ISBN Information

The EAN System

The EAN System

By Bill Pearce. Posted on Friday, May 11, 2007 - last reviewed and updated on Friday, March 15, 2013.

From 1st January, 2007 all new ISBNs are 13-digits in length and will be integrated into the larger group of product numbering known as EAN used for products that are retailed internationally. Originally EAN meant European Article Number, but since international adoption it officially means International Article Number, but the abbreviation EAN is retained.

The EAN system, despite originating in Europe, has been adopted throughout the world, but largely excluding North America where the predominant, but very similar system called Universal Product Code (UPC), is used. The UPC is a 12-digit number that uniquelly identifies a product. In order to faciltate global trade, an initiative known as 2005 Sunrise amalgamated the two systems of the UPC and the EAN.

EAN, or to give it its full name, EAN-13 uses 13-digits to uniquely identify retail products worldwide. The 13-digits are logically divided into 4 groups. The groups are, from left to right, the system code, used to identify the manufacturers country; the manufacturer code; the product code; and the check digit.

  • System Code. This is the leftmost 2 or 3 digits and generally identifies the country of the manufacturer. This should not be assumed to be the country in which the product is manufactured. In the case of the ISBN, the system code of either 978 or 979 is used to signify a fictitious land where books come from, namely Bookland. By this simple expedient, the formerly 10-digit ISBN system has been subsumed into the 13-digit EAN system.
  • Manufacturer Code. This comprises the next 4 or 5 digits and identifies the manufacturer of the product. If the System Code is 2 digits, then the Manufacturer Code will be 5 digits. If the System Code is 3 digits, then the Manufacturer Code will be 4 digits.
  • Product Code. This comprises the next 5 digits and uniquely identifies the product within that product manufacturer’s output.
  • Check Digit. This is used to help identify errors in code transcription and capture. For a discussion of the manner in which the check digit is calculated and how to confirm the validity of a EAN-13 or ISBN-13, see the Anatomy of a 13-digit ISBN page.

For more information about the EAN system and also about the Universal Product Code system, please click here to visit our sister site UPC EAN Information.