7 things you didn’t know about book barcodes

Travis R.
Amazon seller & Software Founder

Everyone that starts selling on Amazon usually starts by selling books first. Books were the Genesis of Amazon.

But how well do you really know book barcodes?

We see them everytime we pick up a book. We see them everytime we scan them into AccelerList or any other listing application you may be using.

We spend countless hours covering them up with our FNSKU labels. But do we really know what they are and what’s inside them?

Here are 7 things you didn’t know about book barcodes.

1: Most modern day books now have QRC codes on them

QRC codes are known as Quick Response Codes and are placed on books now to enhance the marketing and data available to readers in the modern era.

They are 2D (two dimensional) barcodes that store alphanumeric data but more importantly, they bridge the gap between the offline book and the online world.

Want to invite your reader to your latest podcast series? Simply paste a QRC code on your book and let the reader scan it. They will be automatically taken to the link of your choosing and can be tracked along the way.

2: The first ever UPC barcode scanned was a pack of Wrigley gum in 1974

Sorry book sellers, UPC codes were first used on grocery items. 🤷🏻‍♂️

But before this, the idea for an automated checkout system was born by a Wallace Flint in 1932 by using punch cards which was an earlier technology already credited to a Semyon Korsakov in Russia around 1832.

Wallace dreamt up the idea, but it wasn’t fully realized into Herman Hollerith came up with the “electromechanical punch card tabulator” in 1889.

From there the system was refined and iderated on just like Herman’s company, which later became IBM through a series of mergers and acquisitions.

As inspiring as this bit of history is, unfortunately the punch card was used for evil purposes before it ever transitioned in the modern day barcode.

3: ISBN stands for…

Well, did you know what it stands for?

International Standard Book Number. And ever since January 2007, the 10 digit ISBN moved to a 13 digit ISBN number.

4: The EAN or UPC Barcode is made up of 5 distinct parts

This isn’t like an Amazon ASIN where it seems there is no rhyme or reason to the numbers. There is a method to the madness here.

After all, this is being used internationally and math is the language that we can all understand.

Every ISBN starts with a 978 prefix followed by 🇺🇸 country identifier, a 📓publisher identifier, a title identifier and finally a ✅ check digit that validates the entire string of numbers.

Boom! 💥 Mind blown yet?

5: The price is encoded in there too

If you refer back to the image at the top, you will notice a smaller barcode with the numbers 5 1 4 9 5.

The first digit, 5 in this case, represents the currency of the country the book is currently being sold in and the last 4 digits is the MRSP of the book. 😎

6: What’s the difference between a UPC code and an EAN code?

UPC’s are the most commonly used bar codes in the United States. EAN’s (European Article Number) are used internationally.

They are essentially the same but the EAN will have a leading zero in front of it.

7: I’m ready to start making my own UPC codes.

Ummm…not so fast kiddo.

Due to the stringent standards of the GS1, individual companies cannot create their own UPC codes. In order to have a barcode that will scan at a Point of Sale, you must have a Company Prefix number assigned to you by GS1.

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