The ISBN was invented in the 1960s, when British bookseller W. H. Smith began computerizing its distribution system. It became an ISO standard in 1970, and now the ISBN forms the backbone of the book supply chain around the world. Certainly there are plenty of books published that do not have ISBNs. Proprietary publications that are not traded, for example, don’t require ISBNs. Books that are sold in “walled garden” environments don’t require ISBNs. So why use them?
There are loads of self-publishing services out there that promise a great deal of ease and speed in getting your book out there. And that’s fantastic, but many authors find that once they sign up, they’re on the hook for a lot more work than they had planned. This is because making a book is not an easy thing.
While mainstream publishing is disappointing authors in some ways, one way it’s succeeding is by printing the actual book. This is not simply as easy as sending an edited Word manuscript to a printer and magically getting a book back. There are lots of decisions and actual work that have to go into book production, and when an author is doing this herself…guess what? She’s the one who has to make these decisions and do this work.