When submitting your title data to various retailers, you may be asked to supply subject codes. These codes allow consumers to understand what your book is about and they allow retailers to group your book with other similar titles for browsing and recommendation functions within their site. Here are some details on various subject code schemas and where to learn more:
General Subjects (BISAC): The BISAC subject heading list was developed in the early 1990’s by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) as a way for members of the book industry to communicate subjects electronically (BISG was then known as Book Industry Standards and Communications and the BISAC list has retained this acronym). While originally envisioned as shelving guidance (with the major sections of BISAC modeled after those in a bookstore), the list has grown with the industry and is now used across all platforms to provide subject searching and access. Issued annually, there are over 3800 nine-character alphanumeric codes and related subjects, offering two, three or four levels of detail (e.g., HIS036050 is the code for "HISTORY / United States / Civil War Period (1850-1877)"). There are 52 major sections which are further broken down as in the above example. The BISAC subjects listed in this section have been assigned by Bowker. Further information is available at the BISG website.
General Subjects (BIC): First released in 1997 by Book Industry Communication, this schema provides roughly the same function for the UK book trade as BISAC does for the United States and Canada. However, BIC has a different structure than BISAC, in that the list of over 2600 subjects can be appended using over 900 codes from five different qualifier lists (Geographical, Languages, Time Period, Educational Purpose, and Interest Age & Special Interest). So while the level of detail is hard-coded into BISAC subjects, for BIC the combinations are created as needed (e.g., the code HBJK/1KBB/3JH represents the combination of “History of the Americas” from the subject list, USA from the geographical list, and “1800 to c 1900” from the Time Period list). BIC subjects are updated as needed based on feedback from the UK book industry. Further information is available at the BIC website.
Bowker Subjects: Providing very detailed subject access, Bowker subjects are a proprietary schema used within the Bowker Books In Print product that utilizes the same phrasing and structure as the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). There are over 80K subjects available consisting of either a heading (e.g., HIGH-PROTEIN DIET) or a heading with subdivision(s) appended via an underscore (e.g., UNITED STATES_HISTORY_CIVIL WAR, 1861-1865_BATTLEFIELDS). These are constantly updated to reflect new headings and changes in LCSH style and format. Bowker assigns these subjects to as many ISBNs as possible, not just those that have been catalogued by LC.
Sears Subjects: Sears subjects were introduced in 1923 by Minnie Earl Sears in response for demands by small libraries for a simplified and compact version of the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). The major differences between Sears and LCSH are that Sears avoids inverted headings (e.g., “American Art” rather than “Art, American”) and uses phrasing more commonly heard or accepted in everyday conversation (e.g., “Native Americans” rather than “Indians of North America”). The full list of headings is updated roughly every three years when a new edition is published. You can learn more at the ALA website.