Sonja Hakala’s Your Book, Your Way is being revised and renamed. You can read sections of What Would William Shakespeare Do? in real time right here. If you want to start at the beginning, you can by clicking here.
If you turn over just about any printed book published in the past thirty years, chances are good you’ll find a bar code with a row of 13 digits across its top. The digits are preceded by the letters ISBN, an acronym that stands for one of the most important concepts in publishing whether it’s on paper or electronically.
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. ISBNs are used on books all over the world, part of an inventory and financial network that ensures that the money paid for a book eventually makes it way to its publisher.
They are very important. In fact, it’s safe to say that whoever owns a book’s ISBN controls its financial life.
DECODING THE 13 DIGITS
The ISBN number featured in this illustration is from my first book on publishing, Your Book Your Way. It is a code that can be read by any bookseller in North America and beyond. Here’s what it means:
978: This prefix is part of every ISBN issued to publishers in North America. When you see these three digits on a contemporary book, it means it was published in the U.S., Canada or Mexico.
0: This single digit means that the book was published in the English language.
9790046: These six digits represent the meat of an ISBN. These numbers are generated and sold to publishers (an individual can be considered a publisher), and are unique to that publisher. In this ISBN, 9790046 means Full Circle Press LLC. This company is the sole designated owner of every ISBN with this combination of six digits. They are different from every other publisher’s ISBN designation.
Whenever a book published by Full Circle Press LLC is sold, the money it earns follows the financial trail created by its ISBNs.
1-2: The last two digits of an ISBN are check digits, different for every title in a publisher’s catalog. In other words, the ISBNs for Full Circle Press LLC are identical to one another except for the last two.
So, to put this particular ISBN all together, here is what these 13 digits tell you:
Your Book, Your Way was published in English in North America by Full Circle Press LLC.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
“Follow the money” is the most quoted line from the movie All the President’s Men. (It never actually appears in the book but was part of the screenplay written by William Goldman, to give proper credit where credit is due.) To use this same concept in book-speak, money follows ISBNs.
Let’s use a concrete example of how this works.
If you buy a copy of What Would William Shakespeare Do? on Amazon.com (and it will be available there), Amazon records your payment, takes its share of the proceeds, and then moves the money along to the book’s printer and distributor, Lightning Source in this case.
Lightning Source records the sale, subtracts the cost of printing from the proceeds from Amazon, and then pays the remainder to the book’s publisher, Full Circle Press LLC.
If What Would William Shakespeare Do? was published by Random House, Amazon would send the money from its sales there.
If What Would William Shakespeare Do? was published by iUniverse (perish the thought), proceeds from the sales would end up at iUniverse.
Now here’s where this gets tricky—and important for authors to understand. Once sales revenue reaches a book’s publisher, that entity is responsible for the accounting of sales to the book’s author.
If you are traditionally published, this means that you need to trust the quarterly accounting reports (royalty reports) you get from your publisher. Same rule applies if you use a self-publishing company such as iUniverse or Author House or Publish America.
However, if you independently publish your work—in essence, set up your own publishing company—then the sales reports and money flow directly to you.
No middle man.
Next week: Why owning your own ISBNs is as important as controlling your copyright.