Do eBooks need ISBNs? | Do I need an ISBN for my eBook? | Self-Publishing eBooks on Amazon KDP

Back in 2015 when young, naïve first-time author MK set out to learn about self-publishing every single resource I found confirmed that each format of your book needs its own ISBN, including eBooks. So if your book is in eBook, paperback, and hardcover that’s three formats, you need 3 ISBNs. I also saw that Amazon KDP made it very clear you could get a “free” ISBN from them. “Free” is in quotation marks because you can’t take that ISBN anywhere else. So if you are self-publishing under and Amazon-only strategy that probably works for you. But my own publishing strategy and the one that this channel follows is a wide self-publishing strategy. So I knew I needed to own my ISBNs so I could use them on any platform. So I went down that path, purchased my ISBNs, and the rest is history.

So I think it was in 2018 that I was on an online forum on Facebook for indie authors and answered a question, many of you know the genesis for this channel was to save myself time in answering questions and help more indie authors, and someone replied back to my answer saying that I was wrong about the cost of ISBNs because eBooks don’t need ISBNs.


I had literally never heard this anywhere, I hadn’t seen it in any of my research. What? When I upload my eBooks to Smashwords, and Google play, and IngramSpark, and Streetlib, and yes, Amazon KDP, they all have a space where I can enter my ISBN. I did some quick searching and again found confirmation that each format needs an ISBN and eBooks are listed first. Then I did a google search for “ebooks don’t need ISBNs” and it brought me to this page on the KDP website:

Yep, KDP states that they don’t require you to bring an ISBN for your eBook. For your eBook they don’t provide an ISBN, instead they just assign your book an ASIN and call it a day. So somehow we got from “KDP doesn’t require an ISBN for eBooks” to “eBooks don’t need ISBNs.” This is super not true. And I can prove it.

I hopped on the Penguin Random House website. So PRH is one of the big 5 publishers. They are a high-volume business and there is no way they are paying for ISBNs they don’t need. Let’s check out some of their latest releases to see if they have an ISBN for their eBooks.


So if one of the big 5 publishing houses is assigning ISBNs to their eBooks, what makes you think that you as an indie author-publisher are somehow gaming the system by not getting an ISBN for your eBook?

Again, if you are consciously electing to do an Amazon-only strategy for your books with no intent to take them wide and you are looking to save money, sure go with what KDP assigns you. But eBooks need ISBNs.

Okay. Rant over.

What other advice have you heard in the self-publishing world that you think isn’t quite right? Let me know and I’ll do a video on that as well. Happy to dispel any myths or validate any weird rules.

Music from:​ E.R.F.

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