Reminder! The Newest BISAC Subject Headings Version has Arrived

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December 14, 2013


JonathanPerryBy Jonathan Perry, Jared & Perry

[Originally published at Jared & Perry Metadata. Used with permission.]

If I said to you, “it’s that time of year again,” you might eagerly exclaim “Wow! This year’s version of the BISAC Subject Headings have been published!” Well, maybe not; I’m a-thinkin’ you have other things on your mind, as do I. That said, here’s a quick reminder: the Book Industry Study Group has indeed approved and released the 2013 edition. Every year some subjects are added, some tweaked and a few removed. There will be plenty of future posts about subjects, but for now, just remember these few things:

logoWhere are they? Anyone can look up subjects for free, on the BISG’s website at First time doing so? There’s a FAQ section that’s easy and helpful.

These Subject Headings and other helpful material can also be downloaded from that same BISG site. It’s free for BISG members. Non-members have to pay a licensing fee, but I’d actually recommend that you first check out becoming a member. Keep in mind that there may be a nice discount on joining if you belong to certain other organizations such as the IBPA.

When do you care, i.e., can this task wait until January? Most publishers probably could. If, like most publishers, you send metadata downstream but don’t receive it from others, you’re probably fine for a few weeks. That said, please don’t overlook it. I think you’ll find that you really don’t have to do much to be on board with the current headings.

Why do you care? Well, if a subject heading you’ve been using becomes obsolete, and you try to use it on a forthcoming book, then it may well vanish when the metadata (in Excel, ONIX, etc.) you send downstream hits the databases of your biggest customers, who are implementing these changes soon, if not already. More likely, the new and tweaked subjects may be important to you. Do you publish books on “Crowdfunding?” There’s now a heading just for that. Do books on “Spirituality?” Big changes have arrived! They are helpful changes, but you need to know them so you’ll get the benefits and not the headaches.

If you have no idea what I mean by “sending metadata downstream,” have no fear! Feel free to ask your questions in the “Leave a Reply” area of this post and I’d be happy to get back to you. Also, keep in touch with trade associations such as IBPA, BISG, etc. You’ll be amazed at how you can extend your reach.

JonathanPerryAbout the Author: From my first day in my own bookstore, I quickly realized I needed correct information – to find a book for a customer, to order ​inventory from a publisher – to organize my store in a way that made shopping pleasurable and actionable.

While working in bookstore management, and later in sales and sales management for a couple of established publishing companies, I found I was spending up to 25% of my time doing database and metadata work. I chose to do so because many of the books I was trying to sell had such limited information; customers could not find them, much less make a purchase! It was clear to me that without complete, accurate information – metadata – I had problems; and with it, I had happier customers and increased sales.

4 responses to “Reminder! The Newest BISAC Subject Headings Version has Arrived”

  1. David Wogahn says:

    Jonathan, thanks for the heads up. One thing I’ve noticed with eBooks is that categories don’t completely align with BISC categories nor between retailers for that matter. I’m referring here to the self-pub backends for Amazon, BN and Kobo; Apple seems to track pretty closely. Q1: When or will they sync with BISG’s categories? Q2: Does the BISG category list match up any differently with categories available to publishers that do NOT use Amazon’s KDP (i.e. third-party or direct ingestion)?

  2. Mary Shafer says:

    I agree with David. The BISAC codes are great, but nowhere near as helpful as they might be if everyone were using them AND implementing them consistently across the industry. Is anyone reaching out to Amazon to see if they’ll be integrating them into the production process for their CreateSpace and KDP programs? Also, I would like to know more about the best ways to “send this data downstream.”


  3. Len Vlahos says:

    Hi Everyone — Thanks for the great comments/questions. I’m the Executive Director of BISG, and can shed some light here. BISAC Subject Codes are a voluntary industry standard. Many, if not all, large retailers use the BISAC Codes as a basis for identifying content, but then augment those codes based on their own customer intelligence. The retailers consider this augmentation to be a kind of special sauce. This is, of course, one of the challenges of voluntary standards, but we’re still pleased at how widely adopted and used BISAC codes are. If you have questions, feel free to write me ( Thanks!

  4. […] A December 19, 2013 comment from Len Vlahos, who has skin in the game, provides a succinct response: […]

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