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Barcodes on Books

Bar Codes Are No Longer Optional

Sorry to say that to talk about Bar Codes one has to introduce various acronyms.  There is a glossary for these at the bottom of this page [see below].

Central Books require Bar Codes on the books and magazines we stock. This helps us enormously with accuracy when we handle new stock and returns. We have plans to use bar codes via readers more and more as part of making our operations more effective. With most retailers using barcode readers, they are no longer optional. We would prefer that the Bar Code appears on the cover, this is usually the back cover for books. Some publishers with unusual books, where they do not want the barcode on the cover, polywrap the book and stick the bar code to the polywrap.

As most of you will know ISBN 13’s are what makes up a book’s EAN bar code. In the past ISBN’s were a 10 digit number that is unique to a particular edition of a book now they are 13 digits. All printed books should be published with an ISBN. If you have not already been given ISBN’s contact the ISBN Agency.

Once a book has been allocated an ISBN please tell Nielsen Book Data and assuming you use Central Books to distribute your books please tell us as soon as possible. Client publishers can check our website to see if their books are on our data base. Please note it can take a week from first telling us about your title to showing on the website. However once it is on the website stock and availability changes will show daily. If you tell us about a book and its ISBN well before publication then if will show as available within days of us getting stock.

Sometime publisher include an extra bit to the bar code that gives the recommend retail price. If you never change prices on your books this can be fine but we do not recommend it.

Do NOT get the Bar Code or the ISBN wrong

It is obvious that you want to print the correct ISBN on the bar code and bar code to be the same as the ISBN. Almost every week a book arrives in our warehouse with the barcode being wrong. In such case the books have to be labelled with a revised bar code and there are costs. If you send some shops a book with the wrong bar code they will claim shortages or simply return them. We cannot overstate the benefits of a rigorous checking system before you go to print.    

Bar Codes that do not read

Some publishers do not print bar codes as black on white and others choose unusual shapes and sizes. We accept that design should free but if you do not choose the standard black on white please check that the bar code will be read by a bar code reader. Get in touch if you need our advice.

Bar Codes for Books

Bar Codes are now essential for selling books to retailers

To Calculate the check digit on your bar code go to

This is an ISBN Bar Code using the standard EAN 13 format. It also shows both ISBN10 and ISBN13. It is no longer necessary to show the ISBN 10.

This is an ISBN Bar Code using the standard EAN 13 format. It shows the ISBN10 and explains the how the number can be broken down.



There are a number of software packages available via the internet, example GDS Barcode Freeware [the web links change a lot so click here to search] and Byte Scout Bar code freeware ( One publisher's designer uses We recommend you shop around for what is best for your needs.  An alternative to software is to get your self some bar code font. Again you can shop around for these. Please carefully read up about how to use barcode fonts. If you use the font solution your 13 ISBN characters will have to have 2 characters "**" at the beginning and at the end or a barcode reader will not read them. We found a very uesful article about barcodes and using them on covers

If you have managed to create a barcode for you cover and you are worried it will not work. Provided you do not suddenly send us 100 covers to test we are happy to test some for you. Simply send an email with the bar code or full cover image to your usual contact at Central Books (this does assume you our one of our clients), we will print it out and test it on our barcode readers




European Article Number

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Electronic Point Of Sale

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Electronic Data Interchange

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International Standard Book Number

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Old style ISBN being replaced by 13 digit ISBN's from 2007 onwards.

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