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Barcode FAQs

•Why do I need a barcode?
•What are Bookland EAN Barcodes?
•Is the ISBN always printed above the barcode symbol?
•What is the price-add on?
•What happens if I change the book's price after the barcode is made?
•Does the barcode have to appear on the back cover?
•What is meant by Size Requirement?
•How do I apply barcodes to cloth cover books that don't have jackets?
•Can I trim the barcode symbol on the right to save space on the cover?
•What colors can I use for the barcode symbol?
•How do I apply barcodes to books that don't have a jacket?

Working with barcodes

•How is a barcode file opened?
•What are some common commands?
•Why does the barcode look bad?


Why Do I Need A barcode?

Booksellers prefer to use a machine readable or scannable version of the ISBN number in their systems processing. The Bookland EAN symbol is the most widely used barcode format in the publishing industry as it encodes the ISBN number and can also include the price.

The largest book retailers, as well as many book wholesalers, require books to display the Bookland EAN barcode graphic symbol which carries the ISBN. At the point of sale in a bookstore, the ISBN is scanned and all related information about the title is accessed in their sales system -- identifying the price correctly and subtracting a copy from their inventory etc. The Bookland EAN Barcode is an essential component of booksellers handling of the book.

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What are Bookland EAN Barcodes?

While most retail products in the US are marked with a UPC symbol, virtually every other country uses the European Article Number (EAN). To provide world wide standardization in the sale and handling of books and because the book industry produces so many products annually, a special "country" with its own EAN prefix just for books has been designated in the EAN system -- 978 for "Bookland" -- which is used in the universal barcode system.

Any EAN which begins with the 978 prefix is called a Bookland EAN barcode and is used on books and book related products internationally. This 978 prefix precedes the first 9 digits of the ISBN and then a check digit is calculated in order to form a 13-digit number which is then encoded to create the barcode symbol used on books. As part of the barcode service, our software assigns the 978 prefix and the check digit to create the new 13-digit number. Given the rapid rate at which ISBNs have been assigned, a new prefix, 979, is also being used for books in some cases.

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Is the ISBN always printed above the barcode symbol?

Yes. Positioning it somewhere separately from the symbol requires a scanner operator to search for the ISBN in those situations where key-entry is necessary and valuable seconds are lost in the transaction. The file we prepare from our software will include the ISBN.

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What is the price-add on?
The Bookland EAN barcode displays a set of two barcodes side by side. The first barcode on the left is the EAN derived from the ISBN. The barcode of the right, which is smaller, is a 5-digit add-on which often encodes the retail price of the publication. This is referred to as an EAN-5.

You must provide a retail price for your barcode.

In the US, the first digit of the add-on data indicates which currency the price is expressed in -- so for US dollars, the designated digit is a 5. So an add-on of 51995 indicates a price of US$ 19.95. The largest US retailers such as Barnes and Noble now require the use of EAN-5 barcode on books they handle. Scanners in American bookstores cannot read the Bookland EAN code without the corresponding 5-digit add-on. Publishers who don't comply with this requirement may be penalized.

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What happens if I change the book's price after the barcode is made?

You must purchase a new barcode. Once a barcode is made, the price on it cannot be changed. You would use the same ISBN on the new barcode because the book itself hasn't changed. You can purchase new barcodes here whenever you assign a new price to your book.

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Does the barcode have to appear on the back cover?

Yes. The standard location is the bottom right-hand corner. A major motivation for the development of barcodes for books was the need to speed up transactions. A standard location is therefore necessary to save the operator's time in searching the product for the code.

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What is meant by Size Requirement?
The magnification can range from 80% to 200% for a Bookland EAN code. The largest size used is typically a 100% code, although 92% is standard. The standard 92% symbol needs a total area of 2.00" x 1.25". The smaller ISBN Bookland EAN symbol is an 80%, which needs a total area of 1.75" x 1.0".

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How do I apply barcodes to cloth cover books that don't have jackets?

A barcode label must be applied to the back board in the specified location. These can be produced by specialist barcode label printers, by litho from artwork, from a barcode label software package with laser, or thermal transfer output.

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Can I trim the barcode symbol on the right to save space on the cover?

No. The purpose of the mark is to ensure that space is not used by any image in a color which could interfere with the barcode scanning process. A space to the right of the symbol is required to tell the scanner that the symbol is complete. The clear area to the left is already protected by the protruding '9' prefix to the EAN.

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What colors can I use for the barcode symbol?
Reds, yellows, and white are suitable background colors if there are no black, blue or green constituents. Blues and greens, provided they are not too pale, and black are good colors for the image. Browns and purples, etc, need special attention however as those with a reddish hue will probably not be successful. If in doubt, seek specialist advice or run a print test. Avoid metallic inks.

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How do I apply barcodes to cloth cover books that don't have jackets?
A barcode label must be applied to the back board in the specified location. These can be produced by specialist barcode label printers, or by litho from artwork, or from a barcode label software package with laser or thermal transfer output.

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How is a barcode file opened?
Please do not try to open a barcode file. Barcode files are inserted, not opened. Do NOT doubleclick on the barcode to begin working with it. Open the book cover file and insert the barcode file from the tool bar as you would a picture file. The barcode file will automatically open at the correct size. Do not try to open the barcode file first and then attempt to move into the graphic design application you are using.

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What are some common commands?

  • Adobe Illustrator: File, Place. Locate the barcode file and select Place
  • Adobe PageMaker: File, Place.
  • Adobe Photoshop: File, Import
  • Microsoft Publisher: Insert, Picture, From File.
  • Microsoft Word: Insert, Picture, From File.
  • Quark Express: Create a Picture Box, go to File, and select Get Picture.
  • In Design: Click File menu and select Place. Locate the barcode file and click Open.
  • Freehand: Click the File menu and select Import. Locate the barcode file and click Open.

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Why does the barcode look bad?

There can be several reasons for this. If the barcode looks fuzzy on screen, please remember that most computer screens have a resolution of either 72 or 96 DPI. What matters is how the barcode will print out. DPI is a property of the printer and the printer's software and not the graphic design program you are using.

Not knowing how to work your graphics application properly is the biggest reason why designers and self-publishers struggle with their barcode files, and frequently have problems with barcodes looking blurry or having lines crossing through them. Unfortunately, there's not just one reason for this.

In some software applications, when a barcode file is imported, the dpi is automatically changed to the screen dpi (72 dpi) instead of maintaining the original dpi of the file (ex., 300 dpi or higher). You will need to reset the dpi of the barcode file.

When you import an eps file into Photoshop, the file is changed, the dpi is lost, the size is lost, and the image opens on a transparent background (you need to place it on a white background), among other problems.

Other potential problems include "anti-aliasing" during the conversion of the encapsulated postscript to an image and the "jpeg" compression that will generally occur in PDF creation. These can damage your barcode and make it scan with errors when printed. Jagged steps on the numbers of the barcode are due to the lack of "anti-aliasing," a technique for using shades of gray on slants and curves to make the edges seem more smooth to the eye. Do not use grayscale. Import as black and white. Importing as black and white might in fact be better for some applications.

Many applications do not provide an accurate preview of barcode graphics. Instead determine the quality of the image ONLY by the actual printout of your barcode. Never judge your barcode from the onscreen preview.

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