ISBN Information - The EAN System

By Bill Pearce. Posted on Friday, May 11, 2007 - last reviewed and updated on Monday, March 16, 2015.

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. EAN is administered by GS1, the global standards organisation.

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.

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.