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Top 10 Things You Should Know About the 2015 Edition of BISAC

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by Connie Harbison, Chair, BISG BISAC Committee —

Connie Harbison

The BISAC Subject Headings are an industry-approved list of terms used to describe the content of a book. They were developed to standardize the transfer of subject information between trading partners (e.g., publishers to data aggregators; data aggregators to customers; publishers to retailers). The first version of the BISAC Subject Headings was issued around 1995. The list is reviewed annually, and a new edition is issued every year.

The 2015 Edition of the BISAC Subject Headings addresses the industry’s call for the separation of young adult headings from the juvenile sections. With the growth of the young adult market, there has been an increasing awareness of a need felt by many different quarters of the industry to classify young adult as such. Making changes to BISAC is viewed as an opportunity to increase discoverability and better identify those titles intended for the young adult audience.

Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) Subject Codes Committee maintains the BISAC subject headings, merchandising themes, and regional themes, and provides guidance on the implementation and use of the lists by publishers, retailers, and other interested parties. The Subject Committee is comprised of volunteers representing all segments of the book industry. The committee includes representatives from publishers, retailers, wholesalers, and data aggregators. Participation in the committee is open to all BISG members.


A meme created by Subject Codes Committee Chair, Connie Harbison. Bet you never thought you'd see a BISAC meme!

A meme created by Subject Codes Committee Chair, Connie Harbison. Bet you never thought you’d see a BISAC meme!

The 2015 Edition of the BISAC Subject Codes was released by BISG in December 2015. This marks the 21st edition of the BISAC Subject Codes.


The new edition contains more than 500 new headings and 75 literal changes. Twenty-nine sections had at least one heading added, with 10 new headings added in the fiction section. These changes are the result of almost 50 hours of discussion among representatives from all segments of the book industry, including booksellers, publishers, wholesalers, data aggregators, and industry metric providers. The addition of these new sections and headings is due to the declarations from the industry that young adult/teen content would benefit from its own subject classification.


Vampires now have their own heading! The committee has responded to a number of requests received over the years by adding the heading FICTION/Romance/Paranormal/Vampires (FIC027320).

For this edition, the committee has limited the supernatural species in this tree to vampires and shifters. That is by no means a slight toward werewolves, zombies, and angels. We reviewed both the heading requests and the amount of example ISBNs received from industry representatives. At this time, we decided to limit our additions. This does not mean that additional species will not be added in future editions.


The new edition contains a heading for adult coloring books (GAMES/Activity Books (incl. Coloring Books) (GAM019000)).

Adult coloring books are the hottest trend. Not only are they said to relieve stress, but their sale continues to increase. As a result, the industry is seeing more of these books being published each season. This new code will allow data senders and recipients to easily identify these titles and be overall less stressed about consumers discovering them.


There are two new sections for Young Adults: YOUNG ADULT FICTION and YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION. 446 of the new headings are from these two sections.

This change will provide a standard for age range distinction between “children” and “young adult,” as well as allow for more granular sales analysis of juvenile titles. This addition does not, however, supersede the need for supplying an audience and age/grade range in your data. In fact, it makes it even more important that data senders supply data recipients that information.


The Subject Committee is recommending specific age/grade demarcations for these new sections.



The Subject Committee is recommending that users comply with suggested best practices for these two new sections.

For content that spans age or grade ranges, the user must decide for which audience the material is better suited—children or young adults. The committee often heard comments that users wanted to mix the new young adult headings with “adult” headings for those titles that have appeal to readers over the age of 18. (For example, users expressed the desire to use both YAF and FIC headings on titles.) Note that the Subject Committee does not endorse this as a best practice.

Because the committee’s stance is that the young adult headings should not be used with headings outside of their own section, we cannot guarantee that data recipients will not modify BISAC subjects in violation of that best practice.


The Subject Committee has created a mapping table to assist you in reclassifying your young adult titles.

The mapping table is a basic one-to-one mapping from the JUV and JNF BISAC Codes (both 2014 and 2015 Editions) to the new YAF and YAN BISAC Codes (2015 Edition). It is intended for those who would like to programmatically move the BISAC subject codes of all young adult titles in their database from JUV or JNF codes to YAF or YAN codes. Users who are moving titles manually can also use the mapping as a reference. This table is available from BISG.


BISG and the Subject Committee recommended that BISAC users be ready to send and receive codes from the 2015 Edition by January 31. Failure to adopt the new edition by this date may have resulted in data corruption.


The BISAC Subject Committee is available to field any questions on the new edition. Have suggestions for the 2016 Edition? We are already hard at work on it! Feel free to contact us at connie.harbison@baker-taylor.com.

Connie Harbison has been involved in the book industry for more than 25 years, starting as a trade book buyer in one of Barnes & Noble’s college bookstores. She was with RR Bowker for 13 years, working with data integration and quality. For the past 10 years, Harbison has worked as director of Quality Assurance for Baker & Taylor. She has served as chairman of the BISAC Subject Committee for the past 11 years. Harbison holds a master’s degree in English literature from The Catholic University of America and a master of library science from Rutgers University.

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