I’ve got nine ISBN’s and I’m gonna use them
What is it about the game that you have to play it? Having failed to make a fortune or even part of a fortune out of publishing my own book, I am now contemplating publishing others. Well it’s not contemplation exactly, so much as a mad impulse that keeps sluicing through my head. It’s reminiscent of what they say about teachers: Those who can, do, those who can’t teach.
I blame Nielsens. For those unacquainted with the criminality that is ISBN numbers, publishers register each book they put out with Nielsens who give it a number, an ISBN number, so that any bookstore needing to find your book can contact Nielsens, who will advise the store who has published it. It’s the number above the barcode. If you want your book in a shop or on Amazon, you need a number so don’t think about self-publishing without one; it’s the DNA database of the book trade, without one you are invisible; you have no book.
ISBN numbers are sold in tens so if you are a publisher, no problemo. However if you are the author, you’ve just lashed out £107 (or if you leave it to the last minute, panic, and have to get your order fast tracked £160. Doh!) and you have become the owner of the one ISBN number you need and nine others you don’t. There they lie, anticipating a life of idleness, going, 'C'mon then if you think you're hard enough.'
I didn’t think I would be using any of them anytime soon on a book of mine. My current book London Babylon: The Beatles and the Stones in the Swinging Sixties took me two years to write so at that rate I’ve got enough ISBNs for the next eighteen years of what I laughingly refer to as my career, by which time I’ll be sitting in a room with a lot of other mouth breathers doing doodles with a crayon.
But I have my ISBN and I even have a barcode – getting that was another rigmarole – oh no, they don’t just arrive with the ISBN; however with those devices imposed on the back cover, like the tramp stamps on Cheryl Cole's back, the book finally looked complete, endorsed, a product.
Back at their inception, arty types, musicians and authors, regarded barcodes as abominable scars, crude, disfiguring licences of officialdom on the fragile art of the free spirited, a lurid blotch on the face of an angel, a turd in the swimming pool. However, increasingly they are looked upon as marks of endeavour, badges of merit, a recognition of achievement. To have a barcode affixed to your project means that you are in business, that you have something to sell, and like music and books, something that, in theory, you can sell over and over. All you need is the idea, the energy to execute that idea, a few quid and then the blind stupidity to put it all on a horse.
Back in the punk days, we were taught that anyone could do it; buy a guitar, learn three chords, start a band, make a record – one, two, three, four, see you up the other end. In my case, I managed the bands and now and again put out a record, lacking the money and perhaps the exquisite recklessness to sprint into the minefield, to become a proper record company or die trying. And now it’s too late; most singers I hear these days need throttling not encouraging, most songwriters really aren’t and anyway record companies are so passé.
But publishing; that’s a job for a grown up, a grown up punk in fact. I know absolutely nothing about publishing, so in the great punk tradition, I’m eminently qualified, and I’ve got these nine ISBN numbers burning a hole in my pocket.
Anyone out there got a book they need publishing? Would anyone be crazy enough to hand over their life’s work to an over excited ex punk who can’t even figure out how to sell his own book?
There's always one.