SELF-PUBLISHING QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
1. A Second-hand ISBN Number Is No Bargain
Q: I am planning to self-publish a book. An acquaintance has offered to sell me one of his ISBN numbers at a reduced price. Since I am planning to self-publish only once, this would save me the trouble of figuring out how to get an ISBN number in Japan. Are there any problems with this option?
A: Yes. It may seem convenient but it can also be problematic.
The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) keys your book into the world-wide book classification system. A book without an ISBN will not be taken seriously by the book industry. An ISBN is necessary for library cataloguers to properly catalogue your book and for book stores, distributors and others in the book trade to efficiently sell it as well as contact you, the publisher.
In Japan, you can buy ISBNs in lots of ten or 100 from the Japan ISBN Agency (Nihon Tosho Code Kanri Center) . They will keep a record of the numbers issued to you and key your publishing entity’s contact data into the databases of the ISBN Agency and the Japan Book Publishers Assn.
Sometimes, printers, book production companies and others with extra ISBNs on hand will offer to sell you one of theirs. The Japan ISBN Agency HIGHLY discourages this and for good reason. Say you buy an individual ISBN from Printer A, for example. That number has been registered to Printer A. If a book store gets an inquiry from a customer who wants to buy your book, they will try to contact you, the publisher, to see if the book is available by keying the book’s ISBN into one of the databases mentioned above. And voila, up will pop the contact details for Printer A. The store will assume A is the publisher and contact them to make inquiries. To the book industry you will not be considered the contact person for your book.
As a self-publisher, it is better to have your own ISBN. Ten may be more than you think you will ever need but you are really buying credibility and the ability to be taken seriously by the book world. That is a valuable investment in itself for an aspiring self-publisher. Also note that if you reprint the book, issue a revised edition, produce a Japanese translation, etc. you will need a separate ISBN for each of these versions of your original book.
Aside from the cost of having your books printed, there are very few set-up costs involved in establishing a self-publishing venture in Japan but properly acquired ISBN should be one of them. A second-hand ISBN is no bargain in the long run.