Do I Need Different ISBNs for CreateSpace and Ingram?

ISBNIn December 2016 I wrote about transferring my books from CreateSpace Expanded Distribution to IngramSpark.

The process was easier than I’d anticipated, because IngramSpark has directions for transferring title assignment right on the site, and both CreateSpace and IngramSpark were available to help walk me through the process.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I recently read a comment on a popular author forum stating that a different ISBN had to be used for each distributor. Now, this is true if you’re using one of CreateSpace’s ISBNs, because in that case, CreateSpace would be the publisher, and they’re the ones who decide how you get to use it. You can read more about ISBNs here.

But if you bought your ISBN, you’re the publisher, and that’s actually indicated within the ISBN itself. Without getting too complicated, that weird mix of numbers denotes both the publisher, and the specific edition of a publication by that publisher.

There are specific times you will need a new ISBN. From the International ISBN Agency Users’ Manual:

1. If you’ve made significant changes to the publication, including text, title, subtitle, trim size, or form (hardback vs. paperback, etc.)

2. If the publisher has changed.

There are also times when you don’t need a new ISBN:

1. If you’ve made small corrections, such as correcting typos or other proofing errors.

2. If you’ve changed your cover art.

3. If you’ve made minor adjustments to trim size or spine width to accommodate different printers.

4. When you’re using multiple distributors.

If you bought the ISBN from your country’s ISBN agency, readied the manuscript for publication, and then uploaded it to Amazon and other online stores, you’re the publisher. If you’ve uploaded the paperback manuscript to CreateSpace or IngramSpark, you’ve brought them into the process as both the printer and distributor.

Remember, the ISBN is tied to the publisher. Not the printer or distributor. Given that, I was surprised to see someone so forcefully insist different ISBNs were needed for distribution through different companies. It got even stranger when they stated it was illegal to use the same ISBN with different distributors, and berated authors for trying to trick CreateSpace and IngramSpark. When I pointed out that CreateSpace and IngramSpark actively assist authors with the process, it was stated that if that were the case, they were in essence circumventing the law.

I’m not one to get involved in online skirmishes, but I couldn’t let that go. First, here in the U.S., ISBNs are expensive. We can’t afford to waste them.

But more importantly, the accusation that authors were trying to trick distributors, and even worse, collude to do something illegal, had to be challenged.

First, I emailed Bowker, the U.S. agency responsible for the assignment of ISBNs.

The man who responded stated he wasn’t an authority on that subject, but that it would be really odd for an author to assign a separate ISBN for the same product, simply for it to be distributed by a different company. He referred me to the phone number for Bowker (which can be found at the link above).

I called, and the conversation went like this:

B:  “Are you referencing CreateSpace and IngramSpark?”

M:  “Yes.”

B:  “If you’re using the same format, same trim size, etcetera, you don’t need a new ISBN for each distributor, except [emphasis hers] possibly in the case of CreateSpace and Ingram, because they’re competitors and don’t always like each other, so may not want to work together.”

M:  “You mean there isn’t a law against it? A law stating you have to have a separate ISBN for each distributor?”

B:   She laughed. “No, no, no. Not at all.”

M:  “So if CreateSpace and Ingram provide directions and walk an author through uploading the same book with the same ISBN to be distributed by both, that’s okay with Bowker? No new ISBN is needed?”

B:  “Oh, yes, that’s fine! That’s what you’d want, right? If they’re willing to work together, there’s no problem at Bowker with using the same ISBN.”

I trotted back to the discussion to share my conversation, where I was promptly told that the person I’d been talking to wasn’t in their legal department, so that’s where I should go to ask.

I called back, and got the same answer. This time, they asked me where in the world this faulty information was coming from. You can imagine the response when I said, “A discussion board.”

This still wasn’t good enough for the poster on the board, so I pulled up the International ISBN Agency Users’ Manual linked to above, which says:

“5.9 a.:  As the ISBN standard states, a particular edition published by a particular publisher receives only one ISBN. This ISBN must be retained no matter where, or by whom, the publication is distributed or sold.” [Emphasis mine]

I haven’t returned to the board armed with this information; I’m convinced it wouldn’t make a difference. But for anyone reading this, my research indicates it’s not necessary to have a different ISBN for each distributor, and it’s certainly not illegal to use the same one.

But don’t take my word for it. Ask the experts.

Author: Melinda Clayton

Melinda Clayton is the author of the Cedar Hollow series, as well as a self-publishing guide. Clayton has published numerous articles and short stories in various print and online magazines. She has an Ed.D. in Special Education Administration and is a licensed psychotherapist in the states of Florida and Colorado. Lear more about Melinda at her Amazon author page

12 thoughts on “Do I Need Different ISBNs for CreateSpace and Ingram?”

  1. 26 of my books are on both createspace and ingram, and the ISBN is shared between the two for each. There’s a procedure I followed to move the “expanded” portion of the distribution from createspace to Ingram (which bypasses having to pay Ingram any fees) but it’s not difficult.

    1. LOL, I try to use my headspace, but sometimes it fails me. 😉 No, I buy my ISBNs from Bowker so I can use them wherever I want. I linked above in the previous comment to the process I followed to move my books from C/S Expanded Distribution to IngramSpark, but in a nutshell, if you own your ISBN, you de-list from C/S Expanded Distribution (leave them on CreateSpace, just not in Expanded Distribution), and then fill out a form on IngramSpark to have them moved to your own account over there.

  2. Wow…how very weird. Everything I’ve read indicates that you need a new ISBN for each format of a book – i.e. print, ebook, audio book etc – but if you own the ISBN, then the printers have no say in the matter. It sounds as if this person was confusing publishers with printers perhaps?

    1. That’s what I thought, too, AC, but when I asked, she made it very clear she knew the difference and continued to insist each distributor called for a different ISBN. She was so forceful about it (with colorful language, too!) I thought it might be helpful to write a post for Indies Unlimited to set the record straight for authors who may not know. Even within the discussion, an author stated she’d rely on what this particular poster was saying, because this particular poster is knowledgeable on many topics. I responded that in this specific case, it would be better to rely on what Bowker and the International ISBN Agency say about the usage of ISBNs than it would to rely on what anyone on any discussion board says.

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