Barcodes for Books: What They Are and Why They’re Important

POSTED ON Sep 21, 2023

Zara Choudhry

Written by Zara Choudhry

Home > Blog > Book Design, Book Printing, Cover Design > Barcodes for Books: What They Are and Why They’re Important

In the digital age, the humble barcode might seem like a bit of an anachronism, but when it comes to books, they’re as important as ever. 

If you’re an author, a publisher, or simply someone curious about the book publishing process, you may have contemplated that little set of lines and spaces on the back cover. Why are they there? Do all books need them? Can you design your own, or is there a special process for getting one?

In this article, we’ll dive into the world of book barcodes, discussing their purpose, where they’re typically placed, the different designs available, and how you can get or make one for your own book. 

So, whether you’re an aspiring author planning to self-publish or just someone keen on understanding the behind-the-scenes of book publishing, this article will give you all essential information you need about barcodes for books, including:

What Exactly Are Barcodes for Books?

Most of us are familiar with barcodes as the machine-readable codes found on the packaging of almost every product we buy. They consist of a series of numbers and patterns that allow for easy and quick retrieval of information about a particular item. 

In the book world, barcodes play a similarly crucial role but with some key differences.

For a book to be sold by large retailers and brick-and-mortar stores, it must have a barcode. This barcode includes the book’s unique ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and often its retail price. 

The ISBN is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies the book and its edition, making it easier for retailers, libraries, and distributors to manage their inventory and sales. The price embedded in the barcode allows for automated sales and inventory tracking, streamlining the purchasing process for both the retailer and the customer.

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The Two Types of Book Barcodes

Barcodes assigned to books can be classified into two types; those that incorporate prices and those that don’t. 

The price, when included, is represented by a five-digit code. The initial digit of this code signifies the currency in which the book is priced. For example. a book priced at $15.99 in the United States would be encoded as “51599.” Below are some examples of currency codes:

  • “5” is U.S. dollars
  • “6” is Canadian dollars
  • “3” is Australian dollars

The majority of large book retailers, especially in the US, require barcodes with prices included to enable barcodes to be machine-read, simplifying inventory management.

Are Barcodes for Books Important?

In short, if you want your book to sell, then you’ll need a barcode!

While it’s true that barcodes aren’t mandatory for the actual publishing process of your book, they undeniably make it more accessible and easier to distribute.

If you don’t intend to sell your book in a physical store, a barcode isn’t necessary.

Additionally, it’s important to note that e-books don’t require barcodes; they are only needed for print editions, whether hardcover or paperback. In the next section, we will explore where you can obtain barcodes for your books.

How to Get a Barcode for Your Book

So you’ve decided you need a barcode. First things first, you’re going to need an ISBN number. If you’re in the US and going down the self-publishing route, head over to They’re the only official source for ISBNs in the US, and having one from them will make your book searchable by the big retailers.

Got your ISBN? Awesome! Now, onto the barcode. You’ve got two routes here: Create your own or buy it from a third party.

If you’re feeling crafty and want to make it yourself, just a heads up—there are some important things to keep in mind. Your barcode has to meet international standards and be scannable by any barcode scanner in a bookstore. Also, make sure to print it on high-quality material so it can handle all the hustle and bustle of a store.

Pricing of Barcodes for Books

The cost of book barcodes can be all over the place. It really depends on what type you need and who you’re getting it from—but the average cost is around $30.

Here’s a bit of good news for all you self-publishers out there—Amazon KDP offers free barcode generation services. Yes, you read that right, free! Otherwise, you can always purchase barcodes from places like Bowker.

Now, let’s talk abut the free Amazon KDP barcode. It’s specifically for authors selling books on Amazon’s platform. So, if you’re planning on being exclusive to Amazon, it’s perfect. Especially if you’re just starting out and want to keep things budget-friendly while you get your feet wet in the book world. If you don’t want your book to remain exclusive to Amazon, then you’ll want to purchase your own barcodes.

Where are barcodes for books generally placed?

Barcodes are generally placed on the back cover of the book. You’ll see them on the bottom right corner of the back cover so that they don’t take up too much of the design.

Barcodes for Books
A sample book barcode that shows the ISBN, ean code, bisac code, and book price.

Designing Your Own Book Barcode: Is It Possible?

Absolutely, you can totally make your barcode blend in with your book’s design. It doesn’t have to stick out like a sore thumb! But, hold your horses, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

  1. InDesign Users: If you or your book designer are besties with InDesign and use it for book covers all the time, it’s worth it to download the BarcodeMaker plugin from Teacup Software. You can add both your EAN-13 and EAN-5 right from inside InDesign. Yes, it’s a $100 investment, but trust us, it’s worth it.
  2. Free Barcode Generators: There are free, general-purpose barcode generators that let you create barcodes in a variety of formats, including the ISBN 13+5 digit codes. Some of these can be used online, without having to download any software at all.
  3. IngramSpark Users: IngramSpark’s cover template generator will create your barcode for you based on your ISBN. It even lets you include the price in your barcode if you so choose.

Remember, your barcode is like the social security number for your book. It needs to be clear, correct, and scannable. So, while it’s great to design your own barcode, you have to make sure it meets all the necessary standards.

Barcodes for Books: Summary

That’s a wrap, folks! We’ve unraveled the mystery of book barcodes, including how to keep things wallet-friendly. We know, as a self-published author, every dollar counts, and the last thing you want is an overpriced set of lines throwing a wrench in the works!

Don’t forget, if you’re working with a book designer, make sure to share those barcode files with them, so they can seamlessly integrate it into your design.

Still looking for a designer? You’re in the right place! Check out our resources on how we can help bring your book design dreams to life.

Zara Choudhry

Written by
Zara Choudhry

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