Bookstores and Barcodes

Many bookstores I’ve frequented over the years cover the barcodes on the books with a sticker that has another barcode on it; that one is scanned during checkout. This seems inefficient from both a labor and a supply perspective.

I thought it might have to do with selling both new and used books, but some stores that sell just new books do it, and other stores (e.g. CDs) that sell both new and used products don’t do it.

No other businesses that I’m aware of do this. I’ve done a little online searching but haven’t found anything. Any bookstore veterans have insight into this practice?

Does the second sticker look like a UPC barcode? For something like a book, I could see different editions having the same UPC but the seller may want data on when various editions or versions move from inventory.

Good guess. It adds a price code.

And theoretically they might want to add a lot more information about the book, source , inventory, costs, whatever, that isn’t accounted for in the ISBN code.

To a bookseller, a book isn’t just its publishing data. It’s also inventory.

Each edition and each version of a book is required to have its own ISBN, and thus, its own UPC. The UPC is inextricably connected to the ISBN.

I just self-published a book, so I had to research the whole issue.

I don’t see how this explains things. Sure there is no price in the code, but if each edition and version must have its own ISBN which is inextricably linked to the UPC, it certainly must be easier to input the price data into the computer so when the ISBN code is scanned, the computer/register knows the price. That saves a great deal of time over stickering each book.

Yeah but all that info can be linked to the barcode the book already had. The question would be, why is a new code issued instead of using the original one.

My customers usually do it with material numbers; if their batch numbers have to be unique in the server, they also change the batch number. The purpose is to avoid having to deal with repeats: if you get two different books from different sources and they had identical barcodes it doesn’t matter, as you’re replacing them anyway. While the use of ISSNs as the identifiers avoids repeats, many of these decisions were taken before ISSNs were fully implemented. The re-barcoding that large bookstore companies do with books may come from similar situations when the decision-makers didn’t think that they could trust their vendors to be fully ISBN-compliant.

I have a vague memory of receiving a hardcover book as a gift; as the laws of awkwardness would have it, it was a book that I already owned. There was no gift receipt with it, so I just took a flyer on the possibility that it had come from a Barnes&Noble, and sauntered into my local B&N to exchange it.

Alas, when the nice lady at the checkout counter scanned it, the computer returned a “declined” message; apparently the book I had been given had a barcode indicating that it had come from an incompatible source, such as a discount mail-order seller, or a book club.

The same thing happened when kaylasmom tried to return a bottle of Michael Kors perfume to Nordstrom (she didn’t care for the fragrance); they couldn’t accept it, because it had been gifted to her through fragrancenet dot com…

But that’s a story about perfume instead of books, so it’s probably not relevant.

I used to work for a logistics company serving publishers - a couple of the things they used to do quite routinely were:

When publishing edition 2, re-use the ISBN of edition 1 (so as to aggregate the sales history into a single thread) - in this case, they would retrospectively assign a new ISBN to the existing stock of edition 1, and overlabel any remaining stock of edition 1 with this ISBN


When publishing edition 2, overlabel some remaining stock of edition 1 with the edition 2 ISBN, so it could be sneaked in and supplied as the current edition in selected markets.

I don’t think either of those things were particular right and proper, but they were very commonplace.

Another thing that would sometimes happen is that a publisher would buy in stocks f some other publisher’s book (often remainders or bankrupt stock) and would overlabel them with a new ISBN so as to have ‘adopted’ them into their own catalogue - probably not necessary, but people still did it.

That’s something I’ve seen before also. Most of the cost in physical production of a book is in the typesetting, editing, and the physical setup for printing - for the print run itself, there isn’t a really huge difference in cost between printing 500,000 copies and a million copies (except that if you do the latter, you then have to find somewhere to store them).
Publishers would often commission a main print run, then a ‘run-on’ secondary print run, on lower-quality paper - one plate (the one with the barcode) can be swapped out for the run-on - and the result is a second batch of incredibly cheap copies (with a different ISBN) that can be dumped into book clubs and other discount markets, perhaps with contract terms to the effect that they can’t be released for sale until some time after the main launch.

I can speak to one defunct chain where I worked in inventory for years: the stickers were for the benefit of store staff during shelving and recovery.

Borders Books (RIP) used secondary stickers that gave staff direction on how to shelve the book (section, author, title). It was an innovation that allowed them to run book megastores without hiring a bunch of people with library science training.
Today, it’s cheap and easy to issue staff PDAs, as B&N does, but before that you had to look items up in a computer before shelving them — or just take a guess/use your judgement. In a store with tens of thousands of ISBNs, the latter wouldn’t work well.