eBook Conversion

eBook conversion for Kindle and ePub readers

ISBN numbers and DRM

These topics are really beyond the scope of this website – my intention was to persuade and help you produce nicely formatted eBooks. However, these are both options in the conversion process, so it would be useful to at least explain what these things are.


ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies your book. Under normal circumstances, you have to pay the relevant ISBN issuer in your country.

So do you need one? The simple answer is ‘it depends’. Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the biggest eBook retailers, do not require that you have an ISBN number. So, for example, if you only want to sell from your website and through Amazon, then it’s probably not worth worrying about. However, some online retailers, such the Apple store, do require that you do have an ISBN.

Some aggregators – companies such as Lulu and Smashwords, who will take your book and publish it in multiple formats to several retailers – issue free ISBNs as part of the deal. You can only use these ISBNs for books published through these services.

If you also want your book to sell in bookstores, then you do need an ISBN.

Some useful links

Sue Collier at BookBuzzr: Does Your ebook Need Its Own ISBN?
Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer: ISBN 101 for Self Publishers
Ron Pramschufer at Publishing Basics: Do I really need a separate ISBN for my eBook?


DRM (digital rights management) is an anti-piracy measure applied to digital files. The Amazon .azw format and the ePub format can both carry DRM if you choose to select it. It essentially ties the file to the device registered to the user and stops it being used on other devices.

Although this superficially sounds like a good idea, DRM is a double-edged sword. I’m just going to list the pros and cons and let you make up your own mind. It’s not necessary to worry about DRM as part of the conversion process — you will be given the option to apply it during the upload process to the eBook retailer (although some retailers insist on DRM, while some others don’t give you the option).

On the plus side, DRM means purchasers can’t just pass on free copies to their friends and it makes it much harder to pirate.

The cons of DRM include:

  • eBooks can’t be used across devices. For example, you can’t read Kindle books on a Nook, even if you’ve paid for them (although the Kindle application is available across several devices)
  • It can cause customer-support problems for people who have legitimately purchased content
  • DRM can be broken
  • Customers can’t make back-up copies their eBooks
  • Some consumers object to DRM on principle — it’s their book and they should be free to use it how they wish

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One Response to “ISBN numbers and DRM”

  1. BX
    on Jan 10th, 2012
    @ 8:24 am

    Thank you for writing this. I won’t be putting DRM on my book.

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