About UPCs or Bar Codes
by Scott Cullins
UPCs, or Universal Product Codes, are used to generate the printed bar codes used on the covers of magazines and hundreds of other retail products. UPCs enable retailers to identify your product and price during checkout, and automate the task of inventory control.
Like Web site domain names, UPCs are governed and managed by one organization, to ensure that that no two manufacturers (or publishers) have the same code, and that optical/graphic standards are maintained. GS1 US is the name of this organization, and you can get the ball rolling by visiting their website. Once you secure your unique UPC, you will be able to assign variations of the basic code to identify as many as 100 unique products.
Some specialized distributors like to have you use their bar codes, but personally, I recommend avoiding that if possible. Using a distributors UPC locks you into doing business exclusively with that distributor. Publishers must have the freedom to work with multiple distributors.
You can purchase software to manage your UPC and output bar code graphics but, in my experience, it's easier to contact a bar code service provider and have them generate the bar code. For less than $20, a service provider will email your code in an EPS graphic format. For companies with multiple codes and large numbers of products, it make sense to have the capability of outputting your own graphics. For magazine startups and many publishers in general, it's easier and more cost efficient to use a service provider.
Service providers will want to know what the annual frequency and specific issue of your magazine. This information is also built into the code. Basically, your magazine has one product code, and a suffix code that helps retailers identify which issue they have sold.
Scott Cullins has been in the publishing business for more than 18 years. He is the founder and principal of Canyon Media, a company that provides magazine design, production and launch consulting for startups, publishers and corporate clients. Email Scott now.
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