When you’re self-publishing a book, you’ll often be given options to have an ISBN assigned to your published work. You might also be given an option to have an EAN assigned. These two numbers are essentially the same. There is only one core difference between the two: the EAN is the barcode format of the ISBN that has been assigned to your book.
When you look at the back of a book, you’ll notice a barcode either as part of the cover design or as a sticker on the book. Scanning this bar code allows for easier tracking of each book option that is available. An author often needs several ISBNs because every version of their book requires a different one. If you have a hardcover book, a paperback book, and you’ve released a trade paperback in a different language, then you’ll need 3 ISBNs.
You’ll also need 3 EANs that correspond with those 3 numbers.
Why an EAN and ISBN Are Needed For All Books
Booksellers prefer to have a scannable version of the ISBN so they can process sales more effectively through their systems. The Bookland EAN bar code is the most widely used format in the industry, so in 2007 the ISBN system was adjusted to 13 numbers so it could reflect the EAN-13 codes that were being used. This brings the publishing industry into worldwide norms when it comes to tracking, distribution, and sales.
The ISBN is always printed above the barcode symbol on books. Positioning it separately from the EAN would require manual inputs more often, which would decrease the inefficiencies of selling a book to a reader.
There’s also the fact that the largest book retailers in the industry and most book wholesalers require books to display the EAN and ISBN in order for them to be offered to customers. If an author or publisher wants their work to have a chance to be sold in this way, then it must be included in some way so the point of sale can be efficiently managed.
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What Is Different About an EAN?
You’ll notice that there is a 5 digit code with a separate bar code that is attached to the ISBN coding on a book. This second bar code is most often used to encode the retail price of the book. The ISBN bar code is referred to as the EAN-13. This secondary code is referred to as the EAN-5.
Every publisher must provide a retail price for a book. This means every book has the potential of having an EAN-5. The first digit reflects the currency being used, while the other four digits are a reflection of the price. This means an EAN-5 which is 52495 would be for a book that has a retail price of $24.95. Booksellers can change this price if they want, but this is the standard price for the book set by the publisher. Any differences from the bookseller eat into their profits, not the profits of the publisher or the royalties of the author.
Is There a Standard Location for the EAN and ISBN?
Yes. Almost all bar codes and ISBNs will be found on the back cover of a book. The standard location on the back cover is in the lower right-hand corner. This has been done to help increase the efficiency of book transactions which take place. By knowing where the bar code is supposed to be, time is saved.
If a publisher would want to change the price of their book for some reason, a new EAN would need to be purchased for the book because this would alter the EAN-5 that has been assigned. This is why sometimes you’ll find EAN stickers on the lower right-hand corner of a book. Although the ISBN remains the same, the EAN had to be updated to reflect the pricing change.
What Does This Mean for Self-Publishing?
It means if you’re evaluating the costs of EAN vs ISBN, you’ll need to include both if you want booksellers to represent your work on your behalf. It also means that once you set the price for your book, you’ll want to avoid changing it because you may be charged an additional cost for the EAN change that will be necessary.
If you plan to sell your printed work on your own, then these numbers or bar codes are not absolutely necessary for your publishing success. If you do want your work represented in bookstores and other retailers, however, then you’ll want to consider this information carefully and potentially budget for the increased costs that may come your way.