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If you’re self-publishing a book, then there’s a good chance that you’re considering the purchase or creation of a UPC. You might also be considering an EAN. In the EAN vs UPC debate, there is one key difference between these two codes: the EAN has 13 digits and the UPC contains 12.

Much of this has to do with how your book will be indexed and sold through distributors and retailers. The incorporated code on the back of your book will let scanners identify the sale, retailers evaluate their inventory, and distributors the chance to track your book. The vertical lines of the code for an EAN are going to be the same as the UPC.

So what are the difference in the EAN vs UPC comparison? Is one better to have for your book than the other? Do you need both? Let’s get those questions answered.

#1. Number placement is the primary difference. When you order an EAN, you’re ordering a code which contains a country code. That’s the extra digit that is in the number code. The prefix and item number and the check digit are the same. The reason why UPCs don’t have a country code is because US and Canadian products were not initially given a country code when bar codes were initiated. Manufacturers and distributors didn’t want to add a zero to the code on the off chance that it would create human errors.

#2. The inventor of the UPC has authorized sellers. George Laurer originally invented the UPC and only a handful of companies have a verified chain of custody which authorizes them to produce codes for a book. This makes it more difficult to obtain an authentic code compared to the inclusion of an EAN on your book. This means where you plan to sell the book will often dictate which code you should use. Many recommend using a UPC for North American sales and the EAN for the rest of the world.

#3. Retailers may be limited in what they can process. In an article for Nationwide Barcode, George Laurer writes this piece of advice: “Many retailers, especially smaller retailers may be using older accounting and inventory systems that only allow them to enter in 12 digit UPC numbers and not a 13 digit string.” If your book has the EAN-13 string on it only, then some retailers who may wish to represent your book may not bring it into inventory because they can’t process the number string. Even though the actual code is the same, the numbers cannot be overlooked. You can then just add the country code to the UPC to make it an EAN-13 if necessary in the future.

#4. Including both codes on your book would just be too confusing. Your book should only have one code on it. Including an EAN-13 after a UPC has been added will put two exact bar codes on the book, but one with a different number. That will just create even more confusion from the distribution and retail point of view. Determine which one is the best for your needs and then add that to your design.

#5. If you self-publish and self-sell your books, you may not need either code. The UPC was originally designed for the grocery industry as a way of managing inventory. As other industries saw the benefits of having that level of inventory control, the use of the UPC exploded around the world. Even if the number system is being tracked, all US and Canada codes simply need a 0 added to them to make them the EAN-13 that is used internationally. Yet if you are the one who is selling your own books and they’re not going into any stores or distribution circles, it may not be necessary to purchase a code.

This will limit your ability to have other businesses represent your work, but if that isn’t necessary, then the code might not be necessary either.

#6. Don’t expect any changes to the EAN vs UPC debate any time soon. In the US and Canada, the 0 country code is not included on most domestically-produced products. There is no reason to think that will change any time soon. If you self-publish a book and have a UPC already and your distributor is demanding that you have an EAN-13, just convert the number code underneath your vertical lines to the new format.

Here’s an example:

UPC: 0 12345 67890 1

EAN: 0 012345 678901

If you overlay the actual vertical lines of the code from a UPC to an EAN, they are exactly the same. So all you’ll need to do is recommend the number placement change and you’ll have the EAN-13 that is being requested.

In the EAN vs UPC debate, you’ll want to add a code to your book if you plan to have it distributed to booksellers and other retail outlets. In North America, the UPC is the best choice. You can convert it to an EAN-13 easily enough. Internationally, the EAN may be the better choice and then it can be converted to a UPC. That way you can accomplish all of your goals.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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