Eric Makes an Ebook: 5 – Do I Need an ISBN or Bank Account to Sell Online?

You don't need an ISBN to sell on Amazon, and distributors will give you an ISBN for free. But there is a benefit to buying your own: Control.

Last time we tackled question #2, how much does it cost to make an ebook (the short answer: nothing but time). Now lets deal with a few complicated questions #3, and #4. ISBNs and payments and DBAs and EINs and ... alphabet soup!!!

Ebook Questions For Smart Beginners

  1. Who sells ebooks besides Amazon? Kobo, BN, Tolino, Apple, Smashwords and Draft2Digital; + lots of other places
  2. How much does it cost?   All companies work on consignment. So the upfront cost is free.
  3. Do I need a bank account, EIN or DBA?  
  4. Do I need a ISBN?  
  5. Do I need copyright?YES you should but you don't have to. You need to read this book to understand copyright. But get legal advice if the word "contract" is mentioned.
  6. Do I have the rights to my work?
  7. How do you format an ebook?
  8. Do I need a print book?

Do I need an ISBN? You won't care about this, at all, until you do care, at which point you'll be annoyed by the conflicting answers you find. So the answer is both 1)No and 2) Yes, if you want more control.

You don't need an ISBN to sell on Amazon (Amazon is cool! They make up their own number ASIN). Other distributors require an ISBN, but some (such as Smashwords) provide the ISBN for free. (Smashwords is cool too, and they have coupons). You don't assign copyright by accepting an ISBN, it is still your book and you retain the rights. The negative is that the ISBN/ASIN may tie directly to all reviews and sales for that book, so if you have multiple ISBNs then reviews/sales for one ISBN, may not be transferable to reviews for another ISBN. Also the company that gives you the ISBN will show up as the publisher.

An ISBN is a 13 digit identifier that is applied to your book. Every version of a book (hardcover, paperback, or ebook) should have an ISBN, and some suggest that every sub-version should have its own ISBN. So rather than one ISBN for your ebook, and one for your print version, you would have one ISBN for each file type of your ebook (.mobi, .epub, .pdf) and so on. This seems reasonable, especially for product ordering, except... ISBNs are not free.

If they were free I would dutifully follow that advice, but they are not free. In the U.S. a single company called Bowker controls the ISBN system. They charge you to get an ISBN. In other countries, the ISBNs are free (well not really, I imagine they are paid for via taxpayer dollars). So that's a business decision you'll have to make. You can publish ebooks without buying an ISBN. Do you want control over reviews, versions, publisher name, ordering of the book? Or is it too expensive? Only you can answer that question. And for amazon at least, you can go in and add the ISBNs later, once you've decided.

I decided that since I was planning on publishing multiple books, I'd purchase my own ISBNs. I'd apply one to the ebook version and one to the print version, and that was it. I've found that ISBNs are expensive ($120+ for one), unless you buy in bulk. So one of my major purchases for my publishing company was to buy 100 ISBNs for over $500, which should last 20-50 books.

It was interesting that having to purchase ISBNs led to the start of a new business venture (including this website). My thinking went like this:

  1. If I'm going to buy 100 ISBNs, then I am starting a publishing company, with only one awesome client.
  2. I better make up a name for that company. I don't want to use my own name as the publisher in Bowker.
  3. Now that I have a name, and some debt, I better buy the domain name associated to my new publishing venture.
  4. Oh and I better buy another domain for the name I write under. So that's some additional expense.
  5. This publishing venture better start making some money. Hmmm I wonder how I do that.


That leads into our next question about finances, DBA, EIN, Business Accounts.

You may find it beneficial to complete a DBA (Doing Business As form) in your state (or it may be required if you make a certain amount of money). You could also set up a sole proprietorship business using the IRS's EIN. Also, you may find it beneficial to set up a separate bank account, using that DBA name. Amazon requires a bank account for payment, and they pay on a regular monthly payment schedule. It seems like each country's version pays separately, so Germany Amazon pays a few days after U.S. Amazon, and you'll see multiple streams of income trickling in. I've always had good experiences with them.

I've also started using a distributor called Smashwords to reach multiple retailers. They require a PayPal account. So now I have two places where funds are going, which is manageable. Imagine if I didn't use Smashwords and instead set up accounts directly at Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Tolino, etc. That would require my bank account info to be placed at several retailers. Seems like a security risk. So for me the choice was easy, I created a separate business bank account, and now I can clearly track my expenses, and income, and not have to confuse myself while balancing my personal checkbook.

Plus, having a separate account means you are a real business, according to the IRS. So I bought ISBNs and became a business. Now, time for that coffee break.

Copyright  2018  E.C. Stever  - Posts on the 7th and 21st of each month

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