Barcoding Guidelines for the U.S. Book Industry

Barcoding Guidelines for the US Book Industry is an online resource of barcoding best practices developed and revised through BISG's Machine Readable Coding Committee, a predecessor to the current Supply Chain Committee. The information presented here was last updated in June 2011.

ISBN Considerations

The ISBN-13 standard, an extensive revision of the original 10-digit ISBN standard, took effect on January 1, 2007. The new 13-digit code is exactly equivalent to the Bookland EAN, so although the way the barcodes are presented on books has changed due to the ISBN-13 transition (e.g., with the human-readable ISBN-13 printed above the barcode rather than the human-readable ISBN-10), the expression of the ISBN within the Bookland EAN barcode has remained the same.

What is BISG's role in barcoding?

For many years, BISG relied its Machine Readable Coding (MRC) Committee, a predecessor to today's Supply Chain Committee, to lead the organization's barcode-related activities. In 1984, MRC submitted recommendations for a product identification code and symbol to be used on book covers and jackets.

As a result of the study, BISG recommended that book identification and barcoding be based on the Universal Product Code (UPC) and the International Article Number (EAN), through the Bookland EAN. In 1985, BISG published Machine-Readable Coding Guidelines for the US Book Industry. The guidelines were updated in 1990 and formed the basis for today's standards.

In 2003 the MRC Commitee was asked to further update and revise these guidelines in view of the changes in application of the ISBN, UPC, and EAN coding structures. Their recommendations became the barcode standards we use today.

How did product barcoding originate? The UPC and EAN

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a variety of different approaches were tried for machine-readable identification of products, with emphasis on data capture at point of sale. The system of numbering and barcoding that ultimately became the standard originated in the grocery industry. It is known as the Universal Product Code, or UPC.

Universal Product Code (UPC)

GS1 (formally the Uniform Code Council) administers the UPC system. The UPC has now been adopted throughout general retailing, and it is used at many points in the supply chain besides point of sale. It is a system that identifies each item with a unique 12-digit code, consisting of a variable length supplier identifier (Company Prefix) and a variable length product number, and a check digit.

International Article Number (EAN)

The UPC concept (which covers the US and Canada only) was subsequently adapted for use by other countries under a system called International Article Numbering (originally named European Article Number and still using the initials EAN). Under the EAN system, an additional leading 13th digit is derived from the parity pattern of the original twelve digits. All countries other than the US and Canada were assigned a 2- or 3-digit "country code" to distinguish each nation's manufacturers and products from every other.

In North America, the number set zero [0] was assigned as a prefix to the UPC. Thus the 12-digit UPC in the US and Canada is a subset of, and fully compatible with, the 13-digit EAN by the addition of the zero prefix. 

Why do books need to be barcoded?

Most major bookstores have electronic point of sale (EPOS) systems which enable them to keep track of their sales and stocks and to reorder books by scanning the barcode. Most retailers refuse to accept books that are not barcoded. In addition, many distributors make use of barcodes in their warehouse systems.

What is a Bookland EAN, and how is it used in barcodes?

In 1980, agreement was reached between the EAN Authority and the International ISBN Agency to assign a specific 3-digit prefix to a fictitious country designated as "Bookland". The country codes 978 and 979 were reserved for this "country" to encode the ISBN. The Bookland EAN code and symbol is comprised of 13 digits incorporating the ISBN plus a separate 5-digit price-related add-on, for a total of 18 digits. This symbol is the machine-readable symbol of choice for all published books.

Figure 1: Bookland EAN (with Price Add-On)

When printed, the Bookland EAN symbol is to be positioned at the bottom of Cover 4 (the back cover or jacket). The ISBN, preceded by the letters ISBN, is to appear in human-readable form, 9 point or larger font, above the barcode.

The Bookland EAN symbol may also appear on Cover 2 (inside front cover) of mass-market paperback books to be used by retailers and/or distributors for returns processing. The literal "EAN" may be included to the right or left of the barcode at the publisher's discretion.

Although the Bookland EAN is the barcode of choice for books in all formats, some related products (i.e. games, art prints, entertainment DVDs, wall calendars intended primarily for time management purposes) may need to carry a UPC barcode instead. In either case, BISG recommends that only one barcode be placed on books and related products. Recommendations as as to which barcode -- Bookland EAN or UPC -- should be assigned to specific products is included in BISG's Policy Statement POL-0701: Elimination of Dual Identifiers on Books and Related Products .

Conversions and Calculations

It is sometimes necessary to convert 10-digit ISBNs to Bookland EANs, to retrieve a 10-digit ISBN from a Bookland EAN beginning with '978', or to check an identifier to confirm that the number is valid. Algorithms have been developed for these conversions and checks, and these are available from most of the vendors selling barcodes to publishers. An important note: There is no 10-digit ISBN equivalent for Bookland EANs beginning with '979'.

