barcodes for books

All About Barcodes for Books

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In the world of self-publishing, understanding the importance of barcodes for books and how to properly obtain one for your book, is yet another crucial step in the journey to becoming an author.

Books are identified with an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and its corresponding ISBN barcode. This standardization allows publishers to interact with other retailers, wholesalers, libraries, and online marketplaces.

Bottomline is that print books need barcodes. In this blog post we’ll cover some of the common questions self-publishing authors have when it comes to barcodes for books.

  • What are barcodes for books?
  • How are barcodes for books different than regular barcodes?
  • What’s included in an ISBN barcode?
  • How do I get a barcode for my book?
  • Where do I place the barcode on the book?

What are Barcodes for Books?

Barcodes for books are unique numerical codes represented by a series of parallel lines. They contain essential information about a book, such as its ISBN, pricing, and other relevant data. These barcodes simplify inventory management, enhance sales processes, and enable accurate tracking of books throughout the supply chain.

Without the barcode, it’ll be next to impossible for brick-and-mortar retailers to sell your book.

A barcode is not an ISBN. It’s a graphical representation of your book’s ISBN and price.

How are Barcodes for Books Different Than Regular Barcodes?

Barcodes for books differ from regular barcodes in terms of their format and the information they convey. Regular barcodes typically encode generic product details. Barcodes for books incorporate specific book-related information, such as the ISBN.

In the U.S., products are labeled with a universal product code (UPC). This is a 12-digit number to indicate what the product is. However, for books, there is an exception. Books utilize an EAN number, instead of a UPC number.

EAN stands for European Article Number. In the rest of the world (except for U.S.), this is the standard used for selling products and goods. The EAN is a 13-digit number, just like an ISBN number.

The first 3 digits of the EAN code designate the country where the product was made. Since there are so many books produced year in and year out, books actually have their own “country code”! Yes, it’s true. It has been designated as a country and has been assigned its own EAN prefix. That prefix is 978 and it signifies “Bookland.”

An EAN that begins with the Bookland prefix 978 is called a Bookland EAN code. It is used on books and book related products internationally. Although the standard Bookland EAN code is 978, occasionally, 979 is used as well.

Back cover of notebook on the left. Arrow pointing to enlarged barcode on the right. Red underline of 979 on the barcode.
*Lemon Notebook

*Please note that I earn a commission on affiliate links (with an asterisk)

Two Main Types of Barcodes for Books

Book barcodes come in two forms. 

  1. Barcodes with prices
  2. Barcodes without prices.

Book prices are listed using a 5-digit code. The first digit is the currency in which the book is being sold.

-5 for U.S. dollars

-6 for Canadian dollars

-3 for Australian dollars

Many large book retailers in the U.S. require barcodes for books with prices.

What’s Included in an ISBN Barcode?

An ISBN barcode typically consists of the ISBN itself, country or language code, and a check digit for error detection.

Barcode on the left, color coded explanation on the right. Blue highlight for price, Orange for ISBN-13, purple for Price Add-On, and Green for EAN number.
  1. ISBN Barcode: The most common type used in the book industry. It contains the ISBN, which serves as a unique identifier for each book
  2. EAN-13 Barcode: This is an extended version of the ISBN barcode. It includes the ISBN as well as additional information, such as the retail price. While not as widely used as the ISBN barcode, the EAN-13 barcode provides enhanced functionality, especially for international distribution and sales.

Where Do I Get a Barcode for a Book?

There are a few routes you can take to obtain a barcode for your book. Keep in mind, before getting a barcode, you will first need to obtain an ISBN for your book.

Some self-publishing platforms offer free barcode generator services. For all six of my books that I self-published through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), I used the free barcode offered by the platform. Keep reading for more details on the different barcode options offered by Amazon KDP.

Buying Barcodes for Books

Alternatively, you can purchase barcodes for books from an authorized barcode provider. These providers generally charge a one-time fee for barcode creation.

