In this installment of The Metadata Mindset, we will tackle the often intimidating topic of BISACs (subject codes). Online customers browse through categories and typically search for “similar” titles. Choosing the right set of subjects garners visibility, accessibility, and makes it easier for customers to find your titles. Although that pesky alpha-numeric system may seem pointless, it is actually one of the most important aspects of your metadata!
Why You Need BISAC Subject Codes
To be perfectly honest, they are mandatory. Besides the required aspect, BISAC subject codes are an essential cornerstone of your metadata. These three-letter, six-digit codes are translated into categories on retailers’ websites and are used to “shelve” your title in the correct locations on their storefronts.
Not only do they determine which landing page your title will appear on, they are also crucial in marketing strategies for most major retailers. For example, if your books are all “Romance”, but only use FIC000000 (Fiction / General) as a BISAC, they won’t be picked up for any retailer sponsored Romance sales and page placement.
How many BISACs?
We recommend that you use up to four BISAC codes for classifying your book. Select one primary BISAC that best encompasses your title’s essence. After that, add no more than three additional codes that most closely relate.
Does order matter?
Yes! The first BISAC listed in your metadata will be considered your primary subject category by retailers. Some retailers will only pick up your primary BISAC—so make it count! Since not all retailers pick up the same number of BISACs, we suggest that you use a more general category first, followed by a more specific category, and then alternate again for the third and fourth categories.
As the Book Industry Study Group points out in their Best Practices for Product Metadata (see below): “Generally, all subjects should be listed in their order of importance.”
General Tips and Tricks
Be smart: Choose only subject codes that actually relate to the content of your book. Loosely related codes will bring up your title in searches that don’t fit and will ultimately confuse or annoy customers. Retailers also may reject titles with unrelated subject codes, or potentially place them in categories you feel don’t quite match your preference.
Age Groups: Select BISACs from either the Adult or Juvenile categories, but do not mix. For titles with Juvenile classification, provide an Age Range for readers where possible.
Unclassified: NEVER choose NON000000 (Non-Classifiable) as your BISAC. There is a right choice for your title, but this is not it! Some retailers will also reject titles with this BISAC.
Audience: Know your readers. If you’re aiming to snag scholarly readers, consider using Medical, Science, or Psychology for your titles in those categories. On the other hand, if your audience is typically from the general population, use their popular equivalents: i.e. Health & Fitness, Nature, Self-Help, etc.
Check this out! INscribe Recommended Reads & Downloads:
Book Industry Study Group, Inc. Best Practices for Product Metadata: Guide for North American Data Senders and Receivers. Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (2013). PDF. Accessed: Jan. 30, 2014. http://www.bisg.org/docs/MetadataBP-2013.pdf
Book Industry Study Group, Inc. “Product Metadata Best Practices.” Accessed: Jan. 30, 2014. http://www.bisg.org/what-we-do-21-8-product-metadata-best-practices.php
Book Industry Study Group, Inc. “BISAC Subject Headings List, Major Subjects.” Accessed: Jan. 30, 2014. http://www.bisg.org/what-we-do-0-136-bisac-subject-headings-list-major-subjects.php
Renée Register and Thad McIlory. The Metadata Handbook: A Book Publisher’s Guide to Creating and Distributing Metadata for Print and Ebooks. Columbus, OH: DATAcurate, LLC. 2012. PDF.