What are Bookland EAN "add-on" codes and how do you use them?

Price Encoded in the Add-On

As requested by some retailers, the supplemental 5-digit add-on symbol may be used to encode cover price. Guidelines for its use have been revised and expanded to encode cover prices up to US$ 499.99.

As in the past, a leading digit (Currency Indicator) of "5" designates prices from US$00.01 (50001) to US$99.98 (59998).

The number 59999 was previously used to indicate a cover price greater than US$99.98. Thus, at this time, the cover price US$ 99.99 cannot be encoded.

Prices from US$ 100.00 to US$ 499.99 are to be encoded with significant numbers, i.e., 10000 to 49999. At this time the numbers 60000 to 89999 have no significance and meaning.

Add-on Data Pricing Interpretation Comments
50001 > 59998 US$ 0.01 > US$ 99.98 Previously Existing Rules
59999 Price is not encoded and is understood to exceed US$ 99.98. (Note: A price of US$ 99.99 cannot be encoded.) This value indicates a price greater than US$ 99.98 and not encoded in the add-on, whether the price is within the expanded range or not.
10000 > 19999 US$ 100.00 > US$ 199.99 New increased range
20000 > 29999 US$ 200.00 > US$ 299.99 New increased range
30000 > 39999 US$ 300.00 > US$ 399.99 New increased range
40000 > 49999 US$ 400.00 > US$ 499.99 New increased range

Other add-on options (Bookland EAN)

The range of numbers between 90000 and 99999 has been reserved for industry-wide use. It is recommended that publishers use the add-on 90000 if they are not encoding the US$ cover price or there is no cover price. Within this range BISG has assigned numbers 99990 through 99999 to the National Association of College Stores (NACS) for use by college bookstores. NACS has specified the add-on 99990 for used books and 99991 for desk copies.

Add-on Data Pricing Interpretation Comments
00000 None Designated Do not Use
50000 None Designated Do not Use
60000 > 89999 None Designated Ignore for pricing
90000 No cover price or no price encoded Ignore for pricing
90001 > 99989 Reserved for future industry-wide use to be determined Ignore for pricing
99990 > 99999 Assigned to NACS Ignore for pricing


What are the considerations for books to be sold by general retailers?

Although almost all traditional booksellers have adopted and use the Bookland EAN, grocery stores and other general retailers have used the UPC exclusively. To accommodate general retailers who sell books, publishers have printed UPCs in addition to, or in place of, Bookland EAN barcodes on books. Under an initiative known as 2005 Sunrise, general retailing has expanded its systems to use the full EAN. Thus, the printing of UPCs on books has been phased out, as all retailers should be able to use Bookland EANs. For more information, see BISG's Policy Statement POL-0701: Elimination of Dual Identifiers on Books and Related Products.

Elimination of dual barcoding - using only the Bookland EAN

Some general retailers have managed all their inventories, books and non-books alike, using item-specific coding. This means that the number encoded in the barcode identifies the specific title of the book or name of a non-book product. Since these retailers could not use the 13-digit Bookland EAN, they have requested that price point specific UPCs be placed on books in addition to the Bookland EANs. Although this practice enabled general retailers to manage inventory, it has been a source of confusion to both general retailing and bookselling. It has also resulted in additional cost and a requirement that publishers assign two different identifiers to the same book. As noted above, this practice is being phased out; and Bookland EAN will be the only barcode used on books.

Replacing Price Point UPC on mass market and juvenile titles

The UPC barcode on mass market paperbacks and some juvenile books has been a special case, in that it did not identify the book. The supermarket industry, developer of the UPC, noted that the flow of books into the stores was controlled by wholesaler/jobbers and the volume of new titles published each month created a file maintenance and update problem. Thus the UCC adopted Guideline 21 allowing a price-point variation from item-specific UPC for coding mass-market paperback books. Only the publisher (Company Prefix) and the price were represented in the basic UPC. symbol. Subsequently the wholesalers developed a supplemental 5-digit add-on symbology to encode the book title. As with dual barcoding, the price-point U.P.C. alternative for mass-market paperback books and some juvenile books will be discontinued, as the retailers who request it become able to scan Bookland EAN.

Can I use my computer and laser printer to generate barcodes?

Yes. Barcoding software packages are available for both the book code and binders pack code. Care must be taken to ensure that these meet industry specifications, that the ISBN is validated by the check-digit algorithm, and that the EAN-13 is automatically generated from the ISBN entry. In the case of ISBN-13, the EAN-13 will be the identical number but without hyphenation.

