Illogical Barcodes

Have you ever stopped to look at a barcode and try to figure out what it is trying to tell you? I never did until recently when I started using a barcode reader at home and realizing how confusing barcodes can be. The worst example would be on books. While most of my books in my personal collection have EAN encoded barcodes, which contain their ISBN number, a large number of books that my mother reads (romance novels, etc) use a UPC encoded barcode, which contains only an arbitrarily assigned number that has no relevance to anything, the same can be said for almost all barcodes on DVDs that are issued ISBNs. I have been trying to add a barcode usage functionality to GITI’s Library area, but I’m finding it hard to just use the most logical identifiers, the ISBNs. I am presently testing a pair of fields, ISBN and “UPC” to try to sort out this issue, but I find myself asking why this task has to be such a pain in the ass. When I wanted more answers I turned to the ISBN coordinating body (, and discovered that part of the reason for using UPCs for the barcodes is that they are cheaper. A person can register as a publisher and obtain 10 ISBN numbers for $30 total, but it would cost an additional $25 PER ISBN for rights to the accompanying barcode in EAN format. UPCs aren’t as expensive in bulk, and are not permenant, they can be reassigned at any time with no additional fee, so with UPC, once a book goes out of print, its number can be reassigned to a new book with no additional fee, however, it leaves the original book without a unique identifier. Many stores that sell only books reencode the ISBN into a barcode sticker for their usage, making it possible for them to opperate on a single numbering system. Should I do the same? (If you find how book stores can do this to be confusing, it is, anyone can ENCODE an ISBN into an EAN barcode, but you can only legally attach it to a product if you don’t own the rights to the EAN. To add it into the product itself [print it on the cover] it must be legally registered).

One thought on “Illogical Barcodes

  1. I worked in libraries all through school (so about 10 years), and they all like any library, used their own barcodes. The ISBN was just another field in the books’ details table. I don’t really see why personally you’d need access to the number beyond a database lookup.
    Still, the ISBN is intended to be a unique identifier to the book details, not the actual book itself. So besides saving time during initial data entry, I’m not quite sure why you would expect there to be a barcode for the ISBN. I don’t think it really is that necessary.
    Since interesting details you dug up there though, I wonder how much money they make on that stuff.

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