Barcodes for Magazines, Comic Books and Graphic Novels!

Do you need a barcode for self-published work? 

It can really depend on where you’re selling your wares. If your only means of distribution is selling direct to consumers online through your website, and at trade shows, the answer is no. But what about if you want to get your book into retailers?  The answer is maybe, you don’t technically need it and many stores operate without them. However, many retailers, especially larger ones really do prefer their vendors to have their items barcoded. This generally takes the form of a UPC or EAN barcode, for books stores that means an ISBN. 

What is a UPC (EAN)?

The UPC and EAN barcodes were created in the early 1970’s by the UCC (Uniform Code Council) now known as GS1. These unique numbers and barcode graphics are what the retail world uses to unique identify retail items in every retailer on earth. These two formats are also known as GTINs (Global Trade Item Numbers), a newer simpler naming structure being used these days.

Why are there two and not one? Because the people that invented it (originally for groceries) had no clue it would explode in popularity as it did and expand to cover all retail items. The UPC is primarily used in the USA & Canada, the EAN was invented a couple years later and is used everywhere else globally. One is not better than the other, they are simply used in different geographical areas. 

Where can you get an affordable UPC or EAN? Right (HERE)

You will need one of these two formats for almost everything in the retail world, the exceptions to this rule are what we’ll cover in the rest of this article. 

The role of supplemental or extension barcodes

UPC+2 and UPC+5

Example UPC+2The UPC and EAN can both have an additional barcode located to the right of the main barcode that contains additional information. This second “supplemental” barcode is normally not as tall as the primary barcode and can encode either two or five additional digits. 

The 2 digit version covers 100 variations (00-99), while the 5 digit covers 100,000 variants (00000-99999). While that is a large number of items or variations that can be covered, the 5 digit version is used more for encoding data that is useful to certain industries. 

Example UPC+5Another commonly seen example are greeting cards, where hundreds of different cards can be, and are, produced by a single artist. In that example the core UPC number will ID the company and the 2 or 5 digit supplemental barcode identifies the exact greeting card they’re selling. It is one way to save on UPC numbers, thus saving a few dollars in the process. This is specific to the greeting card industry, as not all retailers may know what or how to scan/enter this more exotic barcode into their point of sales system.

What barcode does a magazine need?

While it looks like a UPC, acts like a UPC and quacks like a UPC, it’s a BIPAD. You may have heard of this unique barcode before in relation to magazines. It is a lesser known variation of the UPC format just for this type of publication and technically is identical to the UPC-A. Most publishers or distributors do not require a BIPAD, but some may, and there’s only one place on earth you can get them. 

According to BIPAD:

“The BIPAD numbering system is unique to the retail magazine business...It is the permanent identification of the magazine throughout its retail life. Along with an industry prefix, and issue number, the BIPAD numbers are encoded in the barcodes on magazine covers and used by magazine wholesaler-distributors and magazine retailers to process the publications through their systems. In doing so, they record the sales, count returns, store sales history, determine future distributions, and make payments.”

Check with your distributor first before investing in this format, since it is technically identical to a UPC. All retailers on earth already can scan a UPC and most can scan a UPC+2.

Example provided by
(Example provided by

Which barcode do I need for a Comic book or Graphic Novel?

Comic Books

For regular comic books, a UPC or EAN is used. The UPC is used in USA & Canada, while the EAN would be used in the rest of the world. Both the UPC and EAN can be modified with a 2 or 5 digit extension or supplemental barcode. For comic books this is the 5 digit version, to encode the issue number (Digits 1-3), the cover variant (4th digit), and the printing number (last digit).

Example of Comic Book Barcode with 5 digit extension
(Example of Comic Book Barcode with 5 digit extension)

What the 5 digits on a comic book barcode mean
(What the 5 digits on a comic book barcode mean)

Graphic Novels

Graphic novels, like any retail product, will work with normal UPC/EAN “retail” barcodes. But if you want to get your novel in the big leagues (Book stores, Amazon etc..) they will need an ISBN number. These are issued only by (for USA) or (same organization for International clients). The price for 1 is $125 and for 10 is $295, so if you plan on making more then two publications go ahead and get a package of 10. 

The ISBN number is a globally unique 13 digit number used to ID books, authors and publishers. The ISBN also has its own 5 digit extension that supplements the info on the item. With Books (or graphic novels) these 5 digit details shift from identifying issues and printings, to price and currency. For example "50999" indicates a suggested retail price of US$9.99 (in US Dollars), another common series used is “90000” =  no price listed. 

Example ISBN+5
(Example ISBN+5)