Although laser output from a well-maintained printer will scan successfully it is not recommended for use as a master from which copies are subsequently taken due to the degradation of image quality which usually results from the various copying and film duplication process. Of course, if generating your own barcodes is something you'd rather not worry about, you can always have a barcode supplier generate the barcodes for you. 

What must be considered when printing the Bookland EAN Symbol?

This section is intended as a practical working guide to printing the barcode symbol. It does not replace published standards of EAN.UCC that include exact specifications and tolerances for size, color reflectance and print quality.

Barcode symbols are images created by specialized computer programs. These programs may be purchased or the image on a film (Film Master) or on a disk from vendors specializing in this area. These vendors are experienced in providing the appropriate size symbol for the paper and press to be used to print the cover or jacket.

Barcode Size

The Bookland EAN symbol is printed on Cover 4 (the back cover) of all books and on Cover 2 (inside front cover) of strippable paperbacks. The symbol, which always includes the 5-digit add-on, is 1" high x 2-3/16" wide at 100% magnification. At 80% magnification the overall size is approximately 13/16" high x 1-3/4" wide. Magnification may be any size between 80% and 200%. With offset printing it should not be necessary to print larger than 100%. Width is measured with a 3/32 inch "quiet zone" on either side of bars. Height is measured from the top of the bars to the bottom of the numbers below the bars.

The price add-on is included as part of the Bookland EAN barcode since the ISBN does not change when the price of the book is changed. When there is a human readable price on the book, and the price is correctly encoded in the add-on bar code, scanning the complete symbol (including the add-on) at point of sale and using the data assures that the price charged a consumer matches the human-readable price.

Quiet Zone

To emphasize the necessity of the clear area or "quiet zone" to the right of the barcode, Bookland EAN symbols are produced with a ">" (greater-than sign) within the right-hand quiet zone. This serves to protect this essential clear space, which is often too narrow when the final plate-ready film is produced. There should be no printed border around the barcode.


Shortening of the vertical bars of an EAN symbol is referred to as truncation and should be avoided. It may cause non-reads and delays when scanning the symbol.


The ability of the scanners to decode a symbol is based on measuring the bar and space widths and determining their arrangements. The bars must always be the darker color. Bar and space colors cannot be reversed. As a general rule, the bars should be printed in either black or dark blue (reflex blue, process blue and cyan are good). The color for the background, or spaces, can be white, yellow or red. There should be no blue or black in the background color.

Must the ISBN be printed above the symbol?

Yes. Positioning the human-readable ISBN separately from the barcode symbol would require the scanner operator to search for the ISBN in those situations where the barcode does not scan properly and manual entry is necessary. Searching in this way would cause valuable seconds to be lost in the transaction. The ISBN should be displayed directly above the barcode symbol in the format:

ISBN 978-1-402-89462-6

The font for the human readable ISBN should be a sans serif font such as OCR-B or ARIAL. As a minimum, the font size should be sufficient for the ISBN to extend the full width of the main body of the barcode (excluding the width of the add-on) as shown in Figure 2 below.

How do I print the price above the barcode?

Displaying the human readable suggested retail price above the barcode on Cover 4 (the back cover) of a book provides a consistent location associated with other business aspects of the book (the ISBN and barcode). Printing the price in this location need not preclude displaying it elsewhere on the book at the option of the publisher or retailer. Multiple currencies may be displayed if applicable, separated by slashes without spaces. The font should be a sans serif font such as OCR B or Arial of at least 7 point. Currency indication (both letters and symbols) should follow ISO guidance.

Figure 2: Display of ISBN and price above the barcode


Where are barcodes to be printed on books?

Standard Location (All Formats)

The Bookland EAN symbol is printed at the bottom of Cover 4 (the back cover or jacket). The bars are oriented vertically in a "picket fence" configuration. [See Figure 3 below for minimum distance between the symbol and the bottom and edges.] The Bookland EAN may be printed anywhere on the bottom of the back cover, with the bottom of the symbol 1/4 inch above the bottom of the cover.

Figure 3: Placement of Bookland EAN on Cover 4

Note that this location is standard for all formats and bindings: hardcover, trade paper, mass market, juvenile, etc.

Optional Locations

Unjacketed Books: For hard cover books without jackets, scannable symbols can usually be printed, screened, or stamped on the cover material using commercial printing methods. If this is not practical, a printed pressure sensitive label should be affixed in the standard location. If the cover material is such that the sticker will not hold securely, the Bookland EAN symbol may be printed in the lower right-hand corner of Cover 3 (inside back cover) or last printable page, in a 'picket fence' configuration.

