EAN vs ISBN – What’s the Difference? 

ean vs isbn

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EAN and ISBN barcodes serve as unique identifiers for products and books, respectively, facilitating global trade and distribution. 

While EAN, or European Article Number, is a standard describing a barcode symbology and numbering system used to identify consumer products worldwide, ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, specifically categorises books, ensuring their accurate identification in the global marketplace.

This article sheds light on the EAN and ISBN barcodes, exploring their unique differences and key similarities.  

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What is EAN?

What do you mean by EAN barcode

The European Article Number (EAN) is a 13-digit barcode predominantly utilised globally in Europe and other nations. EAN codes often start with a country code for geographic categorisation and are globally compatible. EAN barcodes are of two types: Ean 13 and Ean 8.  

Read our guide on what is an EAN code to learn everything you need to know about EAN barcoding technology.

What is ISBN?

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a globally recognised, unique identifier allocated to each edition of a book, facilitating its tracking, ordering, and inventory management. 

ISBN is of either 10 or 13 digits and is an essential tool for publishers, libraries, and book retailers. ISBN barcodes aid in efficiently cataloguing and retrieving titles, ensuring that each version of a book can be easily distinguished and managed.

ISBN is of two types.

  • ISBN-10: A 10-digit format, primarily used before 2007.
  • ISBN-13: The current 13-digit format was introduced in 2007 to accommodate a larger number of unique identifiers.

Check out our dedicated guide on what is an ISBN number to learn the ins and outs of ISBN barcodes.

EAN vs ISBN - What's the Difference?

Deviation between EAN and ISBN barcodes
Industry Usage
Book publishing
10 or 13 digits
13 digits (EAN-13) or 8 digits (EAN-8)
Unique Identifier For
Books and published materials
General products
Check Digit
Calculated using modulo 11 (ISBN-10) or modulo 10 (ISBN-13)
Calculated using modulo 10
Compatible with EAN
Compatible with ISBN-13
Additional Prefix
Starts with “978” or “979” for ISBN-13
May include country code as the first digit
Obtained From
National ISBN Agency

Industry Usage

ISBN is tailored exclusively for the book publishing sector, serving as a unique identifier for each book title and its specific editions. For instance, an ISBN would differentiate between the first edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and its subsequent anniversary edition. 

Conversely, EAN boasts a broader application, predominantly in the retail domain. 

While EAN can be used for books, its versatility extends to many other products. 


ISBN codes can have either 10 or 13 digits, contingent upon their issuance date. For example, older books like the 1984 edition carry a 10-digit ISBN, while newer releases like the 2020 edition have a 13-digit ISBN. 

On the other hand, EAN primarily uses a 13-digit format, known as EAN-13, suitable for a wide range of products. However, it also offers an 8-digit version, EAN-8, specifically designed for smaller items.

Geographical Focus

ISBN is a universal standard for book identification worldwide, without regional limitations. Although originally developed in Europe, EAN is also a globally compatible system used for retail product identification. 

While it is commonly associated with European markets, its application extends to various countries around the world. Therefore, both systems have a global reach. Still, they are applied in different sectors—ISBN in book publishing and EAN in general retail.

Unique Identifier

ISBN is exclusively for books and published materials, identifying the title, edition, and format. 

EAN is a general product identifier. 

Check Digit

A check digit is a single numerical value used to verify the integrity of a longer numerical sequence of a barcode

Both ISBN and EAN use a check digit for validation, but the calculation methods differ. 

ISBN-10 uses modulo 11, while ISBN-13 and EAN use modulo 10.


EAN and ISBN codes serve different industries but are designed to be compatible.

ISBN is specific to the book publishing sector, while EAN is a more versatile identifier used primarily in retail. 

To convert ISBN to EAN, you need to drop the last check digit of ISBN, add the 978 prefixes, and then append the EAN13 checksum digit at the end of the number. This compatibility ensures that books with ISBNs can be integrated seamlessly into broader retail and inventory systems that use EAN.

Additional Prefix

ISBN-13 codes usually start with the prefix “978” or “979,” which is a part of the EAN system. 

EAN codes may start with a country code, allowing for more specific geographic categorisation. Some examples of such country codes include: 

  • 300 – 379 France and Monaco
  • 380 Bulgaria
  • 383 Slovenia

Supplying Organisation

The supplying body for ISBN is the International ISBN Agency, which delegates responsibility to national agencies. These agencies are tasked with issuing ISBNs to publishers within their respective countries. 

In contrast, EAN is governed by GS1, a global organisation that standardises supply chain solutions across industries. GS1 member organisations in each country issue EAN codes to businesses. 

While ISBN agencies focus solely on the book publishing industry, GS1 has a broader remit, serving multiple sectors, including retail, healthcare, and logistics.

ISBN vs EAN - The Similarities

Four similarities between EAN and ISBN barcodes

Unique Identification

Both ISBN and EAN barcodes are unique identifiers. 

ISBN is tailored for identifying books and their specific editions, while EAN is used for a broad range of retail products. 

Numeric Structure

EAN and ISBN are both numerical-only codes that can be represented as barcodes. This standardisation makes it easier for these codes to be scanned and read by machines, streamlining the checkout process and inventory tracking.

Refer to the following guides to learn more about barcoding technology. 

Global Standardisation

EAN and ISBN codes are part of a global identification system. 

EAN is widely used in Europe and other parts of the world, while ISBN is a global book standard. This international reach ensures that products can be easily identified and managed across borders.

Data Management and Inventory Control

Both systems are integral to modern data management and inventory control systems. 

Whether it’s a bookstore using ISBN barcode to manage its stock or a supermarket using EAN barcode for its range of products, these codes are essential for efficient business operations.

Why are EAN and ISBN Important for a Book?

In the book industry, both EAN and ISBN serve critical roles in identification and commerce. ISBN uniquely identifies each book edition, aiding in cataloguing and inventory management for publishers and retailers.

It’s essential for distinguishing between different formats, such as hardcover and ebook. EAN, often embedded within the ISBN as a barcode, facilitates the book’s retail sale. It ensures compatibility with general retail systems, making it easier for bookstores to manage a diverse inventory. 

Together, these codes streamline the supply chain, from publishing to retail, enhancing efficiency and accuracy.

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Is There a Standard Location for ISBN and EAN?

Barcodes and ISBNs are typically located on a book’s back cover, usually in the bottom right corner. This standard placement speeds up the scanning process. 

If a publisher decides to change the book’s price, a new EAN is required, as this alters the existing EAN-5 code. That’s why you may sometimes see EAN stickers in the same corner of the book. While the ISBN remains constant, the EAN is updated to indicate the new price.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Primary Industry Focus of EAN and ISBN?

EAN is primarily used in retail, whereas ISBN is specific to the book publishing industry.

How do EAN and ISBN Facilitate Global Trade?

Both EAN and ISBN are globally recognised standards, making them essential tools for international commerce and cross-border trade.

Are EAN and ISBN Interchangeable?

No, they serve different purposes and industries but share some similarities, such as their role in inventory management.

What Are the Implications of Changing a Book's Price on Its EAN?

A price change requires a new EAN, as it alters the existing EAN-5 code. However, the ISBN remains the same.


EAN codes and ISBN are pivotal identification systems that serve distinct yet overlapping roles in retail and publishing. Understanding their differences, similarities, and applications is essential for businesses navigating the complexities of product identification and inventory management. 

As technology evolves, these systems are set to become even more integral to data analytics and e-commerce, making a comprehensive understanding of EAN and ISBN indispensable for future success.

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