Understanding the Difference Between BISAC Codes & Amazon Categories

When books are published, they need to be classified into specific genres and subcategories so that bookstores and consumers can best find them. Two of the primary means of classification are BISAC codes and Amazon categories. A great deal of confusion surrounds these two systems and the differences between them, but they each serve a specific purpose for different groups of people. 

The BISAC code is used by the publishing industry to properly categorize books based on their topical content.  This code helps a librarian or bookstore employee to shelve the book in the proper location.  By placing the book on the shelf with other books of similar content, it allows readers looking for that specific topic to easily find the book, which increases the opportunity for the book to be borrowed or purchased.

A mislabeled book that is not shelved properly will struggle to find its audience.  An improperly shelved book is understandably less likely to sell and more likely to sit on the shelf, which leads to returns and disappointment for all parties involved.

In addition to retail usage, wholesalers use BISAC codes to understand how many titles of a particular genre they are carrying.  During different times of year, wholesalers want to weight their inventory with certain genres.  For example, during the summer, wholesalers carry more fiction and children’s activity books than nonfiction.  They may also carry more self-help and business in January and February than children’s books or cookbooks.  Accurate BISAC codes allow the wholesaler to properly monitor their inventory and maximize seasonal sales.  

While BISAC codes help the publishing industry to classify content, the genres are not very specific.  A book that has a more narrow subject matter might therefore be forced into a broader, more generic category.

Amazon categories, on the other hand, are very specific.  They are meant to help Amazon’s online consumers find just the book they are looking for.  Amazon’s inventory is so large that a consumer cannot easily browse through a general topic section and find the specific book they want.  Instead, they tend to search for books using keywords. Using very specific keyword tags allows Amazon to streamline their database, to make their search function more effective, and to help consumers find the ideal book.  

This specificity gives authors much more leeway than they would have with BISAC categories. Amazon book categories can also be changed at any time, which allows for some experimentation and testing.  Amazon categories do not need to match BISAC codes.  

Because BISAC codes and Amazon categories are separate, they must both be chosen with care.  BISAC codes allow the publishing industry to understand what type of book it is and where to shelve it in a bookstore, while the Amazon categories help the consumer to find the book through searches online. While they require different strategies, both are crucial to maximizing the visibility of the book.