UPC/EAN lookup

So if you have an ISBN, there are a variety of places you can look up what it represents, as discussed in the last post.

Books (at least for the past 40 some years) have ISBNs.  But what about media (from the past few decades) other than books, like CD’s and DVD’s?  They’ve got a barcode, but it’s not an ISBN. It’s a UPC (which is now actually called an EAN or a UCC-13).  The same system used on any barcoded retail items you find at the store. Although, sadly, unlike ISBNs, EAN’s from CD’s, DVD’s etc aren’t typically recorded in our bibliographic records (why not??).

I don’t know of any great way free/cheap way to look up a EAN and figure out what it’s for.  I don’t even know if there’s a database of such somewhere that if you have enough money you can access, or if blocks of EAN’s are just divied out to vendors, and there’s no central authority tracking how they use them.

But someone just brought my attention to upcdatabase.com, which is a community volunteer updated database of some UPCs.   I was told it even has an API, although I haven’t been able to find it. But it looks like you can download an entire db dump if you want it.

Testing a few random CD’s from my collection, it’s coverage isn’t very good though. Which isn’t that shocking, since it’s volunteer compiled and there are millions (billions?) of EANs out there.

similar www.checkupc.com. Seems to have better coverage, but doens’t share their data. (Wonder if they’re getting it from a licensed source instead of volunteer submissions).

Hmm, if anyone would have a db of many many EANs, I’d think it would be Amazon, but I don’t think their API reveals that functionality. Actually, it looks like maybe it does. Darn, but if I start using that it’s really going to be irreplacable if Amazon takes their API away from me.

And wait a second, it looks like here’s a free resource from the identifier assigning authority itself, although no API. Wonder how mad they’d get (or what counter-measures they’d take) if I screen scraped.http://gepir.gs1.org/V31/xx/gtin.aspx?Lang=en-US. But strangely, it’s coverage doens’t seem to be as good as checkupc.com’s.

Okay, it turns out I don’t know much about what’s out there. Anyone know more? Is there a good reliable free/cheap source of EAN/UPC lookup?


29 thoughts on “UPC/EAN lookup”

  1. Don’t know if they do it already, but discogs and musicbrainz would be the first place where I’d look for cd identifiers at least. Yes, it’s not as good as upc/ean lookup for all media, but I don’t know any sites yet that offer that ;).

  2. Do discogs and/or musicbrainz have upc/ean for CD’s, or you’re just suggesting using their own local identifiers instead?

    How widespread is the use of musicbrainz or discogs identifiers on the net on third party sites? Do you have examples of sites that use musicbrainz identifiers that aren’t musicbrainz, etc?

    But yeah, i’ve still got this fantasy about scanning barcodes on media items and using that as an entry point to a link resolver. Only the upc/ean will do in that particular story.

  3. I’m saying I seem to remember discogs or musicbrainz having upc/ean for cds. Not sure if you can look stuff up with them, but if you’re desperate it might be a good place to start.

  4. EAN’s from CD’s, DVD’s etc aren’t typically recorded in our bibliographic records (why not??).

    I spent a semester as a sound recording cataloging intern while working on my MLS, and I asked that very question. I learned that the bar code isn’t nearly so useful as it might seem at first glance. Publishers will often reuse UPCs/EANs (much as they do with ISBNs), but the bigger issue is multiple numbers for the same item. A publisher may distribute a CD with one bar code to the east coast, and the same CD with a different bar code to the west coast.

    You’re likely to have more consistency using the publisher number found on most CDs (see field 028). It has some of the same problems as UPC/EAN/ISBN/etc., but music catalogers seem to agree that it’s the more useful identifier for a sound recording.

  5. MusicBrainz includes multiple barcodes for an item. Of course, there’s no guarantee that it will have EVERY barcode.

    But lately, I think having _some_ identifier is a lot better than having none. I think it would be very useful to have the barcode of the cataloged item in the record, even if that same title likely also has many other barcodes. It’s still a hook — for instance, a hook into MusicBrainz to find some other barcodes.

    But yeah, publisher and publisher catalog number (also both included in MusicBrainz) would certainly also be useful. I’m not sure the publisher’s catalog number is usually there either. But you say it is often is, in 028? That’s useful. I think you can look that up in MusicBrainz too, although searching on a more-or-less uncontrolled publisher name is always going to be a bit iffy.

    But any identifier is better than no identifier — we don’t need to think that it’s all or nothing.

  6. Please note that UPCs and EANs are two different numbers. They are not the same thing. Some items may have both numbers on them. Either of these numbers can be put in an 024 field and the indicators used to indicate which of the two it is. Unfortunately, most automation systems don’t seem to make use of this field for searching.

  7. I’ve been having trouble figuring out the difference between EAN and UPC.

    But my latest understanding was that if you simply take a UPC and pre-pend a 0 to it, you have a legal EAN — the check digit even stays the same. UPC is a subset of EAN, and usually written without the initial 0 which would be necessary to make it a legal EAN, but things were designed intentionally so that a UPC was essentially a valid EAN if you just add an initial 0. Obviously then only EAN’s beginning with 0 can be converted to a UPC, the others do not live in UPC land.

    That would imply that it’s pretty easy to tell if a thing is an EAN or a UPC. If it’s 13 digits, it’s an EAN-13. If it’s an EAN-13 and begins with 0, it can be converted to a UPC. If it’s 12 digits, it’s a UPC, and can always be converted to an EAN.

    Am I wrong?

  8. Interesting, thanks Chris. At the very bottom of that page it says “powered by Amazon® Web Services”. While that could just mean cloud storage and such, I think it’s actually using the Amazon API/db to do it’s lookup. (That it allows lookup by ASIN is another hint).

    If true, this would mean it’s possibly violating Amazon’s ToS, and might get shut down if it started getting significant traffic, and also that it can give you no more and no less than Amazon’s API can directly.

  9. Hey there. Did you find any solutions yet? I’m searching for a free GTIN/EAN-Database of mainly German products. Impossible to imagine that there’s nothing like that on the net …

  10. http://www.upcdatabase.com now required payment for searches. $5 = 500
    http://www.checkupc.com seems quite good but not terribly current nor many international codes
    http://www.icollectmedia.com looks pretty solid for movies etc .
    http://www.MonsterUPC.com no longer exists
    http://www.2d-barcode-scanners.com is an advertising linker
    http://www.dukten.com seems to be very limited
    http://www.itemlookup.net limited for products
    upc-search.org is pretty good
    ean-search.org better

  11. Thanks schworak. Any links to documentation of the API or data downloads, having trouble finding it? Ah, I found the data downloads; are they free, or at a charge?

  12. On Worldcat, you seem to be able to search for 024s by doing “sn:” and then the number. This doesn’t look like it’s in the Worldcat basic api though, but maybe one of the other ones just available to libraries might be able to search the 024?

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