What are BISAC codes? How should you use them? Where are they used?
Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) Classification Schemes are used to communicate subject information about a book. This information gets communicated through your ONIX file and is used to help identify where the book should be shelved in a physical store and how it can be found via search or browse in an online store, catalogue or other discovery platform.
BISAC Classification Schemes come in three forms: BISAC Subject Headings, BISAC Merchandising Themes, and BISAC Regional Themes. This post will focus on Subject Headings and Regional Themes.
BISAC Subject Headings
BISAC Subject Headings are the North American standard for describing subject information for your books. Each heading is actually made up of a code and a heading. The code is what is included in the ONIX file and is computer-readable, while the heading is the human-readable version of that code.
Each code is 9-characters long and is made up of 3 letters followed by 6 numbers.
Each heading is broken up into a minimum of 2 and maximum of 4 levels, getting more and more specific as you add levels.
Always make your codes as specific as possible. Using a general code means that your book will only be found when a reader browses in that general category. Specific codes, on the other hand, will be found in both the specific and general browse results—making it easier for readers to find your books.
FIC000000 FICTION / General
FIC009020 FICTION / Fantasy / Epic
If you have a book that is an epic fantasy fiction, it should be classified as FIC009020 FICTION / Fantasy / Epic. (Side note: this is my favourite BISAC Subject Heading. I like to think it’s telling me the book is epic, instead of being an epic, like “Oh, dude, that fantasy fiction book is epic!”). If it’s only classified as general fiction (FIC000000 FICTION / General), readers who are looking specifically for epic fantasy fiction won’t find it in their browse results. The book will only appear if a reader is looking at browse results for fiction in general. So basically, if your reader knows what they want and you haven’t specified that your book is it, they won’t find it. If a reader were looking for an epic fantasy, why would she search general fiction?
BISAC Regional Themes
BISAC Regional Themes can be used when the subject of a book is tied to a specific region. That way, someone who is looking for all books about Vancouver Island can find all books about Vancouver Island.
These themes are numeric and are broken up into 7 levels:
- Level 1 — Continents
- Level 2 — Subcontinents
- Level 3 — Countries
- Level 4 — Subcountry regions
- Level 5 — States, Provinces, Counties
- Level 6 — City, Town, Area
- Level 7 — Borough, Neighborhood, District
18.104.22.168.2.2.0 is Vancouver Island, where:
- Level 1 — Continents = North America (4)
- Level 2 — Subcontinents = 0
- Level 3 — Countries = Canada (2)
- Level 4 — Subcountry regions = 0
- Level 5 — States, Provinces, Counties = British Columbia (2)
- Level 6 — City, Town, Area = Vancouver Island(2)
- Level 7 — Borough, Neighborhood, District = 0
Once again, this information is becoming increasingly important as we discover books digitally—don’t get left behind!