How to Obtain a Magazine Barcode

If you plan to sell your magazine then you must have a Universal Product Code! The UPC is better known as a barcode and is mandatory in order to get a distributor for your magazine. The UPC began with the supermarket industry, which studied the application and economics of using a standard and universal product number to distinctively designate each item as it passed through various distribution channels-from manufacturer to wholesaler/distributor to retailer.They also developed an optically scannable bar code symbol to represent the numbers and identify the item at the checkout for automatic look-up of the price.

What most start up magazine publishers fail to realize is that obtaining a barcode is a two part process. First you need to apply for a BIPAD and then you can apply for a UPC. In addition, barcodes must be properly coded with the correct “ad-on-codes.” As the publisher, you are ultimately responsible for the accurate coding of your barcode. If the ad-on-codes are done improperly, it could cost you thousands of dollars! My book, The Magazine Barcode Brief (available at my website) is designed to facilitate the use of the Universal Product Code and its symbol on magazines and related publication products distributed through wholesale distributors and sold at scanning retail locations in the United States and Canada. It thoroughly explains the application process so you can obtain your UPC in the quickest manner possible. I also include an overview on proper barcode placement, tolerances and ad-on-codes. Finally, there is even a BIPAD application form so you can get a jumpstart on the process!

So you want to start a magazine? Well, if you’re a novice to magazine publishing, initially you may be somewhat overwhelmed by the intricacies of launching a new title. However, there is one aspect of starting a magazine that’s pretty easy and straightforward. One big decision you will have to make as a new publisher is whether or not you plan to have a paid or free distributed magazine.  I won’t go into detail here about all the factors that one should consider before making such an momentous decision, as it is certainly a subject voluminous enough for an article, if not two, all by itself. Be that as it may, if you’ve decided to have a paid publication (with a cover price) and will utilize the services of a paid distributor, then you have to obtain a BIPAD and a Universal Product Code (UPC) or barcode. Due to the computerized nature of magazine distribution, retail outlets, supermarket chains and the like, magazine distributors cannot handle magazines that don’t possess UPC technology. The important thing to remember here is that obtaining a UPC, henceforth referred to as a barcode, is in effect a two-part process; first you will need to apply for and obtain a BIPAD number and subsequently a barcode.      

A BIPAD, in a nutshell, is a unique five-digit number that is given to a magazine for the purposes of insertion (encoding) into a barcode. It’s perhaps best to think of a BIPAD as your magazine’s social security number that will be utilized by your distributor and retail outlets that carry your publication for identification, inventory and tracking purposes. I will discuss in more detail about BIPAD coding and barcode symbols a little later on.

The BIPAD numbering system is overseen by BIPAD, Inc. with the administrative and issuance duties handled by Harrington Associates located in Norwalk, Connecticut. The minimum processing and administration fee for a BIPAD is $300 dollars. There is a sliding fee scale based upon the number of BIPADs that are required. Since each BIPAD issued is unique to the publication that it’s issued for, as alluded to earlier, it is only necessary to have one BIPAD per publication or individual title that will have separate distribution records maintained by distributors and/or wholesalers. If you plan to launch two or more titles under the same business name and/or corporation, then each title will require its own BIPAD number. Unlike the add on codes, that will be encoded into the barcode, BIPAD numbers are never altered and do not have to be obtained for each issue of your publication. The BIPAD application is simple and straightforward and should take only ten minutes or less to fill out. Once completed, the application can be faxed, emailed or mailed to Harrington Associates. If you opt to make your payment by credit card, once Harrington Associates receives your completed application, it is possible to receive your BIPAD number the same day. Bear in mind that, due to the sheer quantity of applications that Harrington Associates receives, a more likely scenario is that it will take two to five business days in order for your application to be processed and it may even take up to a week to receive your final confirmation. Once you receive your BIPAD, you will now be able to apply for a barcode.

As mentioned previously, UPC technology began with the supermarket industry, which studied the application and economics of using a standard and universal product number to distinctively designate each item as it passed through various distribution channels-from manufacturer to wholesaler/distributor to retailer. Because of the dependence of the magazine publishing industry on sales in supermarkets, it was obvious that this symbol would be necessary on the cover of magazines and could also have an application and economic benefit in the system of distribution for various magazine titles. Barcodes enable faster, more accurate and complete returns processing and speeds up dramatically the collection of intermediate and final sale data by wholesalers.

While there are several issuers of barcodes in the United States, I highly recommend that you obtain yours from PIPS, Inc. PIPS, which stands for Product Identification and Processing Systems, is located in New York and is one of the oldest companies in the US specializing in bar coding technology. Many of their clients are magazine publishers and as such, PIPS is quite knowledgeable about barcode tolerances and the proper placement of bar codes on magazines. In addition, and probably just as important, they provide prompt and reliable service and can deliver barcodes via email in a matter of hours. Before PIPS, or any other barcode provider, can issue your barcode, they will need the following information:


  • Title name
  • Frequency
  • Issue
  • Cover Price

Once you provide PIPS with this information, they will then be able to issue your barcode. The cost of a barcode is around $35 dollars, is usually delivered via email in an EPS (Encapsulated Post Script) file and can be applied for and received in the same day. The EPS insures the integrity of the barcode across various platforms, i.e. Mac or PC and is unchangeable once created. Now that you have your BIPAD and barcode, you’re in business! Now, wasn’t that easy?