Here’s what you need to know when it comes to ISBNs for your audiobook and how to best leverage your audiobook metadata. The world runs on metadata. Learn the key things you need to know as an indie author so you can make good decisions about your ISBNs, whether your book is in print, ebook or audiobook format – and even the divisions in those basic formats (hard cover, paperback; downloadable or CD, for example). Host Becky Parker Geist takes you behind the scenes to provide just the info you need to make good audiobook production and marketing decisions.

Podcast Transcript

Today we’re going to talk about ISBNs. What are they? How many do you need? What are they for? How do you leverage them? So, first of all, what is an ISBN? If you’ve been working in publishing at all you’ll know or you may know, it stands for International Standard Book Number. It is the way that books are tracked from a metadata perspective. And these are all handled through Bowker at

So first of all, every book, in whatever format needs, at least one ISBN. How many it needs depends on how many different formats you have. To speak on a broader publishing level, if you have a print book that’s in paperback, you need an ISBNfor that format. If it’s also in hardcover, you need a different ISBN for that. With an ebook, you likewise need another ISBN. If you have an enhanced ebook, and most often those are enhanced where you have an image – like a children’s book where there’s a read along feature – that’s a common kind of enhanced ebook that requires yet another ISBN. And for audiobooks (our world), you need two different ISBNs unless you are only submitting through ACX.

Here’s why that is: With ACX, because they are only distributing through Audible, and through iTunes, but with a special agreement, they have their own numbering system. You may have seen in Amazon that you have ASINs. Those are Amazon numbers, and they apply within their ecosystem. They apply a number to each of your projects you when you’re doing a print book through KDP print, for example. You aren’t allowed to enter your own ISBN numbers with ACX, you’re not given that option.

That’s actually one of the things that I find as a negative regarding using ACX, for using the ACX system, because you’re not given that opportunity to connect your different audio books through your metadata online. So we distribute through Authors Republic, where you do have the opportunity and you need two ISBNs.

One of those ISBNs is for audio book retail, and the other is for audio book library. Now, they’re both the same format. They’re both downloadable. And so if you’re entering your information on Bowker – and we’ll have a separate we can do a separate tutorial on that – but if you’re entering it on Bowker you would be looking at the two entries would be pretty much identical, except that one is going to be used for library and one for retail. I can’t actually speak to why they pull those apart. That’s at a whole other level of operations that we’re not a part of. But we do know that for the audiobook distribution, we need to supply those two distinct numbers.

Now, let’s get to how to get your ISP ends and what to do about them. The only place that you can get ISP ends really is through biochar. If you’re buying them under your own name and imprint, there are as there is through KDP and other publishing services, where they may offer you a free ISP in one or more in authors Republic, they’ll offer as an option You can take two free ISP ends from them. What that means is that your audio book will show up on the various retail platforms as published by authors Republic. So what’s better for you is as an author is if your ISP ends, pull in the information showing that in fact, you or your imprint are the publisher. Now, you might ask, Well, why does that really matter? And the simple answer to that is, the more cohesive your information is online, the more cohesive your metadata is, the better off for you. It increases your visibility, your discoverability it makes more sense in an online perspective, to have all your metadata connected, rather than looking like it’s being published by, by this formats public. by Amazon, this one’s published by Audible, this one’s published by someone else. Instead, it pulls it all together showing that in fact, you are the publisher, you are the manager of the information for your book.

One of the best ways to to move forward them is to actually go to Bowker and buy a block of ISBNs. Typically, for most of our clients, they’re already going to be publishing in or have published in print and ebook. And ideally, they would have already done this and have typically some leftovers that they because usually you buy them in a block of 10. It’s far more cost effective than buying them one at a time. Also, just to let you know, if you are a member of IBPA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, there is quite a nice discount on your ISBNs and on several other publishing services for that matter. If you are a member of that professional organization ­- and it’s a wonderful organization, I highly recommend it – that’s one way that you can get them at a discount.

Once you have those numbers, then keep them in a nice organized place where you can find them. And you can track where they have been, which formats they have been assigned to. So for example, in Bowker, at, you manage your ISBNs. When you go in there, you select the number that you’re going to assign to your particular format. Let’s say it’s print, okay? You’re going to assign that number to the paperback print edition. And now those two are connected permanently. These are numbers that can’t be assigned to somebody else they remain your, your property, your metadata, and on Bowker you can go in and complete all the metadata information, so that you have your book description, your bio, your cover image, lots of information that is available to you to enter in that system, so that you can manage your ISBNs well.

When it comes to audio books you would then again, be taking two of those numbers and assigning them to audio book, digital download. If let’s say you decide you really want your audio book as a CD set, you can do that and there’s a different format that you would need for the ISBN for that CD format. But that format of your audio book would then get its own unique ISBN and you would enter it into Bowker accordingly.

In this way you can go in and you can update your metadata, you can manage it, these are all really good things to be able to do. And I’m not saying that you would go in and do that frequently, you might never even go back and modify that. But having the ability to do so, when it makes sense to do so.  Here’s an example of one of those kinds of moments when it might happen. Let’s say that that particular phrase is very popular at the time in search engines and you’d put a phrase in to describe your audio book that everybody was searching on. And then that search term kind of wore out. It would be smart to go back into your ISBN account to update those words, to better reflect the kind of searches that are currently happening.

One of the things that that this account or this management of this metadata is used for is, let’s say we have, that is an audio book retailer, or Retail channels for audio books such as these will often pull their information from the information that is connected through Bowker, actually pulling that information to then use on their posts for your audio book. So it’s really important to have that information filled in. It makes it much easier for them. Your metadata also includes your suggested retail price. But doesn’t mean that they will necessarily choose to sell it for your suggested retail price. No retailer is bound by the price you suggest as your MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price). You can suggest prices, but they’re not bound to those. So if you see your audio book being sold at a price that was not what you said you wanted it to be sold for, don’t be upset, don’t worry about it. The good news is they’re out there trying to sell your audio book. And that’s a good thing for you. So I think that pretty much covers it for ISBNs. And if you have any questions about this, please reach out to us we’re available at And we always love hearing from our followers and our fans and being of service.



  • what ISBNs are and why you need separate ISBNs for each format of your book
  • how Authors Republic and ACX differ in regards to ISBNs and why it matters
  • how to save money on purchasing ISBNs
  • what kinds of data you’ll need

Find out how to leverage your metadata to your ongoing advantage.