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.
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.
- If your book is stocked by a store, the barcode must include the price.
- 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 MyIdentifiers.com 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.
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.
You might also be interested in one of these articles:
- The 2021 Guide to Amazon Fees and Royalties for Kindle eBooks and KDP Print
- How Much to Charge When Pricing a Self-Published Book to Sell on Amazon
- Kindle eBook Royalties: 70% vs. 35% and 6 Essential Things You Need to Know
- Book Launch Marketing Case Study—Swing by Ashleigh Renard
- Should You Use Amazon KDP Select or Distribute Your Book Wide?