Jacketed Hardback Books: Publishers may wish to print the Bookland EAN symbol inside jacketed hardback books as well as on the jacket, in order to utilize scanning in their returns processing. These publishers should print the Bookland EAN in the lower right-hand corner of Cover 3 (inside back cover) or last printable page, as described above.

Rack-Sized Mass Market Paperbacks: Rack-sized paperback books are to have the Bookland EAN printed on Cover 4 (the back cover or jacket). In addition, if the front cover of the book may be stripped and returned for credit, the Bookland EAN is to appear on Cover 2 (inside front cover).

Automatic scanner-sorters used by many publishers, distributors and retailers to process cover returns require the barcode to appear in a uniform position on Cover 2. These participants have agreed to the location and orientation shown below in Figure 4. Any other positioning on this cover would be unscannable.

Figure 4: Bookland EAN on Cover 2

The barcode on Cover 2 is a standard Bookland EAN barcode, including add-on containing suggested retail price. The ISBN above the barcode must be in ISBN-13 format as of January 1, 2007, although publishers may continue to print the ISBN-10 format (in addition) at their option.

The barcode is to be vertical ("picket fence" configuration) above the front edge when the cover is oriented as shown, with Cover 2 toward the observer. The barcode may be located anywhere along the front edge; as long as clearances from the top or bottom edge are observed. The distance from the front edge must be held to 3/8 inch (+/- 1/16 inch) as shown.

The other clearances on Figure 4 are minimums and the actual spacing may be greater.

The barcode magnification must not be less than 90% with no truncation. When a barcode is printed on Cover 2, it is suggested that the barcode on Cover 4 be printed at the same magnification used for Cover 2.

What if I want to print my barcode somewhere else? Does the barcode have to be printed on the back cover?

Yes. A major motivation for the development of barcodes for books was the need to speed up transactions. A standard location is therefore necessary to save time when searching the product for the code.

How do I barcode books that don't have jackets?

A barcode label must be applied to the back board in the specified location. These can be produced by specialist barcode label printers, or by litho from artwork, or from a barcode label software package with laser or thermal transfer output.

What are the Strippable and Non-Strippable Indicators?

BISG developed the symbols shown below to indicate when covers stripped off the book will or will not suffice to support credit for returns. It is recommended that the symbols be used as follows:

On rack-size mass market paperbacks: the strippable or non-strippable indicator must appear with the EAN on Cover 2 and on Cover 4

On oversize trade paperbacks: the strippable or non-strippable indicator should appear everywhere a Bookland EAN appears

On rack-size trade paperbacks: the non-strippable indicator must appear with the Bookland EAN on Cover 4; 

On other products, including calendars: the strippable or non-strippable indicator should appear everywhere a Bookland EAN appears.

Figure 5: Stripped cover may be returned for credit:

Figure 6: Full book/product return is required for credit:

The "Strippable" Symbols

The following dimensions are of a nominal nature and should be followed as closely as appropriate production equipment allows, within a general tolerance of plus or minus 10%.

The "strippable" symbol consists of the lines forming an equilateral triangle measuring 3/10" on each side (0.300"), and having centered within its bounds the capital letter "S" in OCR-B font.

The "non-strippable" symbol consists (solely) of the lines forming an equilateral triangle measuring 3/10" on each side (0.300").

The lines forming the triangle should be approximately 1/64" (0.015") thick. When present, the letter "S" is represented in OCR-B font at a character height of 1/10" (0.100"), and is centered within the triangle such that the base line of the character is parallel to one side of the triangle, which is designated the 'triangle base line".

Whichever of the two symbols is used, the triangle is printed in specific proximity to the Bookland EAN symbol already being printed or otherwise put on the product such that the base line of the triangle is parallel and equal to the base line of the barcode data bars (a position approximately equal to the top line of the OCR-B data characters printed beneath the barcode symbol). The left end of the triangle base line is no closer to the last (right-most) bar of the barcode than the width of the minimum right-hand "quiet zone" specified for the EAN symbology, a distance that may be generalized for this application as 3/32" (0.0909").

The ">" (greater-than sign) following the OCR-B "add-on" digits called for elsewhere in these guidelines is omitted when either the strippable or non-strippable indicator is present and positioned as specified.

Should I print the letters "EAN" next to my barcode?

You may, if you as a publisher perceive a need for it. However, the book industry and general retailing are moving to 13 digit identifiers, including ISBN-13. Dual identifiers (UPC and EAN) are no longer necessary, and the literal indicating that the barcode contains an EAN should no longer be necessary either. As shown in the examples below, the literal may be included in whatever size the publisher feels is appropriate, as long as it is able to be read by the eye. The literal must be outside of the quiet zone if it is included to the right or left of the barcode.