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The book industry really only uses one metric to distinguish between publishers and non-publishers. If you own an ISBN block, you're a publisher. The ISBN number is the key value that identifies the publisher of a book in all of the online databases and inventory systems used world-wide. I've heard that in some countries you can obtain an ISBN number for free, but in the U.S., you have to deal with the Bowker agency, where "agency" has a special legal meaning, that they've been granted a monopoly franchise by the government. The last ISBN block I purchased consisted of 10 numbers (enough for ten titles) and cost around $250 with the additional publisher registration charge. They call it an "application process," but I've never heard of anybody failing.
All it takes to obtain an ISBN number is a credit card (or a check and a lot of patience), but it's only the first step in the process. Bowker will aggressively market add-on services to you that I've never seen any need for, they really stretch the use of statistics for sales pitches in strange, new ways. You cangenerate bar codes for your book covers for free with Bookland, and you can convert older 10-digit ISBN's to 13-digit ISBN's for free as well. Don't get panicked into thinking you need to change your existing book covers, the new system grandfathers in books published with the 10 digit ISBN's. CLICK HERE