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What Is an EAN Barcode Number?

The EAN barcode number, which is also known as the International Article Number or the European Article Number, refers to a 13 digit code with is considered to be a modification, or superset, of the original 12 digit code used for barcodes that was invented in 1970 by George Laurer.

What makes the EAN-13 unique is that it is used around the world as a way to mark retail products for scanning when a purchase is being made. It is different from the traditional barcode because it offers a country of origin that the UPC does not offer. There are also supplemental barcodes in the EAN system of 8 digits, 5 digits, or 2 digits that help to identify specific pieces of information.

  • The EAN-8 is generally used for smaller packages or books where the full EAN-13 would be too large to be useful.
  • The EAN-5 is typically used for pricing and country of origin information, especially when placed on books.
  • The EAN-2 could be used to indicate the issue number of a periodical, the issuing year of a product, or even what the weight of the product is supposed to be.

How Is the EAN Barcode Number Comprised?

There are four elements that make up the EAN-13.

The first element is the GS1 prefix. This identifies a member organization to which the product manufacturer is associated. In books, for example, the code is 978 or 979 so that it can work with an ISBN. In music, the code is typically 977 to work with an ISSN.

The second element is the manufacturer code. It’s a unique code assigned to each manufacturer by the numbering authority. Every product produced by that manufacturer will use the same code as part of their EAN-13. These codes are of variable length depending on how many products may be issued by the manufacturer to ensure that numbering in this element is not wasted.

The third element is the product code. This is the number which is assigned to each specific product which is offered for sale. It always follows the manufacturer code that has been assigned. It is also a variable length code, but when combined with the manufacturer code, will always be 10 digits in length.

The fourth element is called the “check digit.” This part of the EAN-13 is designed to make sure that the barcode has been scanned correctly.

When Is an EAN-13 Necessary?

In the United States and Canada, the EAN-13 is not necessary for some products. The UPC is often a better choice. The one exception to this rule is for books, especially for authors who are choosing to self-publish. The EAN-13 becomes a reflection of the ISBN that is assigned to each variant of work that is published, giving the author an opportunity to have their book offered for sale in bookstores around the world.

The EAN-13 will typically start with 978 or 979 for new books that are published. From there, the remainder of the code is the ISBN that has been assigned to the book.

It is not unusual for an EAN-5 to also be included with the barcode on a book. This is simply a code that reflects the MSRP of the book [or other product that may have an EAN-13 assigned to it]. The design allows for retailers to be able to quickly process transactions, keep track of inventory, and other product-specific information.

EAN-13 codes reflective of an ISBN must be ordered through a representative organization. In the United States, for example, the organization would be Bookland. Each new code has a cost associated with it that must be paid by the publisher. If self-publishing, this means the author would have to become the publisher and pay for the code.

Virtually all products sold in Europe also use this code as well and would be required for most international sales of any product.

The EAN-13 is not an absolute requirement. If you sell products on your own through your own website or store, then it does not need to be included. This is primarily for manufacturers and publishers who want third-party retailers to represent their products.

Just remember that every specific product needs to have an EAN-13 assigned to it so that you can budget the cost of purchase accordingly. Then apply the barcode to the back cover design of your book or put it on the products being offered for sale and you’ll be able to start the distribution process.

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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