All Your Questions Answered: ISBN Barcodes & Pricing for Self Published Authors

You’ve done it! The day is finally here, and all your hard work and creative energy has paid off. Your book is ready for publication, and hitting shelves imminently at various bookstores. Thanks to quick thinking, you’ve even managed to translate your book into a different language (or two!) and they will be appearing in bookstores from Mexico City to New York. At this point in your publication journey, you are probably feeling elated and relieved to have the hardest steps over with. However, there is one tiny detail that is actually hugely impactful in the long run: whether to put a price on your barcode. It may seem elementary in concept but in practice this decision can affect the sale of your book, how much money you make, how much money a bookstore makes, and room for price to vary across different locations and times. By walking with us through these last pertinent steps, you can maximize your income and guarantee fair prices for buyers, sellers, and of course you as the author. 

Barcode Basics 

First off, what’s the power of a barcode on the back of your book? Almost as powerful as the cover. They say to never judge a book by its cover, but ironically, most readers do- 52% in fact (that we know of). Book cover design is a whole other blog that will hit your inbox soon, but it just goes to show that front and back cover appearance is vital, as are the elements on it. The barcode on the back of your book contains an ISBN, a globally recognized way to differentiate and categorize your book. ISBN stands for “International Standard Book Number and is key to an efficient book supply chain. It identifies all kinds of books, and is piloted by the International ISBN Agency as a registration authority for books around the world. This ISBN needs to become a scannable, working barcode on the back of your book for identification purposes, as part of the back cover design. Without it, bookstores most likely won’t agree to get your book on their shelves. 

On this ISBN, you will see some books contain the price as a typed number and others don’t. At the end of the barcode, there’s a 5-digit number with a barcode that is the price add on. That is where you’re supposed to put the price of your book: Let’s dive into the reasons why some authors choose to include it, and why you shouldn’t! 

  1. Whether you want to sell your book online or in stores, or both! At Pufferprint, we recommend doing both to ensure that your book reaches the highest number of readers. Especially since you’ve translated your novel (well, after reading this article, you have!) maximizing reach depends on selling both online and in-store. With this said, including the price on the barcode may limit sales as prices often fluctuate depending whether a reader is buying off Amazon or at their antique, local bookstore
  2. It is simply easier to leave it off. As we’ve mentioned, at this point in your book publishing journey, you’ve been through a lot. From struggling with creative flow and writer’s block, to editing and translating, putting your book up for sale, and being ready for readers to enjoy it, the effort to also add a specific price and research a price for your book can feel daunting. Our advice is to leave one more thing off your to do list and strategically leave the price off as well! 
  3. It can be restrictive. Let’s say your book is selling for $19.99 in a bookstore in Nashville, and it says so on the barcode. However, when we travel to New York City, that same novel can be worth $24.99! This is simply due to location change, whether it’s a tourist hotspot, or how famous the store is. The same concept applies to your books that have been translated and are flying off the shelves in Mexico, Brazil, and France. The price may be better priced up or down, and in the currency of that country. When you are a self made author and self printing but offering your book online or in stores, it doesn’t make sense to print a price. It may even confuse readers who pick up your book and look at the price when in reality it comes in at more or less. Better to leave it off entirely. 
  4. Most bookstores don’t care. In truth, most bookstores, whether local or larger chains, don’t particularly care if the price is on the back. EIther way, the book has to be scanned at checkout as a purchase in their system, and then the accurate price will pop up. As mentioned, it may cause confusion on both the bookstore and consumer end if the price printed on the back cover does not accurately reflect the listed price. Of course, make sure to check with the bookstores that are selling your book just in case.
  5. Maximizing income. Price gouging and price fluctuation are two key aspects of the publishing world to be aware of as you release your book to the world. Taking the time to research a proper price to print on your book will not only cost precious hours, but will be highly dependent on the particular location your book will be sold from. Save yourself time and money, and maximize income, by focusing more on marketing your book to sell in high traffic or high price locations such as tourist hotspots or chic local bookstores. You’ll bring in more revenue and not have to worry about whether the research you completed concluded a price that was more or less than the realistic number. 

Now, what to do? 

The final verdict? Leave the printed price number OFF the back cover of your book. Hinted at in the reasons mentioned above, it can be restrictive, time consuming to research a proper price, and could potentially waste you money as you would have to print different covers for books going to different locations and economies. The cool thing about barcodes is that they are flexible and reflect the price programmed into the book selling repository. In other words, whatever price is programmed in will show up as the final price when scanned by the bookseller. This allows for true flexibility and fluctuation from store to store, while leaving room for online shoppers. If the bookstore chooses, they can print small stickers to put on the front or back cover advertising the price for that particular place.

Maximize Online Sales 

According to Bookstats, which collects online sales data in real time from Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble across the print book, e-book, and digital audiobook formats, self-published authors captured 51% of overall ebook unit sales last year and more than 34% of e-book retail revenue. This speaks high volumes to the power of our connected world and digital media. It also makes a strong case for the uselessness of a printed price on the back of your book cover- after all, no one will really see it since they are buying online!! The same theory of price levels apply here as in physical bookstores: Amazon UK prices look different than US-based Amazon prices. Make your book ready for sale on any platform anytime, able to fluctuate with the economy, by including your ISBN but not a written price. In terms of acquiring an ISBN and barcode for your book, as a self publisher you will need to purchase one yourself. In the United States, you can go to, click on ISBN, the quantity you want to purchase, and complete checkout. In Canada, ISBNs are issued for free on the ISBN Canada—Library and Archives website. For the UK, Ireland, or a British Overseas Territory, check out Nielsen ISBN Store. Other international authors can visit the International ISBN Agency If you decided to print with PufferPrint, we have ISBN services available to make the self publishing process simpler.

Don’t fret anymore about the issue of physical pricing on your book cover- instead, focus on maximizing the back and front of the book to be as eye-catching as possible. We’ll have more to say about this in the next blog, but leave the ISBN to act as the barcode it was meant to be! Utilize the magic of modern technology by allowing the price of your book, and your income by default, to accurately reflect where it is sold and the demographic it is sold to. Can’t let those tourist dollars at a popular New York City bookstore go to waste! After all, you’ve put sweat, ink, and tears into creating your masterpiece and you deserve proper compensation for it.