Everything which is published, whether print, download, music, video, etc, needs to have an ISBN number so that it can be searched by booksellers. In fact, ISBN numbers are more or less required for a work to be processed by POD printers, Amazon, etc. They are also an essential legal tool for copyright litigation.
ISBNs are administered through Bowker, the Federally chartered ISBN agency. An ISBN registration includes data on author, publisher, content, format, price, and distribution. This is all contained in an on-line SRO Card, which is generated at the time of registration.
ISBN numbers can be purchased directly from Bowker, which is expensive and not really necessary unless you plan to offer a range of titles under your own publisher's imprint. The easiest way to obtain an ISBN number is through one of the on-line POD printers or download distributors. These are usually free if you don't mind them being listed as the publisher, or they will list your imprint for a smaller fee than Bowker charges.
However, while that will insure your copyright, an issued ISBN usually can only be used for that distributor. If you work through several distributors, you will soon wind up with several ISBNs for a given title and format. In addition, some distributors require you to have one of their issued ISBNs to reach out to certain markets, such as libraries. So when planning your ISBNs, give careful thought to what your distribution plans are. ISBNs from Bowker cost more, but if you are looking for maximum flexibility and to having your own imprint (and perhaps growing it into a Small Press) then the added cost may be worth it.
When planning your distribution, keep in mind that every format of a given work must have its own ISBN so the search engines can distinguish between them. Trade Paperback, Large Print, PDF, ePub, Kindle, foreign language editions - all require their own ISBN, which can get expensive fast.
You can find ISBN sources through the Links Page
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