Barcodes for Books

Information on the Bookland EAN Barcode, the UPC symbol and their uses in the book publishing industry.

What Is a Bookland EAN Barcode?

The Bookland EAN is an international barcode used to identify books, video cassettes, audio cassettes and software. The Bookland EAN number is created using the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) as well as the currency and and price of the book. Since each title and edition of a book has a unique ISBN, the corresponding Bookland EAN symbol is also unique.

In other industries the first two or three digits of an EAN-13 barcode identify the country of origin. Since the book industry produces so many products, it has been given its own country codes (978 and 979) for 'Bookland'. To print an ISBN as a Bookland EAN barcode, add the 978 prefix at the front of the ISBN and remove the ISBN check digit from the end; an EAN check digit should be added in its place.

The main part of the EAN is usually followed by a 5-number code which contains the suggested retail price of the book. The first digit of the five indicates the currency: 0 for the British Pound, 5 for the U.S. Dollar, 4 for the Canadian Dollar. The rest of the code indicates the price. The code 51095, for example, would signify a price of US$10.95. A supplemental code of 90000 indicates that the book has no suggested retail price. Scanners in bookstores in the U.S. cannot read the Bookland EAN code without its 5-digit add-on.

Where Can I Get a Bookland EAN?

If you're in the US, check out the prices and services of the vendors on this list of bar code film master suppliers from the Bowker Web site.

Canadians can find a barcode producer in their province on this list from the National Library. You'll need Adobe Acrobat reader to read it, though.

You can also create one for yourself using various software packages ranging in price from free to several hundreds of dollars. If you choose this route, be sure to have a bookstore test out the code on their equipment before using it. A barcode is useless if it cannot be scanned.

Do I Also Need a UPC Code?

While a Bookland EAN will suffice when selling your titles through bookstores, non-traditional markets like supermarkets, drugstores and department stores are often not equipped to handle Bookland EAN codes. If you want to sell to these markets, you should also mark your books with the Universal Product Code (UPC).

The Book Industry Study Group has created some guidelines for publishers using both codes. On rack-sized mass market books, the UPC code should appear on the back cover of the book, while the Bookland EAN should be printed on the inside of the front cover. On all other books, books should have only one bar code - either an EAN or UPC. If you've got money to burn, you can do this with two print runs of the same book. Otherwise, using UPC labels to cover the EAN barcode will do fine.

If you've got a non-book product that you want to sell in bookstores, a UPC symbol will suffice. EAN readers can read UPC symbols, but UPC scanners generally cannot read EAN barcodes.

Where Can I Get a UPC Code?

Don't Barcodes Contain the Mark of the Beast?

Every so often I hear this ol' urban legend about the number 666 being embedded into all barcodes. Hopefully the following links will assure you that this is not the case:

Wendy J. Woudstra

Mom, coder, web developer, book lover, geek, writer, and a pretty nice person. Find out more about me at

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