Bowker Isn’t Happy with Angela’s ISBN Article

After running last week’s article, Who REALLY Controls That ISBN You Bought? Probably Not You!, I received the following email from Andy Weissberg at R.R. Bowker. You can see his comments in italics below, along with my comments in bold.

Andy Weissberg wrote:

Hi Angela,

Having been alerted via “Google Alerts,” I just read your blog posting and must say that I’m a bit puzzled by the “tone” of your blog and negative, inaccurate positioning of our correspondence. And, because I can’t respond in the form of a blog posting, I’m hopeful that some of the information and responses provided below are communicated to the world-wide audiences that you have alerted appropriately. Perhaps a return phone call to me would have been better to address your concerns or clarify issues.

1. To confirm, yes, I am the General Manager of Identifier Services at Bowker. I do head up the US ISBN Agency at Bowker. I am not the “Head of Bowker” nor was I claiming to be. I simply wanted you to know who I was as part of my introduction, outreach and requests, so that you knew that you were dealing with someone senior at Bowker who is directly responsible for addressing the issues that were raised as part of my correspondence.

Hi Andy,

You previously said, “I head up the ISBN Agency at Bowker.”

Now you say, “I am the General Manager of Identifier Services at Bowker.”

I understood you were “someone senior” at Bowker, which is what implied the email was serious. That is why I mentioned it in my post.

2. My original correspondence (which was via an online form on your web site and not a solicitation email) wasn’t “implying” anything. It was simply to point out that the information regarding ISBN purchase options on your web site was incorrect, and to request that this information was corrected as soon as possible, so that self-publishers and authors who utilize your services are fully aware and understand what is available to them, as well as the supply chain implications associated with the ISBNs that you are assigning to their titles.

For the record, it exactly said:

I head up the ISBN Agency at Bowker. I reviewed your site and noticed that there is some incorrect messaging pertaining to ISBNs that should be corrected as soon as possible:

1) Single ISBNs can be purchased for $125 from the ISBN Agency; it is incorrect that only blocks of ten can be purchased.

I explained the availability of single-digit ISBNs in my post.

2.) In the “Do you provide an ISBN” section, it should be noted that even though a block of ISBNs that BookLocker has purchased and has been assigned to you, you do not “own” them – no entity “owns” ISBNs – they are assigned to your organization. It is also unclear that in making these assignments, how BookLocker maintains publisher of record status within major bibliographic databases. We need to discuss this and setting you up as an authorized designated agent. Please let me know who the best person to speak with is at your organization.

I explained this in my post, too. We don’t resell ISBNs to authors.

3. I never “implied” that you were “breaking the rules”…

Sending a message that states up front you’re the “head” of the ISBN agency at Bowker, and then implying we are doing someone wrong (when you only found old information posted to our site that could easily be fixed with a friendly email)…does indeed imply we were “breaking the rules.”

I am fully aware of and appreciative your provisioning of book information in our database for books that you (BookLocker) publish. However, to many authors and self-publishers, the concept of publisher of record is a sensitive topic and many have been “burnt” by services who don’t clearly explain and clarify the logistics pertaining to ISBNs as you’ve described in your blog.

I’m not sure why you continue to compare us to services that have “burnt” authors. As I explained to you last week, we don’t resell ISBNs to authors.

As described in my original correspondence, authors/self-publishers who get an “assigned” ISBN from service providers like BookLocker often call and complain that in bibliographic databases like Books In Print, they aren’t recognized within those databases as the publisher of record. They call Borders, Barnes & Noble,, etc. only to find out that they aren’t. Then they call us. In those cases, they don’t control the sales and thought when they bought the ISBNs, they would indeed do so. And when they attempt to modify or enhance the listing of their title in Books in Print, they can’t do so because they aren’t authorized as publisher of record. They are “stuck.”

We have never told or implied to authors that they own their BookLocker ISBN. In fact, the verbiage you pulled from our website clearly states they don’t own or control a BookLocker ISBN.

You’re still comparing us to those other companies that have “burnt” authors when I’ve already explained in all of my emails that we don’t resell ISBNs.

My point and request was that your site needs to provide better clarity around these issues, and wanting to discuss these issues with you…

I disagree that your email was designed to simply request that we correct an error on our website. Your subsequent email was (in my opinion) clearly a marketing message. Let’s face it. Bowker would make more money selling single ISBNs to authors at $125 than they would if the publisher buys those ISBNs in bulk and assigns them to authors’ books. More about your marketing message appears below.

