Settle in, kiddies, ’cause it’s about to get BOR-ING up in here!
Today’s topic is barcodes, namely putting them on your comics. Not a sexy topic in the least, but one that you might find yourself stressing out over in the near future if you’re doing the DIY distribution thing. If that’s not you, come on back next week, and I promise to write about something juicier. But if I don’t write this and archive it, I might find myself struggling to remember this stuff the next time I’m prepping books.
Disclaimer: I may be wrong on some of this stuff. I am not an expert, so do your due diligence. You can’t believe everything you read on the internets.
Do I Need a Barcode for My Self-Published Work?
It really depends on where you’re selling your books. If your only means of distribution is selling direct to consumers online through your website and at conventions, the answer is no. I’ve never once had a reader at a con look for or comment on a books lack of a bar code.
But what about if you want to get your book into retailers. Well, again, the answer is no, you don’t NEED one. We sold 777 copies of SCAM #1 direct to retailers last month and they bought the books, put them on their racks, and they’ve been selling to customers just fine. (Pretty damn well, actually.)
However, many retailers, especially the large ones, really prefer to sell books that have barcodes. As John Robinson from Graham Cracker Comics (nine stores in Illinois) told me, “Barcodes make it A LOT easier to track sales.” This makes A LOT of sense. Many retailers pay good money for sophisticated electronic sales tracking systems. No barcodes mean those systems don’t work nearly as good. If Graham Cracker doesn’t know how well ComixTribe books are selling, when it comes time to re-order, chances are they’re going to order on the light-side. So lack of barcodes on your books could be costing you sales.
And if you want to go through Diamond Distribution, barcodes are a requirement, no exceptions.
Do I Need an ISBN?
Okay, you want to sell through retailers, so you’ve decided you need a barcode? But what kind? You can play around with free barcode generators all day long, as there are many different kinds of codes and such out there. And what’s the deal with ISBNs? Do I need to get one of those?
Short answer: Graphic Novels need ISBNs, Floppies/Serials do not.
ISBNs can be purchased from Bowker, and they are expensive. Definitely purchase in bulk (probably 10), because when it’s all said and done, the cost of 10 is close to the cost of 1. (Get one for $125, 10 for $250.) More on ISBNs from the website:
ISBNs are linked to essential information allowing book-sellers, and readers, to know what book they are buying, what the book is about, and who the author is.
- ISBNs are the global standard for identifying titles ISBNs are used world-wide as a unique identifier for books. They are used to simplify distribution and purchase of books throughout the global supply chain.
- Most retailers require ISBNs to track book inventory Without an ISBN, you will not be found in most book stores, either online or down the street from your house. Buying an ISBN is your first step to insure that your book is not lost in the wilderness.
- Buying an ISBN improves the chances your book will be found Buying your ISBNs and registering your titles on My Identifiers, insures information about your book will be stored in our Books In Print database. This opens up a world of possibilities that your book is listed with many retailers, libraries, Bowker Books In Print, Bookwire, as well as online services like Google Books, Apple’s iBooks, Chegg and the New York Times.
So, yes, you want an ISBN for your Graphic Novel (again only necessary if you want to sell through retail channels, Amazon, etc.) Once you have an ISBN, you can either purchase a barcode with it, or use one of the free barcode generators. (I prefer free…because, well, I’ve got other things to spend money on.)
What About Floppies? You Down With UPCs, Yeah You Know Me!
Okay, so what about the floppy. For these, you’re going to want a UPC code.
UPC Defined: The Universal Product Code (UPC) is a barcode symbology (i.e., a specific type of barcode), that is widely used in North America, and in countries including the UK, Australia, and New Zealand for tracking trade items in stores. Its most common form, the UPC-A, consists of 12 numerical digits, which are uniquely assigned to each trade item.
UPCs can be purchased from a number of sites online. Here’s one that I’ve used and found the service pretty solid. Once again, the more you buy, the cheaper they are, but it’s not as ridiculous a discount as with ISBNs. One thing that’s cool about this service is they automatically generate the barcode with the UPC on it for you.
The Good News: Each SERIES only needs ONE UPC code. So, for example THE RED TEN is a 10 issue mini-series. I can buy one UPC code ($9.99) and use it for the entire series.
But, how then, does one tell one book from another. Glad you asked.
Can I Get Your Digits?
Each floppy series has a 5-digit extension code that identifies the issue number, the cover variant, and the printing number.
A Five Digit Number of 00111 means:
001(issue number) 1(what cover variant) 1(what printing)
Pretty simple, right?
Now, making this 5 digit extension was a little tricky. I’m told there’s special software to buy that will do it for you. But I was able to find out that the last 5 digits on a ISBN code (which, for ISBNs are usually reserved for pricing information) will make the same 5-digit extension that is needed here. So, to create this part of the code, I simply go back to my free barcode generator, set it to ISBN, and then for the last 5 numbers, type in the identifier code I need.
Finally, I stitch this code together with my UPC code in photoshop, and voila, I have a street legal UPC code ready for retailers, ready for Diamond, that I need to find a place for on my comics.
At least, I pretty sure that’s all I need to do. Oh, the things you find yourself struggling to learn on the road to creating comics. It really is amazing.
Experts, correct me if I’m wrong about anything, or if you have a cheaper, easier way to handle the bar code business. I’m all ears.
NEXT WEEK: Somethin’ Sexier
Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, and educator residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of superhero murder mystery maxi-series THE RED TEN, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and Tears of the Dragon, a swords and sorcery fantasy. His past work includes OVER, a romantic comedy graphic novel, and Super Seed, the story of the world’s first super powered fertility clinic. His work has been published by DC and Arcana comics.
Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, a new website empowering creators to help each other make better comics.
Category: Comix Counsel