UPDATE! (7-10-2013) – Surprisingly enough, this little column is one of the most read, most linked to posts on ComixTribe.com…clearly lots of small-press creators bump up against the Barcode demons eventually, and so some clear answers to common questions are desired. Since this article was first posted, I’ve learned a few more things, so I’ve updated this column with them. Enjoy!
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. While I have put all of this advice into practice to print and distribute more than 40,000 comics and graphic novels to date, 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 book’s 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 in January 2012, and they bought the books, put them on their racks, and they sold to customers just fine. (Maximum Comics sold 100 copies day one, in fact!)
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 an absolute requirement.
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, do you tell one book from another, if they all have the same UPC? 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?
How to Generate a Barcode for Your Comics (FREE)
I’m told there is special software you can buy to generate your barcodes, but FREE is usually, better, correct. So, to generate a FREE barcode for your comic:
1) Go to the free barcode generator I mentioned earlier.
2) Set the “Symbology” parameter to: UPC – A
3) Enter your twelve-digit UPC code, followed by a space, and then your 5 digit UPC identifier code.
4) Click MAKE BARCODE which will generate a snazzy barcode like this:
5) Click Download image as EPS to get a file I can bring into Photoshop and slap on my book.
And there you go. You now have a street legal UPC code ready for retailers, ready for Diamond. All that’s left is to deface your pretty comic with it!
The last thing to figure out in this process is where exactly to put your barcode. Luckily, most comic creators are also comic fans, and have hundreds or thousands of comics lying around…most of them with barcodes. So, the easiest thing to do is just copy what your favorite series does, in terms of barcode placement.
Now, Diamond requires your barcode to be placed on either the front or back cover. (Putting the barcode on the inside of the book will get them sent back to you, with a hefty infraction charge sent your way.)
For our direct market books SCAM, THE RED TEN, and THE STANDARD, we’ve opted to place our barcodes on the back cover of our books. Basically, our covers are too damn pretty to defile with barcodes…at least that’s the thinking.
However, I have heard feedback from retailers and serious collectors, that they prefer it when publishers put barcodes on the FRONT cover of books. Why? Well, some retailers bag and board books for customers, and most serious collectors do as well. The board covers up the back cover, making back cover barcodes no longer visible, so to ring it through the cash register the cashier has to open up the bagged and boarded comic just to scan it. That adds time and effort to the point of sale, and increases the chance of the book getting damaged before leaving the store. This was something I never thought of, but seems reasonable. Given this, and the fact that most big pubs put barcodes on the front of their books, is enough to make me reconsider their placement for our next wave of books.
And there you have it! At least, I’m pretty sure that’s all there is too it. 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.
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Category: Comix Counsel