BISG Publishes 2021 Updates to BISAC Subject Headings

Posted By: Brian F. O'Leary Committees,

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) has published the 2021 update to its book publishing subject codes, often referred to as BISAC Subject Headings. Maintained by BISG since 1995, Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) codes have become a core element of book product metadata, enabling systems across the supply chain to recognize and merchandise print and digital books in catalogs and websites, and library and retail systems.

BISAC codes are reviewed and updated annually by members of BISG’s Subject Codes committee, led by Connie Harbison of Baker & Taylor. Suggestions from the industry, submitted by committee members as well as via the website, guided the annual update.

Reviewing the committee’s work, Harbison said, “The 2021 edition, as each of the code lists that preceded it, has been a collaborative effort, and each has been an exercise in documenting the evolution of the industry, from a technical perspective and also in terms of consumer demand for books.”

Though managed, debated, and codified by the BISG Subject Codes Committee, the process for preparing the 2021 update includes contributions from all segments of the book publishing supply chain. The Subject Codes Committee reviewed dozens of suggestions for edits, additions, and codes to be retired.

This year’s update added 94 codes and modified 85 “literals” – the text description of each code -- with 3 inactivations across 30 of the 53 top-level sections. A total of 23 sections had at least one addition to the code list.

Highlights of the 2021 BISAC Subject Headings list include the reorganization of certain sections for better categorization. A HISTORY/Wars & Conflicts tree was created with subheadings that used to be within the HISTORY/Military tree. Additionally, a new three-level tree was created in EDUCATION – EDUCATION/Teaching/Subjects, with 10 existing subheadings headings moved from a previous tree, and three new headings added. Miscellaneous new headings include: Family & Relationships/Parenting/Co-Parenting and Young Adult Fiction / Neurodiversity & Young Adult Nonfiction / Neurodiversity. 

BISG Executive Director Brian O’Leary noted, “The BISAC Subject Codes are all about categorizing books to promote discovery and purchase. Members of the Subject Codes Committee are the unsung heroes behind this effort, which requires a great depth of insight and sensitivity. While most consumers will never know what drives where books are shelved or which titles are returned in online searches, BISAC subject codes are an essential to our business.”

Work on the current update began in October 2020. Public review and comment took place in early November 2021. The BISG Board of Directors approved the recommended updates on December 9, 2021.

The 2021 edition of the subject codes list is now available on the BISG website to browse for free. The list, as a downloadable file, is available free to BISG members and for a fee to non-members, and can be integrated easily into title-management systems or used as an internal reference.