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Adding ISBN Barcode to Back Cover

by Ron Kurtus (6 January 2014)

It is good practice to add an ISBN barcode to the back cover of your hardcopy book. The barcode is a coded series of vertical lines that you place at the lower right area of the back of your book cover. The purpose of the barcode is to allow the book seller to scan and gather country, publisher, and price information of the book for their sales records.

Thus, it is important that your barcode is of high quality and according to standardized specifications to assure it can be correctly scanned. You should verify that your barcode image can be correctly scanned in and avoid anything that will prevent proper scanning.

If you primarly plan to sell your books online, a barcode is not required, but it gives your book a professional look. If your book will be sold in stores or you think it will become a best-seller, you should have a professional create and verify your barcode. Obviously, a barcode is not needed in an e-book.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Placement of barcode

The barcode should be placed on the back cover of your book, at the lower right corner.

Typically, you should leave a 3.625" x 1.25" area that is free of any text or images for the its placement. The barcode should be printed with black ink on a white background.

There must be 1/4-inch of white space on the left and right sides of your barcode.

Usually, barcodes are printed on the back cover, although using barcode labels is acceptable.

Ensuring proper scanning

You should verify your barcode scans in correctly. This is especially true if your books will receive mass distribution to numerous bookstores.

Reasons barcode does not scan

Several things can cause your barcode not to scan, making you liable for non-compliance charges. Examples include:

Verifier device

Bar codes that are guaranteed to scan and have been checked with a full American National Standard Institute (ANSI) certified verifier. This device checks all the parameters that contribute to a high-grade bar code.

Note: Having your bar code scanned by the local bookstore is not equivalent to having it verified.

Use bar code manufacturer

While a full ANSI verifier can be purchased, for most vendors it is more cost-effective to work with a bar code manufacturer that guarantees their work. A scanner like those used in a bookstore does not measure all of the requisite characteristics.

Printing process can create defects

If you are able to print your own bar codes, remember that any printing process can create defects that reduce bar code performance.

Barcodes and self-publishers

Most self-publishers have great difficulty getting their books into major bookstores and thus depend on selling them online through such outlets as or Barnes& In such a case, an ISBN barcode may just be "window dressing" to make the book look professional but yet have little practical value.

At the very least, it is worthwhile to include a barcode on your back cover.


An ISBN barcode is used as a book identifier, such that it can be scanned in by the book seller at the point of purchase. It should be placed on the lower right area of the back of a book cover.

It is important that the barcode be of high quality and according to standardized specifications to assure it can be is correctly scanned.

If you primarily plan to sell your books online, a barcode is not required, but it gives your book a professional look.

Follow the requirements for quality

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


Publishing Resources


Top-rated books on Self-Publishing

Questions and comments

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