Bar Codes

Welsh Books Council

Bar Codes

Electronic point-of-sale (EPOS) technology is now standard throughout the retail trade. Its use requires that all articles for sale carry a machine-readable code. In the case of books, this is a bar code printed on the back cover or jacket. It comprises 13 digits, made up from the first 9 digits of the book’s International Standard Book Number (ISBN) preceded by the digits 978, which identify the product as a book, and followed by a check digit, which a computer uses to verify the code. The code allows the book to be recognised by the European Article Numbering (EAN) system. The book’s ISBN is always printed above the bar code symbol.

Since 1 January 2007, when the ISBN changed from 10 to 13 digits, it has been identical to the EAN-13 number in the bar code. In time, the current prefix, 978, will be replaced by 979. For further details of this important change, click here.

A free and comprehensive guide to the use of bar codes, Bar Coding for Books: A Guide for Publishers (ISBN 1 873671 00 8), is available, in print or on-line as a Word file, from:

Book Industry Communication (BIC)
7 Ridgmount Street

Tel. 020 7255 0516 
Fax 020 7607 0415

The guide includes advice on recommended bar code symbols, how to obtain a bar code, the labelling alternative, in-house printing of bar codes, colour guidelines, positioning of the bar code and full information about ISBNs and European Article Numbers. BIC’s web site also lists bar code suppliers and answers frequently asked questions about bar codes for books.                 

Important points to remember are:

  • a title must have an ISBN before a bar code can be obtained
  • in incorporating a bar code on a book cover or jacket, care must be taken to use colour combinations which will allow the code to be scanned
  • reduction of bar codes can cause scanning problems and should be avoided wherever possible.

Date last updated: 21 Jun 2013