Global Trade Identification Number — a globally unique 14-digit number used to identify trade items, products, or services. Big brother of the familiar Bookland EAN, and lots of other product numbering systems, most of which can be accommodated within the GTIN universe. Just as America appears set to turn anti-global here comes a system designed to be even more universal than previous universal systems managed to be.
Wikipedia has the story. GTIN has its own website. Thus far the full-blown GTIN-14 doesn’t appear to have penetrated inward beyond skid, pallet and carton labelling — the additional digit (the first one) specifies the package level. One of the problems with these sorts of widespread systems is that they may suddenly become essential: when a major customer converts their system to accept GTIN-14, all their suppliers instantly have to comply. Given the advantage of uniformity across previous barcoding systems, ISBN, ISSN, ISMN, IAN, and UPC, one might easily anticipate some massive on-line retailer who deals with a wide range of products, internationally sourced and sold, finding such a system advantageous. If such a behemoth decides it wants GTIN-14 at the product level, GTIN-14 is what they’ll get. And as the GTIN site says “Retailers who wish to accommodate GTIN need to make an important change to current practices because the full 14-digit data string must be processed and stored.” Obviously this means that suppliers will also need to make this “important change”. Lots of additional computer work. More stickering? The GTIN site does imply that a pre-existing EAN might be scannable as a GTIN-14. As they say “Both UPC and EAN have an implied packaging level of a single item”: the ISBN-13 would be read by a GSIN-14 scanner with an assumed first digit of 0.
Don’t get too panicked about the illustration above. There’s no suggestion that we’ll need to go to 74 characters on the back of our books!