Please excuse this longish post.  

And a preceding caveat that we can ignore for this discussion - Kindle format books only need an Amazon number or ASIN.

So much gets said about ISBN – international standard book number or that barcode on the back of the book they scan at the bookstore.  I believe the worst piece of self-publishing, business advice I heard is don’t get an ISBN for any of your published work. 

There’s various scenarios where you might choose one route over another to become published and possibly obtain an ISBN, but this individual was going full ‘tin foil hat’ so that’s why I found her series of comments so disturbing.

I think this applies to United States only – you can take that to mean only here will you hear this and will there be people listening, if you like.

From the trolling well of misinformation -
If your book is ever branded with an ISBN, the government will know every book sold and at what price and come after you for taxes because Bowker (the sole source of US ISBNs) is a government agency that’s part of the IRS.

I think she should have added the word ‘secretly’ because most Bowker employees have no idea they work for the IRS (that’s me being sarcastic – Bowker is not part of the IRS), or somehow collate book sales along with information regarding what is the net income to each author for tax purposes.  Authors are taxed on their income, not the cover price of their books.

Besides the illogic of this scenario, I’m concerned about the author who may take this as true (if not paying taxes on income is their primary concern when they self-publish their book).  Without an ISBN, where will this book be sold - out of the trunk of your car?   I expect the ‘off the grid’ style will radically decrease sales, if there were ever going to be any.  Is it worth not paying income tax to do this?  If the answer’s ‘Hell, yes!’ read on …

More how-to advice from the same troll when an author questioned what to do if a printer insists they want to put a ISBN on the back cover of the book –
Check with local printers.  Do not use large book printers such as CreateSpace.   Ask the printer for a barcode free cover.  If they are insistent, supply a false one.  Local printers may not verify for accuracy.

Should I be worried that my ISBN will be supplied to mask some hot-selling, off-the-grid novel, and the Bowker division of the IRS will be after my ass?

I have not priced out how much the difference is between using a Print On Demand (POD) company such as CreateSpace (owned by Amazon) is compared to a local printer.  However, I do know other authors who are under contract to smaller publishing houses and their books are printed by CreateSpace.  To me, that means that CreateSpace offers competitive printing rates.

Tying this back to the original premise, what if the author decides the local printer is too much money per copy, and s/he uses CreateSpace?  There will be an ISBN assigned to that book.  CreateSpace offers them at no charge for using their service.

This could put the tin-foil hat crowd back into a tailspin because that seems deceptive – nothing worth having is ever free.  Within Bowker’s web site, there is pricing for ISBNs.  Bulk pricing lists 1,000 ISBNs for $1,000, contact for ISBNs in greater quantity.  So let’s say CreateSpace paid at most $1 for each ISBN they give away for free – doesn’t that mean Amazon will go out of business? 

It is true that currently you never have to buy a copy of your own book through CreateSpace which equals no revenue for CS/Amazon.  Authors can also not choose any distribution options (it’s not even for sale on Amazon).  How many people are doing that?  I think CS/Amazon has thought it out and finds $1 an acceptable risk for gaining the possible business.  As long as some authors buy copies of their books, sell their title through Amazon, or purchase other services through CreateSpace, they’ll make those dollars back.

For those interested in eBook publishing, SmashWords has a similar offer.   A free ISBN to cover the eBook distribution you choose (Smashwords distributes to multiple eBook platforms).  Don’t mix up the ISBNs.  You need one for each format – hardcover, trade paperback, eBook, audio, etc.

There’s more advice on ISBNs that I might not call as ‘tin foil hat’, but more about keeping it a secret that you’re a self-published or indie author, or the current term ‘artisan author’. 

Remember Big Brother over at Bowker?  He only talks to whoever bought the ISBN.  That’s Bowker’s customer and the ISBN owner of record. Anyone researching that ISBN or your title will find out who Bowker’s customer/your publisher is.  If they see ‘Create Space’ or ‘Amazon Digital’ instead of ‘Random House’, your secret is out of the bag.

So the bigger thinking entrepreneurs will set up a company name, or better yet a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) to be their publisher, even if they will be the only author for the publisher they own.  When they go to a service like CreateSpace, Lightning Source, or Smashwords, they will supply the ISBN they bought directly from Bowker. 

Confusing?  Let’s say I started a business with my blog name and called it Crazy Cat Publishing. I then go to Bowker and pay for a block of ISBNs (remember one for each format, and I plan to have multiple titles so I might as well buy them now for the best group price).  I decide to use CreateSpace for POD (print on demand) and supply them with an ISBN that Crazy Cat Publishing (me) purchased from Bowker.  When my book is listed in Books in Print or anywhere else, it will say it was published by Crazy Cat Publishing.  CreateSpace was hired by Crazy Cat Publishing as a printer.  

Is that deceiving the consumer?  I am aware of factors because I am an author, but as a reader, I might not care who the publisher is unless I find a quality factor – either good or bad.  I do get a bit short with my book reviews if I know the book is traditionally published and is edited poorly in terms of development, plot, and basic copy editing.  However, even if it’s self-published, I do have some expectation with regards to professional quality.

Since I started with the worry of taxes, I can give a brief amount of info on how it works for self-publishing.  Amazon (as CreateSpace or Kindle Direct) and others will ask for your SSN, or if you set up a company like Crazy Cat Publishing, its tax number.  You get emails about your royalties, probably choose to get them direct deposited, and then sometime in January each seller/distributor will mail you or your company a 1099MISC.  That’s income.

If you decide to be an off the grid author as originally suggested as the best way to do things by the troll poster, you would not have author income so I think that eliminates deducting author expenses.

So my conclusion would be get and use an ISBN, even if you feel more comfortable setting up an alias company for yourself and buying it directly from Bowker rather than accepting a free one.  An ISBN allows that particular format of your book to be sold through bookstores and carried by distributors.  Those sellers will pay royalties and that is your income.