Who Owns It?
"I do.” This is a typical response from many authors when I ask, “Who owns your book?” In the strictest sense, they are right. An author owns the copyright to the content. Unfortunately, ‘own’ does not always apply to the finished product: the published book. Two other components can be a significant game-changer for an independent author: the ISBN and cover.
The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is what I term the social security number of the publishing world. It is a unique identifier for each version of a book: softcover, hardback, eBook, etc.
Bowker is the U.S. agency that sells and administers ISBNs. For every ISBN assigned to a book title, Bowker maintains a record of the book’s details that includes the name of the publisher. The ISBN assigned to books submitted to distributors such as Createspace, Smashwords, and IngramSpark will be confirmed with Bowker to determine the identity of the publisher. If the author is not the publisher of record, the submission will be rejected. Simply stated: Whoever owns the ISBN controls distribution.
As an example, CreateSpace (CS) has three options for the assignment of the ISBN. CS will provide a number that is free, or the author can purchase one for $99. The third option allows the author to use a number purchased from Bowker.
Selecting the free number sets up CS as the publisher of record. Once the book is published CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform is listed as the publisher in the detail section of the book on Amazon websites and with Bowker. The book can only be sold through Amazon and distributed by CS to other retail outlets through the Extended Distribution Channel. The author cannot use the free ISBN to publish the book through another distributor such as IngramSpark. This same scenario applies to any distributor or publisher that offers a free ISBN whether for a paperback or eBook.
The $99 option provides the author all the distribution rights that would be available had the author purchased the number from Bowker. The advantage is CS will handle the title set up with Bowker using the publisher name provided by the author. A disadvantage is the expense when an author intends to publish additional books. A block of 10 numbers can be purchased from Bowker for $295, or $250 when there is a sale.
Which option to select for an ISBN is dependent on the author’s goals. I know several authors who are very satisfied to stay within the realm of Amazon and choose the free option. That is not always a wrong decision as the author has only one account to manage. If, however, an author wants to expand their book distribution beyond Amazon, which does have limitations, it is important to understand the role of the ISBN before selecting the free option.
The other ‘gotcha’ is the cover. Book cover templates provide an easy method to design a cover. Use of the template, however, can cost the author the copyright to the cover.
CreateSpace’s Cover Creation is an example. CS owns the copyright to any cover created on one of their templates even if the author has uploaded images. The cover can only be used on the paperback distributed by CreateSpace or on the Kindle version. If an author intends to use IngramSpark or an eBook distributor such as Smashwords or Pronoun, a new cover is required.
The second concern is images used by the designer. Images are subject to copyright. If the designer does not have the legal right to use the image, the book may be subjected to litigation. When a copyright complaint for an image in a cover is filed with Amazon, the book is removed from Amazon sites and cannot be sold until the issue is resolved.
The author should also ascertain whether the designer’s right to use the image includes full rights or is there a limitation. This can affect how and where the cover can be displayed.
Whether it is the use of a template, purchase of a pre-made or a custom designed cover, the author should ascertain who owns the copyright before electing to use the service. If the designer or company agrees to release the copyright, the author should request written confirmation along with the print-ready PDF file and JPG. The transfer agreement should stipulate the author has full rights to the final files that includes unlimited use of any images.
The publishing environment is in a constant state of flux. Companies, individuals, and websites have a way of disappearing or going out of business. Knowing your options for the ISBN and cover design can eliminate a ton of grief down the line.