View Full Version : The upcoming EAN/UCC-13 number. Will it affect you?

Cathy C
06-11-2005, 02:04 AM
Someone contacted me off-loop and suggested that I'd buried a good discussion in another thread. A lot of self-pubbed people haven't heard about the new change to the ISBN number that started in January of this year. In 2007, this WILL have an impact on self-pubbed authors.

So, I thought I'd post this over on this forum too in case anyone has any questions. This came off my website article page, so any references in the article to "last week's article" is about how ISBN numbers work and how to read them. Most of you know, I presume, but I can post that one here too, if anyone is interested.


By Cathy Clamp, PLS, CLAS

Last week, we discussed what ISBN numbers are and how they came to be developed. The system has served the publishing industry well over the years. But even a good system can be improved. Beginning January 1, 2005, the ISBN number will begin to transition to an EAN/UCC-13 number. First, let's talk a little about the EAN/UCC system.


In 1974, twelve members of the European community decided to establish their own system of book numbering, similar to the UPC (Uniform Product Code) number that appears in the barcode of items sold in the United States. As a result of a number of meetings, a UPC compatible system was created, known as the European Article Numbering system, or EAN. The Uniform Code Council, or UCC (not to be confused with the United States Uniform Commercial Code, which is also known by the acronym of UCC) was established to co-manage the system along with the member countries. The two later merged and changed the agency name to "EAN International". There are presently 103 member countries of EAN International.


What is causing the transition from the familiar ISBN to the EAN/UCC-13 number? Two reasons:

1. Limited supply of numbers. As originally envisioned, the ISBN system allowed for one billion possible combinations of numbers to assign to books. But new kinds of publishing since the late 1980s have literally flooded the market with books. In reality, like the U.S. telephone area code issue several years ago, the end is in sight. While the system was not yet out of numbers, in a few years time, it might have been. The global bookselling industry decided to acknowledge the inevitable and transition the system before a lack of numbers started to strangle the market.

2. Global Marketing Partners. Overseas publishing partners have always existed. However, it was always a struggle for international booksellers, like Amazon, Indigo and Barnes & Noble to identify American books for sale in foreign markets, and vice-versa. For a number of years now, bar codes on American offerings have identified only the ISBN and price. However, Canadian, Central American and European books have TWO barcodes -- one for American sales, and one with EAN/UCC information, which includes more information about the book. Combining the two systems will allow for easier overseas marketing of mass market and e-books.


Beginning on January 1, 2005 and continuing on until January 1, 2007, existing ISBNs will simply have the prefix 978 added. This number has been assigned as a transitional number until the new system is fully up and running. So, if you have an ISBN of: 0-765-34913-2, the new EAN/UCC-13 number will appear as: 978-0-765-34913-2. A publisher who has been assigned a block of ISBN numbers should continue to use those numbers until exhausted, but prefix them with the 978. This allows the already-established "check digit" explained the earlier article to continue in use. However, after January 1, 2007, new ISBNs issued will carry a 979 prefix and all ten-digit numbers will be discontinued. The addition of the additional prefix numbers will provide just slightly less than one billion new number combinations. However, blocks of numbers will be more frugally issued to make them last longer so we don't have to do this all over again in another 30 years. Publishers won't be able to obtain hundreds or thousands of numbers in the future. Instead, they will be issued in smaller blocks, but more frequently. Of course, this will also lead to new criteria for allocation of publisher and group prefixes. To date, there are no anticipated differences for POD or electronic books. They will all carry the 978 prefix just as hardback, trade or paperback offerings will.

The 13-digit number will be commonly known as the Bookland EAN or ISBN-13. Why "Bookland?" Again, two reasons: first, the prefix 978 and 979 will identify the product as a "book." Second, the black lines and bars that appear on the back of books are known as Bookland bar code symbols. Although the bar code LOOKS the same as bar codes for other kinds of products used by retailers, the numbering system used to generate the bar code is different. The EAN for normal retail products is a 13 digit number which uniquely identifies that product, down to the size, color and shape of an item. However, a book already HAS a unique number to identify it, the ISBN. The EAN bar code for a book is generated from the ISBN for the book.

In September of 2003, the Book Industry Study Group, or BISG, adopted a policy statement which called for the Bookland EAN to be the sole bar code used for books and book-related products, effective January 1, 2005. The largest issue with this decision is forcing retailers to obtain compatible machine code-reading equipment. Many larger retailers have already taken the plunge. For example, Wal-Mart has already installed 13-digit compatible equipment in all of their American stories. Smaller stores will have until January 1, 2007 to comply, but most will probably transition earlier, simply because they soon won't be able to sell ISBN-13 marked products. It's in their best interests to "go with the flow."


For the time being, the transition to the 13-digit system is useful information, but not a reason to panic. However, publishers should submit new offerings to Books In Print in the new format. Several software companies are already starting to market software kits that will transition to the 13-digit number and produce a bar code. However, nobody is required to comply with converting numbers until January 1, 2007. But it would be wise for those with blocks of numbers to check out R.R. Bowker's website for the link "Transition to 13-digit ISBN" with answers to FAQs, at http://www.isbn.org (http://www.isbn.org/), and you might search for "ISBN 13 & software" on search engines.


Anyone is welcome to forward this article, provided you forward it as written and credit me.