November 30 – December 7, 2006 Edition

BISAC Okays New

Bar Code Placement

As ISBN-13 Nears

NEW YORK, NY/11/30/06—The Book Industry Study Group’s Standards and Communications(BISAC) forum, the main standards setting group for the U.S. book industry, has released revised specifications for the placement of the bar code on Cover 2 (the inside front cover) of strippable mass market paperbacks. The move will improve the read rates of automated sortation equipment and is part of the January 1 move to the U.S. industry’s new 13-digit standard for identifying book products.

Automated sorters used by wholesalers, distributors and retailers depend on the Cover 2 bar code to count stripped covers for return and group them by vendor. Accurate reading is an important efficiency issue in this process, and it is widely understood that some companies deal with bar codes that do not read properly by imposing penalties, depending on their operating policies.

On January 1, 2007, the book industry’s new 13-digit standard for identifying each specific book for sale in bookstores and other outlets will change from the original 10-digit International Standard Book Number (ISBN) to the new 13-digit ISBN-13. The new 13-digit code is exactly equivalent to the Bookland EAN, so although the way the bar codes are presented on books will change due to the ISBN-13 transition (e.g., with the human-readable ISBN-13 printed above the bar code rather than the human-readable ISBN-10), the expression of the ISBN within the Bookland EAN bar code will remain the same.

When BISAC’s Machine Readable Coding Committee was informed that a number of companies were experiencing non-read rates higher than predicted by the equipment manufacturer, the committee prepared revised specifications for placement in relation to the edges of Cover 2 and any inside printed matter. For more information on the revised specifications, visit or contact the Book Industry Study Group at

The new 13-digit numbering system hopefully will make the worldwide publishing industry’s three product identification systems, ISBN, EAN, and UPC and ISBN more compatible.

Before releasing its revised specifications for strippable covers, the committee solicited comments from the full BISAC membership. No organization indicated that the recommended placement would create problems in their processing, and several provided constructive comments that were incorporated in the final proposal.

History of ISBN-13

In 1980, agreement was reached between the EAN Authority and the International ISBN Agency to assign a specific 3-digit prefix to a fictitious country designated as "Bookland". The country codes 978 and 979 were reserved for this “country” to encode the ISBN. The Bookland EAN code and symbol is comprised of 13 digits incorporating the ISBN plus a separate 5-digit add-on, for a total of 18 digits. This symbol is the machine-readable symbol of choice for all published books.

BISG has for many years relied on the BISAC Machine Readable Coding (MRC) Committee to lead the organization’s bar code-related activities. In 1984, for example, MRC was appointed by BISAC to undertake a study and submit recommendations for a product identification code and symbol to be used on book covers and jackets.

As a result of the study, BISAC recommended that book identification and bar coding be based on the Universal Product Code (U.P.C.) and the International Article Number (EAN), through the Bookland EAN. In 1985, BISAC published Machine-Readable Coding Guidelines for the U.S. Book Industry; these were updated in 1990.

Universal Product Code (U.P.C.)

GS1(formally the Uniform Code Council) administers the U.P.C. system, which originated in the grocery industry. The U.P.C. has now been adopted throughout general retailing, and it is used at many points in the supply chain besides point of sale. It is a system that identifies each item with a unique 12-digit code, consisting of a variable length supplier identifier (Company Prefix) and a variable length product number, and a check digit.

International Article Number (EAN)

The U.P.C. concept (which covers the U.S. and Canada only) was subsequently adapted for use by other countries under a system called International Article Numbering (originally named European Article Number and still using the initials EAN). Under the EAN system an additional leading 13th digit is derived from the parity pattern of the original twelve digits. All countries other than the U.S. and Canada were assigned a 2- or 3-digit "country code" to distinguish each nation's manufacturers and products from every other.

The number set zero [0] was assigned to the U.P.C. Thus the 12-digit U.P.C. in the U.S. and Canada is a subset of, and fully compatible with, the 13-digit EAN by the addition of the zero prefix.

Most major bookstores have electronic point of sale (EPOS) systems which enable them to keep track of their sales and stocks and to reorder books by scanning the bar code. Most retailers refuse to accept books which are not bar coded. In addition, many distributors make use of bar codes in their warehouse systems.

For more information, visit or contact the Book Industry Study Group at

About Book Industry Study Group, Inc.

The Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG) is the U.S. publishing industry’s leading trade association for policy, standards and research. The mission of BISG is to create a more informed, empowered, and efficient book industry supply chain. Membership consists of publishers, manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, librarians, and others engaged in the business of print and electronic media. For 30 years, BISG has provided a forum for all industry professionals to come together and efficiently address issues and concerns to advance the book community.

BISAC stands for Book Industry Standards and Communications. It constitutes the main standards forum of the Book Industry Study Group and is driven by a variety of sub-committees. These sub-committees provides access for the entire publishing industry to come together to develop and maintain technology and electronic commerce standards, to stay on top of the latest industry trends, and to address business issues facing its members.


BISAC continues to facilitate the administration of publisher/customer and publisher/ manufacturer electronic data interchange formats for books and serials based on the international EDI standards created by the United Nations in conjunction with other national bodies and coordinated by EDItEUR, the international organization coordinating book and serial electronic commerce.