Bowker’s deceptive ISBN practices

About Bowker's deceptive ISBN practices target new authorsEarlier this month on the In 30 Minutes corporate blog, I wrote a post about Bowker’s deceptive ISBN business targeting new authors. Bowker is a monopoly that controls the assignment of ISBNs in the United States. ISBNs are numbers used by the book industry to track the publication and distribution of printed books.

You might think that Bowker’s ISBN business is suffering because of the rise of ebooks, and the decline of print. Not so! Bowker states that the number of ISBN registrations has actually exploded in recent years, and even recorded nearly 13,000 ebooks printed by “small presses” (e.g., independent authors and small publishers) in 2011.

Hold on. Why do so many indie authors bother registering ISBNs with Bowker? Consider this: ISBNs are not necessary for ebooks — Amazon, iTunes, and other platforms that sell ebooks don’t require them. Further, Bowker rips off people buying small lots — as I described in the In 30 Minutes blog post, Bowker charges $125 for those buying a single ISBN! What do they get? A thirteen-digit number. They are so cheap to produce, that Canada gives away ISBNs to Canadian authors for free, and Bowker sells them for a dollar or less to publishers buying huge lots.

Why buy a Bowker ISBN if you are a new author?

The reason why thousands of small authors are buying ISBNs is because many don’t know any better — and Bowker aggressively markets to inexperienced authors’ fears and concerns. The company tells new authors:

Buy an ISBN for each format of your book (ISBNs may be used for either print or digital versions of your books)

At the same time, Laura Dawson, Bowker’s ISBN product manager, tells the publishing industry this:

If the author is selling direct from her own website, or solely through Amazon (which doesn’t require ISBNs), then no ISBN is necessary.

Sound like a two-faced scam? I certainly think so. Read my complete take here: Bowker’s 12,500% markup for new authors


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