TL;DR: KDP Print ISBN options are the same as they were with CreateSpace. If you choose the free ISBN option, be aware of its limitations. As always with ISBNs, the devil is in the details and usage depends on your goals. Details below.
KDP Print ISBN options are the same as CreateSpace
CreateSpace has offered 3 ISBN options since 2016 and those are:
- A free ISBN. The name of your publishing imprint is CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
- Purchase 1 ISBN for $99 in the name of your imprint. CreateSpace (and KDP Print) are authorized resellers of ISBNs (as is IngramSpark). This is a discounted price from the usual $125 if you buy direct from Bowker’s MyIdentifiers
- Use your own ISBN.
The only difference
KDP Print ISBN options are exactly the same as above with the exception of the name of the publishing imprint if you opt for the free ISBN. If you use the free ISBN, your paperback will show the publisher as Independently published.
Why not choose the free option?
As a self-publisher, you are playing all the bills and many in the community have called paying for an ISBN a “tax” with little or no value when it comes to sales and marketing.
First, keep in mind that every printed book sold in stores must have an ISBN. No store—including Amazon—will list a print book for sale without an ISBN.
Given you must have one, here are 4 things to be aware of when considering the free KDP Print ISBN:
- Using the free ISBN means you must use KDP Print to print your book. You cannot use the free ISBN to print with IngramSpark, for example. Or any other printer for that matter. You are locked in.
- The name of your publisher will be “Independently published.” If you are doing PR outreach to bookstores or the media, this is like a tattoo on your forehead that says “Amazon-only author.” Many stores and media outlets do not like Amazon.
- You cannot get a Library of Congress Control Number if you use the free KDP Print ISBN.
- If you opt for the free KDP Print ISBN, and later change your mind, any reviews associated with that ISBN will likely stay with the book that has the free KDP Print ISBN. (And no, you can never delist or prevent this edition from appearing for sale on Amazon.)
The choice really comes down to your goals and budget. If Amazon is the only place you ever expect to market your book, and you don’t care about building an author brand, the free KDP Print ISBN option may be good enough.
Wait! What about Expanded Distribution?
Two sales channels make up Expanded Distribution under KDP Print, the same as there is now when you useCreateSpace. There is no change, but Amazon is confusing matters in the transition from CreateSpace to KDP Print so let me summarize:
- Any one of the 3 KDP Print ISBN options will get your book into the Bookstores and Online Retailers channel.
- But only a free KDP Print ISBN will get your book listed in the Libraries and Academic Institutions channel.
Bookstores and Online Retailers. Serving the literally thousands of bookstores is complex, so distribution is handled by the leading U.S. book distributor, Ingram. Brick-and-mortar stores can order your book through Ingram, but more importantly for small publishers, this option distributes your book to BarnesandNoble.com.
Libraries and Academic Institutions. This is the most important sales channel to note because you must have a KDP Print ISBN. This channel is served by the largest wholesaler to libraries and academic institutions, Baker & Taylor. If a customer of theirs wants to order your book, Baker & Taylor can deliver it at a wholesale price.
Do you need a KDP Print ISBN to sell to libraries and academic institutions? NO!
Here are the options for selling books to libraries and schools:
- You contact the library or school and they buy the book from you, the publisher.
- The library or school buys the book from Ingram (this is the bookstores and online retailers channel available to any KDP Print user).
- You contact Baker & Taylor to set up an account and they buy from you.
Your book listing in the Baker & Taylor catalog does not mean a library or school will order it. Ask any author, or small publisher for that matter, how easy it is to sell books to libraries and schools and you’ll likely get an earful about the difficulties.
This is no reason for wanting the free ISBN. In my opinion, self-publishers are being duped.
Warning: converting from CreateSpace to KDP Print
Speaking of being duped, Amazon is playing a game right now with authors during the move from CreateSpace to KDP Print. They are using the promise of selling books to libraries and schools to try to scare you into abandoning your ISBN in favor of the free KDP Print ISBN.
Here is a recent message from CreateSpace that an AuthorImprints client received:
I understand that you would like to select expanded distribution channels other than CreateSpace direct for you book, but as you are using your own ISBN are unable to choose book stores & online retailers or Libraries & Academic Institutions.
You can create a new title with the same name but use CreateSpace assigned ISBN in order to have you book available through Amazon even while it is being migrated to KDP.
In case you don’t create another title with CreateSpace assigned ISBN, your book will still be migrated to KDP but in draft state, you will have to go to KDP and make the required changes to make it available again.
In the above example our self-publisher client already has an account with IngramSpark and Ingram handles distribution to “stores & online retailers.” My client doesn’t need this.
But note how Amazon dangles the Libraries & Academic Institutions carrot.
Don’t buy it. Monitor your KDP account and simply activate it (if needed) after the transition from CreateSpace.
Additional resources and guidance
I cover this topic in greater detail in my book, Register Your Book: The Essential Guide to ISBNs, Barcodes, Copyright, and LCCNs.
It is available in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook.
- The paperback is available from the IBPA bookstore (Independent Book Publishers Association), as well as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.
- Kindle available here.
- Audiobook from iTunes and Audible.
- The 2020 Guide to Amazon Fees and Royalties for Kindle eBooks and KDP Print
- Kindle eBook Royalties: 70% vs. 35% and 6 Essential Things You Need to Know
- How Much to Charge When Pricing a Self-Published Book to Sell on Amazon
- Should You Use Amazon KDP Select or Distribute Your Book Wide?
- Amazon Book Review Policy Demystified for Authors