Decoding the Codes; or, Why and How to Speak the Standard Book-Category Language

June 2005
by Jenny McCune

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BISAC subject codes.

Just reading the phrase may make you want to tune out. But don’t turn this page. While these headings might strike some of you as just a necessary evil because they’re required by wholesalers and retailers, using them wisely will help you connect with your readers.

Sometimes publishers “don’t understand what the advantages are to them or their trading partners,” says Wendell Lotz, a vice president of product database development at the Ingram Book Company. “They’ve just been told to do this, not why.”

Yes, BISAC codes are much duller reading than The DaVinci Code (or Balzac, for that matter), but they do serve an important purpose, just like international street signs for “Do Not Enter” and “Stop,” which ensure that traffic flows smoothly and without accident, whether or not a driver knows the local lingo.

The idea behind the BISAC Subject Heading Lists is the same as the idea behind those international traffic signs: create a universal language. In the case of BISAC, the language is in the form of category codes, which communicate information about individual books so that consumers, booksellers, and any other interested parties can find needles in the haystack without having to sift through all that hay. More formally, in the words of Jeff Abraham, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, “BISAC Subject Codes provide trading partners with a co…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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