Book Barcode Basics When Using Amazon or IngramSpark POD

About this article

  • When do you need a barcode?
  • How to produce a barcode
  • Be careful if printing a price in a barcode
  • Deciphering a barcode

Book Barcode Basics When Using Amazon or IngramSpark POD

Book Barcode Basics When Using Amazon or IngramSpark POD

If you are planning to use a POD printer you probably do not need to buy a barcode. I say that because most new indie or self-publishers use print-on-demand printers like Amazon KDP (formerly CreateSpace) and IngramSpark (or sister Lightening Source) and these printers provide the ISBN barcode free.

The book cover you submit to these POD printers will have a blank (white) rectangle on the back—this is where their printing presses place the barcode for your specific book at the time it is printed. Said another way, the barcode for your book is not part of the cover file.

Book Barcode Basics: Using CreateSpace or IngramSpark POD

There are a few other times you do not need a barcode:

  • When your book will not be sold in a store. It is the retailer that requires the barcode so if your book will be given away, or sold outside of a store (like via your website or when you give a talk), a barcode is not necessary. (That also means an ISBN may not be necessary.)
  • When producing books called Advanced Review Copies, or “ARCs.” Publishers print ARCs to give to prospective reviewers and other key influencers in advance of the release date. Of course this means that you probably do not want to use a POD printer to produce these copies either. Generally speaking ARCs are undergoing final proofing and additional content may still be added. The quality of the ARC itself may be sub-par (lesser quality paper and/or cover finish). By including a barcode you are enabling a recipient to sell or resell your book, which might be damaging to your reputation if the ARC is anything less than what a reader will see as the final product. Leaving the barcode off further communicates the book is not final and will prevent it from being sold online or in stores.
  • When using an author services company. These are companies like Author Solutions, Lulu and Outskirts Press, also sometimes known as subsidy or vanity presses. Your contract likely includes book printing.

When do you need to provide a barcode?

Barcodes are required for books sold in stores. There are two things to keep in mind about that statement.

  1. If your book is stocked by a store, the barcode must include the price.
  2. The only time you need to provide your own barcode is when your printer cannot produce one for you. If this is the case it is a simple and inexpensive purchase you can do yourself, or your book designer can handle it for you. (This is something we manage for you.)

By the way, if you do print the barcode with a price, and later change the price, you will need to print stickers to cover the old barcode or print new books with the new price.

How to Produce a Barcode

There are scores of resources for obtaining barcodes, the most notable source being the company that sells you your ISBNs: Bowker via their website. Currently they charge $25 each but they often run sales where they include one free when you buy 10 ISBNs.

A source I’ve used for years is AaronGraphics. Their current price is $15 and for that they email you (or your designer) a Mac or Windows EPS file that matches your ISBN and price. Another experienced provider of ISBNs is Barcode Graphics (self-service is currently $10).

Both of these providers are experts in creating barcodes as files or printing them on stickers, for any kind of product.

Deciphering a barcode

The large block of vertical bars describes the ISBN in machine-readable terms. The smaller block to the right is for the price. When you print the price it will be preceded by a 5, used to indicate the price is denominated in U.S. dollars. In the example below the price is $49.95.

book barcode with ISBN and price

If this was a POD book from Amazon or IngramSpark, for example, the number outlined in red would be 90000 which tells a store scanner to pull the price from the store’s database.

ISBN Resources

You might also be interested in one of these articles:

ISBN Essentials: An FAQ for eBook Publishers

How to Choose 1 of 4 ISBN Options When Using CreateSpace as Your Print-on-Demand Printer

12 thoughts on “Book Barcode Basics When Using Amazon or IngramSpark POD”

  1. I’m sort of confused. I will be using both CreateSpace and Ingram Spark for POD, but I will be supplying my own ISBNs. Do I need to get my own barcode or not? Many thanks for your helpful posts…

  2. Keith Van Allen

    What if I am designing and printing my own book ,using my graphic arts background, what’s the best way to acquire a bar code and place it on Amazon?

  3. Sounds like you are not using CreateSpace so Google barcode generator software but the simplest is to buy a barcode file from one of the two resources referenced in the post.

  4. “Said another way, the barcode for your book is not part of the cover file.” I’ve been scouring the internet for over an hour looking for this exact simple yes or no statement. Yours is literally the only one I’ve found that explained it that simply and concisely. Bless.

  5. I agree with Shannon who replied on 11/13/17. I had a different question (about the necessity of a barcode for a book not sold in stores). You succinctly answered my question and other questions I didn’t think to ask. Thank you!

  6. Apologies for being as thick as a brick, but I’m confused by WHAT number is required for the barcode of a /book/.

    I’ve already bought my ISBN from Bowker, so is that ISBN the ‘number’ I need in order to create a legitimate barcode?

    Or is there some other number that I have to buy in addition to the ISBN in order to create a legitimate barcode?

    The reason I ask is that I’m thinking of printing with Lulu in Australia, but Lulu don’t supply barcodes. I’ve found heaps of free barcode generators online, but as far as I can work out, they only create the picture file that is then inserted into/onto the cover graphic. Can I use one of these free generators if I already own an ISBN for my book?

    Many thanks. 🙂

  7. The number is the ISBN and the price. Those go into the generator to produce the picture file you describe. Free generators sometimes don’t produce quality images so you might need to pay someone to create it. I think I paid $15 once. Two sources
    Barcode Graphics:

  8. Should you put the same price for both bookstores and Amazon on your barcode? I assume once you have a price on the barcode you can’t list a different price online. In the case of children’s books, it seems like they sell for higher online than in physical stores.

  9. Both IngramSpark and KDP Print (formerly CreateSpace) can print your barcode (free). It is part of the cover printing process. Optionally, you can supply your own which would be included on the cover when submitted.

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