How to properly create a barcode and place it on your book

The following list is the result of my experience in writing and selling books.

Most importantly, do not buy and ISBN until your books starts to sell. Placing an ISBN and a barcode is absolutely pointless if you will never sell less than 100 books. Purchasing an ISBN:

1. DOES NOT Protect your work.

2. DOES NOT Make your work easier to find online.

3. An ISBN is not required in order to sell less than about 100 books.

The biggest mistake is creating a number of e-books, small brochures and / or books and placing ISBN numbers and barcodes on all of them, since ISBN numbers are not cheap.


The standard location for the bar code is on the back cover, in the lower right corner.


Let's examine a typical ISBN barcode generation process. We will start with the ISBN, 0-9839982-1 for example.

You are more familiar with the UPC barcode found on every article in mass retail. However, other countries and books in US use an EAN (European Article Number).

The special subset of EAN code, with the 978 prefix is called a Bookland EAN barcode, and is placed on books and book-related products internationally. After the 978 prefix, 9 digits if an ISBN follow, concluded with a "check digit" which is used by a computer to ensure that one of the digits was not mis-read or mis-typed. The EAN code generated from an ISBN number is therefore 13 digits long.

Our ISBN then becomes 978-0-9839982-1-1, for example.


What we want to end up for a barcode is this:

Creating an ISBN barcode


Notice the following required elements:

1) The ISBN is entered for the second time above the barcode, in case it needs to be entered by hand at the checkout. Here, it is clearly stated above the barcode what the ISBN is. This is not mere duplication, since a UPC barcode can be used instead, which is a different number from an ISBN.

2) A raster image (here converted to a PNG) must be given to you after an ISBN is converted to a barcode, so that the lines are sharp and there are no problems reading the barcode. Notice that the font above the barcode is pixelated and aliased instead, for a somewhat nicer presentation to human eyes. Ideally, you want the .eps or .ps file from an online barcode generator. GIF, JPEG, and other compressed file formats are not acceptable.

3) It is hard to see here against the white background, but if the online generator has an option to generate a border around the barcode, then use the option. You can also generate the border afterwards, but just make sure there is some white space around the barcode, if the color of the backcover is not white.

4) Notice that the book price is encoded as a secondary barcode on the right. This is known as EAN-5, a "price add-on", etc. This may be called by several different names, such as "The Bookland EAN symbol". Note that the price shown is a recommended retail price, and the retail outlet may change the price. In the US, the first digit of the EAN-5 indicates the currency in which the recommended retail price of the book is expressed in. For US Dollars, "5" is used. Therefore, in the barcode above, the RRP is $20.00.


If you are generating a barcode online, it must have the price add-on (or EAN-5) included with the EAN-13 created from the ISBN.  The combined barcode may be called by something like EAN 13+5.

Many online barcode generators exist, but few are not a waste of your time. I recommend you try

Free Online Barcode Generator. Select ISBN for "symbology"

Free barcode generator


An extremely informative how-to guide is available here: Placing an ISBN barcode block on your book cover. Follow its advice when you generate your barcode.


Finally, after you incorporate the barcode in your book, check to see that your program did not pixelate or alias the image. Check that there are no gray pixels around the vertical barcode lines, and that under high magnification the edges are sharp.



Confusingly, the bar code on the back of some books may be a UPC instead. Those retail locations which do not usually sell books (drugstores, corner store, Wal-Mart, etc) are not equipped with scanners to read ISBN barcodes. These mass-retail locations require a UPC code instead. You are not likely to need to worry about this, but I just wanted to make sure you knew.

If the book is sold at a book store, then UPC may be placed on the inside of the book cover. If the book is for mass retail in a general non-book store, then UPC is printed on the back cover. ISBN/EAN bar code may be then printed on the inside of the front cover. Alternatively, the UPC bar code sticker may be placed on top of an EAN barcode for those locations. But the two different barcodes are NEVER printed side by side, or in the same general location.

˅˅˅ Additional valuable information is available at one of the links below: ˅˅˅


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Page last modified 15-Apr-12 15:07:32 EDT
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