Your site’s FAQ ( “Do you provide an ISBN” says:

“Yes. We issue you an ISBN from our block of numbers. It is included in the setup fee. (Please note: the ISBN is owned by us and ownership is not transferable.) //. Can I use my own ISBN? Sure. If you have your own block of ISBNs, we can use one of those if you prefer. A block of 10 from Bowker costs $225.00.


You should model your FAQ and messaging like Lulu’s Published by You program for customers pursuing your services whereby they are using ISBNs you assign. That’s all I’m requesting.

Lulu has received numerous complaints from authors, including regarding their handling of ISBNs, and how they appear to have confused authors, perhaps unknowingly, into believing those authors control their own ISBNs.

We’ve published over 1200 print titles and no author has ever complained about our handling of ISBNs, nor accused us of misrepresenting how they are handled or who controls them.

We certainly aren’t going to change our website verbiage to match that of a competitor who has generated complaints with their own verbiage.

This is what appears on our website:

Q. Do you provide an ISBN?

Yes. We issue you an ISBN from our block of numbers. Please note: the ISBN is controlled by us and ISBNs are not transferable. If you decide to leave us, the ISBN will be decommissioned and you’ll have to get a new one. You may use your own ISBN is you choose. However, even if you do, the ISBN can’t be transferred from one publisher to another. You will still need to obtain a new one if you move your book to a different publisher in the future. You can purchase a single ISBN from Bowker for $125.00. If you want us to assign one of our ISBNs, there is no extra charge, of course.

4. My request to “set you up as an authorized designated agent” wasn’t a “marketing solicitation” – it was a suggested opportunity to market you, validate and authenticate you as a channel partner that is rightfully assigning ISBNs on behalf of self-publishers. This is an option and there are many marketing opportunities available for channel partners on our new portal, So while I fully acknowledge that you do not “upsell/resell services to authors that they can obtain themselves at cost” (as stated within your blog post), this program would actually enable you to provide your customers with a more formal and credible way to secure their own ISBNs should they wish to do so – at no cost to you – so unlike the “Better Business Bureau” analogy you made, I’m not trying to up-sell you on any “membership fees”

You’re still confusing us with the “other guys.” We don’t resell ISBNs to authors. Never have. We aren’t Lulu and we don’t do business like Lulu. As I explained in my last email to you, we don’t upsell authors on products and services they can obtain themselves at-cost.

Furthermore, contrary to your claim that you weren’t marketing anything, sells barcodes, DOI’s, SANs, your ReadingSocial service, Search Engine Optimization, and more. So, since you were trying to get us to sign up for, which offers a host of fee-based services, I’m not sure how you can now state your email wasn’t a marketing message.

5. Your statement regarding “very few bookstores other than Borders using Bowker to locate a publisher when attempting to make a purchase” is also inaccurate and misleading. In addition to being the official database of record for Barnes & Noble Bowker helps thousands of booksellers, libraries, e-tailers and other channels for these purposes through its Pubnet & Pubeasy applications, as well as other applications and databases like Books in Print, PAD and other data products – all which leverage ISBN-level detail to accurately identify publisher of record and channel sales accordingly, even if those identification and sales channeling requests are directed to wholesalers/distributors like Ingram vs. the publisher directly.

Ninety-nine percent of the books we sell to bookstores are obtained through Ingram, including orders from Barnes and Noble. The bookstores obtain our book info. from Ingram’s system. We provide that database information to Ingram directly.

Angela – I am eager to resolve this situation for the benefit of the audiences and customers we collectively serve. I again request that you update your web site with accurate and appropriate information. I’m appreciative that your blog intends to clarify key issues for these audiences and that blogging is a “free speech privilege” we all have. Under the circumstances, however, you have falsely represented me and our correspondence, which will not be tolerated and was extremely unprofessional. If you aren’t interested in becoming a designated agent, that’s fine. Your loss. But if you are going to provision ISBNs to customers, at least be clear and manage their expectations…and others in the supply chain for that matter.

What I posted about our correspondence was clearly my opinion, and I stand by my opinion that you approached me with an authoritative email that made me feel we were breaking the rules, and that you then sent me a marketing email, trying to get us to sign up for

I’ve already explained that our website does not confuse authors about who controls ISBNs…while some of the “other guys” clearly do.

I’ll be happy to post our entire exchange as a follow-up post next week.

However, I won’t include the promotional material you pulled from Lulu’s website, a company that has not only confused authors with that promotional material, but also a company that you promote on your own website. I wonder what your true relationship is with Lulu? Some people might call that a conflict of interest.

Please once again understand that we don’t resell ISBNs.

We had old information on our website that didn’t mention the availability of single-digit ISBNs, which just became available last year. That is the only thing we “did wrong.” Everything else you’re accusing us of is false, based on your continued misunderstanding of how we do business.

Have a nice day,