Barcode Options for the Self-Publisher

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Melinda Martin, cover designer and formatter extraordinaire, is not only my go-to for gorgeous nonfiction covers but she's also my good friend. Today, I'm happy to introduce you to her. She's got some helpful tips for indie authors looking at barcodes. 

Melinda Martin has been learning the hard way all of her life. She has chosen to make her downfall your blessing by sharing her knowledge of the self-publishing industry with you. Join her in the very active Self-Publishing Support Group, view her portfolio and read her articles at, or contact her at for a quote or to schedule a consultation.


Barcodes can often cause a bit of exasperation for self-published authors and new book designers. I’ve learned a lot in my time as a book designer, and Shayla was nice enough to let me share that knowledge with you. 

While this is not an exhaustive article on all things barcode, we are going to hit the highlights for the self-published author:

  • Who Needs a Barcode?
  • What Is a Barcode?
  • What Is in a Barcode?
  • Information to Pair with Your Barcode
  • Using CreateSpace’s Free Barcode
  • Bring Your Own Barcode

If you are brand-new to self-publishing, you will want to partner this article with its parent post, “How to Set Up Your Self-Publishing Company on Bowker."

Who Needs a Barcode?

If you are just selling books out of the trunk of your car to individuals or giving them out as gifts with no intention of ever turning it into an income stream, then you don’t need a barcode or ISBN. However, everyone else should get both.

What Is a Barcode?

Barcodes help bookstores manage the count of their inventory, the value of their inventory, the pricing of their inventory, and the customer transaction.

A barcode puts numbers associated with your book into a graphic form that can be read by a laser scanner and integrated into a point of sale (POS) system.

What Is in a Barcode?

If you look at a barcode for most books purchased from a bookstore, you will see there are actually two barcodes inside the barcode area: one for the ISBN and one for the retail price.

The most basic barcode will just have the ISBN number as a barcode (EAN 13) and will have the ISBN typed out underneath it. Your ISBN is 13 digits, so that’s why the barcode equivalent is called the EAN-13.


The retail price barcode (EAN 5) will list your retail price as a 5-digit number. The first digit will denote the currency, like a “5” will be used for $ US, a “6” for $ Canada, a “4” for $ New Zealand, a “3” for $ Australia, and “0” and “1” for British pounds. The remaining four digits will be the retail price.


“The largest US retailers such as Barnes and Noble now require the use of EAN-5 barcode on books they handle. Scanners in American bookstores cannot read the Bookland EAN code without the corresponding 5-digit add-on.” —Bowker

Information to Pair with Your Barcode

Ideally, your book’s category and/or subcategory and retail price will be included either directly inside the white barcode area or above the white area of the barcode. If you have hired a book designer, then she should be able to take care of that for you. Determine your book’s category and subcategory using the BISAC Subject Headings List. You will want to use the name of your category and subcategory on your book cover, not the BISAC code.


Using CreateSpace’s Free Barcode

The print-on-demand (POD) printer CreateSpace will generate your barcode for you using your ISBN. Technically, it does also print the EAN-5 (retail price) but it doesn’t fill it in. You just get a “9000.” But sometimes you just have to take what you can get.


The default placement for barcodes is the bottom right-hand corner of your book’s back cover. It doesn’t have to stay there. That’s just the default. However, if you are working with a print-on-demand service that prints the barcode for you (like CreateSpace), then they will position it in the default location, so make sure you leave room in the bottom right-hand corner for your barcode.

If you want them to place it in a different area, then you or your designer should leave a 2″ x 1.2″ white rectangle for CreateSpace to place the barcode in.



Bring Your Own Barcode

If you are designing your own cover or if your designer needs you to BYOB (Bring Your Own Barcode), then you have some options:

  • Make use of the free barcode generator software, like You will be able to export your barcode as an image file. However, NCH will just convert your ISBN, not your retail price. To get bookstores, libraries, and distributors to carry your book, you need both the ISBN (EAN-13) and the retail price (EAN-5) in your barcode.
  • Purchase your full barcode through Bowker for $25ish.
  • Obtain a full barcode using IngramSpark’s cover template generator. It’s important to note that the file types available through IngramSpark will be either a PDF or an InDesign file, so you or your designer will need to know what to do with it from there.
  • If you or your book designer uses InDesign for book covers on a regular basis, then it will benefit you to download the BarcodeMaker plugin from Teacup Software. You will be able to add both your EAN-13 and your EAN-5 right from inside InDesign. It is a $100 investment.
  • If you are printing through an independent printer (a book bindery), then you will need to provide your own barcode. But I’m sure most of them will take care of this for you for an additional fee. (Can you say “upsell”?)
  • Be aware that even if you provide your own barcode on your book cover and print through CreateSpace, they may still override it with their own barcode—the one with no retail price. They usually only do this if your barcode is subpar, but it can happen.



Regardless of your profession or project, if you are here researching barcodes, then I’m sure you have found out by this stage in life that there is always so much to learn. Everything has its own specialty. There are niches within niches. Self-publishing takes a village. Welcome to the village.


An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. A lifelong lover of books, she has edited over 300 books and has launched several Amazon bestsellers for her clients. Her award-winning blog teaches new and established authors how to write, publish, and market their books. She is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist, The Rotting (in Shivers in the Night), and her novel-in-progress, The Suicide Tree. She lives in Oklahoma with her two dogs, Chanel and Wednesday.