ISBNs – It’s a Trap!

While our Layout Umpa Lumpas continue to struggle with anchoring images to text for the Triune Corebooks, we looked into getting ISBNs for our books. Yowzers! These suckers are expensive–but the alternative can be a trap.

For those not in the know, ISBNs are unique 13-digit numbers associated with a specific book title. Look at the bar code on the back cover of any book and you’ll see the ISBN. (Older books have 10-digit ISBNs. 13-digit ones are the latest version.) Every copy of that book has the same ISBN but only copies of that book have exact number. If you plan on publishing a physical book (as we are), then you need one ISBN for each title. Since we are planning on publishing the Triune Corebook Players’ Edition and the Triune Corebook Gamemasters’ Edition as softcover books, we need 2 ISBNs.

(Sidenote: Define “need”. Fine, you don’t technically need an ISBN if you self-publish a book, and men in black suits will not visit your home and arrest you for doing that. However, if you ever want your book to be sold in bookstores or make it into libraries, you need an ISBN.)

(Second Sidenote: PDFs do NOT need an ISBN. If you plan on selling an rpg only as a PDF, then you do not need to buy any. Plus, you can publish only as a PDF and later on, if you decide to go physical, purchase an ISBN.)

In the kind of private-public synergy that makes Republicans happy, the US government is in charge of allocating ISNBs for titles created by its citizens–but it has outsourced the actual work to a private firm called Bowker Identification Services. (This is the US agency. If you live outside the US, check out the International ISBN page and search for your nation’s agency.) Buying ISBNs is expensive: 1 for $150.00 and 10 for $250.00. Yep, the per ISBN price when buying 10 at once is only $25.00. Weird. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason for that, but it is what it is. We need two so we’ll buy 10.

Or will we? See, ISBNs can be resold. If I bought 10 ISBNs, I could use 2 and sell the other 8 at whatever price I want. However, there is a LARGE potential problem.

When you purchase ISBNs, you must submit your publishing company name. That name gets irrevocably tied to the purchased ISBNs. (Each ISBN is unique, remember?) If we purchase 10, all of them will be connected to Happy Bishop Games. If we sold you one of the ISBNs we purchased, then that ISBN would still be associated with Happy Bishop Games and that might confuse retailers.

Another example to keep in mind. is a great Print-On-Demand company. If you buy an ISBN from them, Lulu becomes the book’s publisher, not you. If you wanted to republish that book through another POD service like Lightning Source, you have to pony up for another ISBN.

In the end, Happy Bishop Games will purchase 10 ISBNs from the authentic, legal seller. That way, we have an extra 8 for future books. It’s not like they spoil or anything.