By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
The subject of ISBNs tends to make authors anxious. Sometimes writers are defensive about why they choose not to use them or choose to use the free ISBNs offered by CreateSpace and other retailers/distributors.
This isn’t a post debating the merit of ISBNs, although I do choose to use them myself. Briefly, there are a few reasons for my choice. One, I’m just old school. Another, as a self-publisher, I like the idea of my sales being counted (just as my trad-published sales are counted). For another, I like having my name listed as the publisher on record…not Smashwords or CreateSpace (nothing wrong with either of those guys and I use them both–just not their ISBNs). Most recently, my publishing through IngramSpark has required me to use a personal ISBN, so it worked out well that I already have them.
That being said! Bowker (the US agency that assigns ISBNs) annoys the dickens out of me. Here are some ways I believe the service could improve at Bowker. Or, let’s call it 7 ways for Me to Love Bowker Better:
- Any list of improvements has got to have pricing at the top of the list. One ISBN is $125 (clearly, this is not the option to go with), 10 are $295, and 100 are $575. I do tend to buy them on sale and write them off as a business cost. But it’s a high price for what we’re getting. Especially if you consider the fact that each individual format does require a separate ISBN (an epub, a Kindle/mobi file, a print edition, etc.) They’re used up fairly quickly.
- BISAC. Metadata is so important. But currently, my choices with BISAC categories on Bowker are limited. With most sites, I can drill down in the categories until I’m at FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Women Sleuths or FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Cozy. At Bowker, I can only get to Book – FICTION_MYSTERY and DETECTIVE_GENERAL. A metadata tip—anything with general in the category isn’t as helpful. More specific BISAC would help me more than many of the current metadata fields Bowker has (weight, weight units, carton quality, etc.).
- It would sure make it a lot easier if English were listed at the top of the drop-down menu. It’s pretty time-consuming to get English to even pull up as the language. Lots of scrolling. Just…considering this is a US-based service. Nothing against all the other languages. IngramSpark, for example, makes this process easier by having “Common” at the top of the list (including English, Spanish, etc.) before continuing an alphabetical drop-down list.
- Since most people choosing the $295 option or even the $575 option are self-publishers…why not just go ahead and make us our own separate portal to your site? Having to input my bio each time (and for each of the 3-4 formats!) is a time suck. I understand the service is also set up for publishers who order many thousands of ISBNs…but for those of us who are shelling out a good chunk of change to use this agency? I think having better default options with my login would be a perk.
- How about a downloadable spreadsheet so I could track my orders/purchases. When tax time came, I had to call your customer service number to see how much money I spent with you in 2015. I was stunned this information wasn’t available under ‘My Account.’
- While we’re at it (regarding a downloadable spreadsheet), how about one where I could track my formats and ISBN assignments? Formats are very important and that’s not reflected on the site. On the main page of my ‘manage ISBNs’ page, they’re all listed as electronic book text if they’re not print books. But we have to purchase/use separate ISBNs for epub and mobi files. Why make me open each entry to find out which is an epub ISBN and which is a mobi?
- To make me feel better about these purchases (and to follow your sales better, and…heck, even maybe purchase more ISBNs) how about a subscriber newsletter with tips and sale notifications? A blog? Something that shows Bowker is attempting to give more value for an author’s investment.
Making these changes, many of them minor tweaks, would make me feel less of a chump for going through this cumbersome, expensive process.
Do you use ISBNs? Any other suggestions for Bowker?