7 Author-Friendly Changes Bowker Could Make

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigBowker

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.).Bowker3
  3. 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.Bowker2
  4. 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.
  5. 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.’
  6. 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?Capture1
  7. 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?

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19 thoughts on “7 Author-Friendly Changes Bowker Could Make

  1. It’s so interesting that they can be so unfriendly to the people who pay them! You’d think they’d do something about customer service. I’m glad you’ve shared this, Elizabeth. It’s really good information.

    1. Margot–That’s a good way of putting it. :)

      To be honest, I’m already a wee bit hostile toward them (just the sheer expense of the thing and my general thrifty nature). I’d feel a lot better if they made a few changes to show that they value their authors.

  2. Why don’t they have the full BISAC listings, anyway? Too lazy to update?

    I know it used to be that you added all the information and had to wait to upload the cover – and when you did so, the exact release day converted to month and year only.

  3. Sounds like Bowker might be in for the money and not customer service. You have great business minded suggestions here. Have you sent these to Bowker ? I wish you would, if you haven’t. Maybe take out the frustrated voice that I heard. hee hee.

    Must be nice to be both business minded and creative. Awesome article again, Elizabeth.

    1. Teresa–Their customer service leaves a lot to be desired, ha! About the only thing I like about the site is the beautiful bird they have on their homepage. I think I must spend entirely too much time on their site and it’s rattling me.

      I will be pinging them on the post, for sure. I think it’s my lack of control (and apparent control issues) raising its ugly head again! :)

  4. I learn SO MUCH from reading your blog posts, Elizabeth. Processes like buying ISBNs or signing up for ACX would seem so confusing if I hadn’t read you talk about it first (and bookmark the posts for future use!) Thank you for everything you share here.

  5. Agreed wholeheartedly! I decided *not* to get an ISBN for my first 60-page mobi on account of the cost of an individual ISBN and that effort primarily being a learning experience for me (and I was hoping for Kindle Single acceptance) but I do intend to get ISBNs for future self-pubs. From what I’ve read about Bowker and gleamed from poking around their site is that they still think it’s 2006, not 2016. It’s almost as if accommodating self-published authors focused on the electronic format is something they allow begrudgingly at best.

    Hopefully with suggestions like yours the whole process will become smoother and more cost-effective with time. Thanks for the great post, I’ll be using this in one of my upcoming “5 Links Fridays” posts.

    1. Doug–Oh, definitely, I can totally see not wanting to shell out $125 for a single ISBN and a first book. I wouldn’t have wanted to make that investment either.

      I was on Bowker’s site first in 2011 and I had a few trad-pubbed books at that point. I remember being completely taken aback by the layout of their site. In fact, I looked up some of the metadata terms to figure out what I needed to fill in. What was “active record?” What was “price type?” When I put in that it’s a digital text, why is the packaging detail option (blister pack, clamshell, jewel case) even still available? Most of the information (not required info, but listed info) just wasn’t/isn’t applicable to self-publishers. Yes, it’s just like it’s still 2006 there, for sure.

      Thanks for sharing the link with your followers, Doug. Much appreciated.

      1. I don’t know about blister-packs, but it would be nice if, with every Kindle download, I received an overnight delivery of bubblewrap. Just for fun. :) Have a great weekend!

  6. I live in Canada and, due to the low value of the Canadian dollar right now, anything I purchase from the U.S. (print books from Create space, advertising, editing, etc) is expensive. One place where I save money is ISBN’s which are available in Canada for free. (Happy dance over that one!)

  7. Hi Elizabeth – interesting information from the US point of view re ISBNs .. and Canada and perhaps Australia … both ‘Commonwealth’ countries … so now I wonder about ours.

    Good read and set out – thanks – Hilary

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