king." But I digress.

Thus, for me, the final tipping point was reached when I decided I wanted to do business as an actual publisher, rather than just having my name in the front of the book as author. In order to do that, your ISBN must match your publisher data, and the only way that can happen is if you own the ISBN with which the book is registered.

Of course, as you may have suspected, ISBNs--unlike the internally assigned identifiers provided by Amazon and Lulu--aren't free. There's only one place you can get them: from Bowker, Inc., the company that maintains the ISBN registry for the United States. A single ISBN is $100. However, since I plan to issue several of my older titles as e-books, I decided to buy a block of 10 ISBNs from Bowker for $250 (do you get the feeling that they discourage one-off purchases?). I'll say this for them, though: for a monopoly, they maintain a pretty user-friendly website. I got in, registered, paid, and had my block of ten ISBNs in less than ten minutes, start to finish. You can check them out for yourself at

So, bottom line ... the $250 I just parted ways with could be seen as a setback for my original low/no-cost objective for this self-publishing project. On the other hand, it could be viewed as a strategic concession to the greater objectives of maintaining more control over my book's metadata and having increased flexibility to market it on multiple platforms, thus increasing its visibility--the current buzzword is "discoverability"--in the marketplace.

But to make the type of professional impression with my book that I hope to make, I've got to tackle cover design and layout ... about which more in future posts ...

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Thomsblog (a weblog) by Thom Lemmons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The e-Book Chronicles, Part III

Success! I found a copy of He Who Wept with the newer cover!

Of course, I realize that just having this image is a long way from having a professional-looking cover for the e-book, but at least I now have this as a design option. Editing and OCR-correcting the main text proceeds, amid the many distractions of life and work (see "The e-Book Chronicles, Part II").

One thing I've learned: If I intend to do many more e-book conversions from scanned hard copy, I'm going to need a much better and faster scanner, and possibly some OCR software. But for now, it amuses me (in a slightly sick way) to do the hand-work of reading, correcting, and formatting. Sort of an artisan thing, I guess. Is there such a thing as an artisan e-book?

I've also been collecting information about pricing and design strategies. While the jury is still out on where e-book pricing is going to finally settle, things seem to be moving in the direction of generally lower pricing for e-books than their print editions--see, for example, So, for now at least, I think my intention to price He Who Wept at something like 2.99 or less is a good one.

Well, that's about all the news for now. Guess I'll edit, format, and correct another chapter of He Who Wept, and then maybe do some recreational reading ... imagine that!