Barcodes for the Book Industry

Bookland EAN Symbol


The Industry Standard

A necessary requirement for selling your publications through booksellers, wholesalers, and distributors is the assignment of unique ISBN numbers for each title. For information about obtaining ISBN numbers, please call us at 800-662-0701 x240. Once a publisher receives their ISBN numbers, they should assign an individual number to each of their publications. In order for booksellers to automatically capture an ISBN, it must be converted into a scannable barcode. The Bookland EAN symbol is the barcode of choice in the book industry worldwide, because it allows for encodation of ISBN’s.

Larger book retailers, as well as many book wholesalers, require that the books they handle be marked with the Bookland EAN barcode. With this machine-readable code on the book, the retailer can scan the symbol and identify the book easily and electronically by its ISBN. When a retail clerk scans the Bookland EAN barcode at the point of sale, the barcode identifies the book so that the price and other information about the book can be retrieved from the bookseller’s database. The computer then automatically reports the price to the cash register and the book buyer pays the correct price for the book.

Bookland EAN Barcodes

In the United States, most retail products are marked with a UPC symbol. The corresponding barcode symbol in use in every other country aside from the United States is the European Article Number (EAN). Every EAN begins with a 2 or 3 digit prefix, which indicates the country of origin. EAN’s for companies registered in France, for example, might begin with the prefix 34; Japan’s prefix is 49. Since the book industry produces so many products, it has been designated as a country unto itself and has been assigned its own EAN prefix. That prefix is 978 and it signifies Bookland, that wonderful, fictitious country from where all books come.

An EAN which begins with the Bookland prefix 978 is called a Bookland EAN code and is used on books and book related products internationally. The Bookland symbol is the barcode of choice in the book industry because it allows for encodation of ISBNs (the numbers publishers use to identify their products). Since an ISBN is unique to one particular title (or product), the corresponding Bookland EAN symbol is a title-specific marking which is unique for that title. For example, if a title is available in hard cover, soft cover and as an e-book, three unique ISBN Bookland EAN bar codes are required.

Anatomy of a Bookland EAN Symbol


Common Symbol Sizes


Two Barcodes in One

The Bookland EAN barcode is actually two barcodes side by side. The larger barcode to the left is the EAN derived from the ISBN. The smaller barcode to the right is a 5-digit add-on where various information might be encoded. Most often the add-on is used to encode the retail price of the publication. A Bookland EAN code which has the price encoded in the add-on is called an EAN/5. It gets its name from the first digit of the add-on, which is the currency indicator. Five is the designation for U.S. dollars. An add-on of 51095 encodes the price $10.95. A book priced at $3.00 would have the add-on 50300. For books with prices above $99.00, there are specific coding guidelines. (Click here for information)

The larger book retailers prefer the use of EAN/5. When the publisher chooses not to include the price, however, the add-on is 90000 (EAN/9), which is a null code indicating that there is no data encoded. Scanners in bookstores In the U.S. cannot read the Bookland EAN code without its 5-digit add-on. Thus, the use of either the EAN/5 or the EAN/9 is required. There has been a dramatic increase in the usage of Bookland EAN symbols, since companies are investing millions of dollars in computer systems and scanning equipment to take advantage of automatic data collection. The foundation of these systems is contingent on barcode print quality. When symbols can not be read or decode incorrectly, the efficiency of these systems is brought to a halt. Consequently, many retailers and wholesalers are severely penalizing consumer goods manufacturers who furnish substandard symbols.

UPC Barcodes for Books

The book industry uses the Bookland EAN code because it can render the ISBN into a machine readable symbol (barcode). This causes problems, however, when books are sold in retail outlets other than book stores. Supermarkets, drug stores, department stores, and other retailers often sell books, but are not properly equipped to scan the Bookland EAN symbols. A publisher selling to a non-book retailer might be asked to provide books marked with the Universal Product Code (UPC).

The Book Industry Study Group has articulated clear guidelines about how publishers should do this. Only in the case of mass-marketed, rack-sized paperback books should a book have two different barcodes printed on its covers. In that case, the UPC should appear on the back cover (Cover 4) and the Bookland EAN code is printed on the inside front cover (Cover 2). In all other instances, books should be marked with only one barcode, either EAN for the bookstores, or UPC for non-book retailers.

A small number of publishers accomplish this by actually printing two different runs of a book: one printed with an EAN on the back cover, the other with the UPC. This represents too costly a solution for most publications. The proper way to handle the EAN/UPC problem is to print one barcode on the back cover and then label over the printed barcode with its opposite symbol when necessary. For example, a book which is sold mostly in bookstores will have the Bookland EAN code printed on its cover. When that book is sold to non-book retailers, the publisher will need to cover the EAN code with an adhesive label with the UPC printed on it. Printing two different barcodes on the same cover of any book invites confusion among those who scan the barcodes and should be avoided in every instance.