One of these sites is Bowker. Bowker charges $25 for one barcode. They also offer a variety of packages where you can purchase ISBNs and barcodes together.

Screenshot from Bowker site. 3 buy barcode options. $25 for 1 barcode, $150 for 1 barcode and 1 ISBN. $320 for 1 barcode and 10 ISBNs.

Free Barcodes for Books

Another way to obtain barcodes for books is utilizing a site with a free book barcode generator. Two sites worth noting are: Bookow and Kindlepreneur.

With Bookow’s site, for instance, all you need to do is enter the book’s ISBN and price (if required), as well as your email address. Once the information is submitted a barcode will be automatically generated. You can choose to receive a .PDF or .PNG file. Kindlepreneur follows a similar process. Pretty simple if that is the route you decide to go.

Screenshot from Bookow's site. Barcode example on the right. Empty fields on the left to enter your ISBN, email, consent for them to create the barcode.

Many people say that you should never pay to create a barcode when you can generate them for free. While there are a multitude of free and paid barcode sites to choose from, be sure to do your due diligence in researching the site. Some things to look out for include:

  • make sure the site creates barcodes for BOOKS, not just regular barcodes
  • be aware of special “terms of use,” specified by the site, including if the FREE barcode can be used for commercial purposes
  • ensure that the barcode adheres to the required size and resolution for optimal scanning accuracy

Using Amazon KDP’s Free Barcode

Amazon KDP offers authors the option to generate a free barcode during the book publishing process.

Uploading Your Cover File to Amazon KDP

When you create a cover for Amazon KDP, you can choose from the following 3 options, which determines the barcode that will print on your cover.

In order to create the covers for my books, I first designed them in Canva Pro. Below you’ll see the template that I followed as well as the final cover design for my *Dietitian Professional Development Journal. Looking at the template from left to right, you’ll see that the back cover design goes on the left and front cover design goes on the right, with the spine in the middle.

Example of template book cover for paperback book. Red lines and dotted lines for border of book. Yellow box on the bottom to show the barcode placement.
Small book cover template on top left corner. Red arrow pointing to dietitian journal created using the template. Yellow text box explains to avoid images and text in yellow barcode box on template.

This template is great because it has a yellow box place holder for the barcode. When using a template like this, make sure to avoid placing any text or images in this yellow box. 

After creating my covers with Canva Pro, I uploaded the print-ready PDF cover file without a barcode to Amazon KDP. Amazon KDP then generated a barcode and placed it on the back cover of my book.

Should I Use the Free Barcode from Amazon KDP?

This depends on your publishing goals and distribution strategy. If you plan to sell exclusively on Amazon, the free barcode provided by Amazon KDP can suffice. However, if you intend to distribute your book through multiple channels, investing in a paid barcode or one from a credible free barcode generator site will ensure universal compatibility and flexibility.

For students in my Click to Publish course who self-publish low or lower content books, I generally recommend taking advantage of the free ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) and barcode from Amazon KDP. On the other hand, for students that write other types of books (textbooks, self-help, cookbooks, etc.) I may recommend purchasing their own ISBN and barcode from Bowker since they may plan to use Expanded Distribution or sell their book outside of Amazon. However, each situation is unique based on the student, the book, and the strategy.

Where are Barcodes Placed on the Cover?

Back Cover of Coloring Book. Red circle around the barcode on the bottom right corner of the cover.
*Food Alphabet Coloring Book for Kids

Final Thoughts

Barcodes for books play a vital role in streamlining sales and inventory management in the publishing industry. Whether you opt for a free barcode or choose to purchase your own, barcodes provide accurate book identification, simplify point-of-sale operations, and facilitate efficient inventory tracking. Embrace the power of barcodes and unlock the benefits they offer in improving your book sales and overall business efficiency.

(*This blog post was published on 1/9/23, and was updated on 11/30/23.)

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