In a move that will help retailers and librarians more easily find and shelve children's and young adult graphic novels, the Book Industry Study Group will offer expanded options for BISAC codes and subject headings for the kids’ graphic novel category. BISAC codes are the standard descriptors for different types of books and are used throughout the publishing and bookselling industry.
Beginning in January 2017 the new BISAC subject headings will include 11 new graphic novel headings for the Juvenile Fiction category, two for Juvenile Nonfiction, 13 for Young Adult Fiction (with science fiction and fantasy split into two separate headings) and two for Young Adult Nonfiction
Matthew Poulter, director of membership for the Children’s Book Council, said the new BISAC codes were suggested by the CBC's Graphic Novel Advisory Group and will allow publishers to describe the content of graphic novels more precisely.
"The current BISAC codes governing children's graphic novels seemed to be inadequate to cover the wealth of titles being published properly," Poulter said. "Children’s graphic novels make up about 15% of total graphic novel sales and are the fastest-growing segment of the graphic novel industry. More graphic novels are being published for kids and teens and the codes pertaining to this genre were not necessarily keeping pace with this growth."
The alphanumeric BISAC codes correspond with a specific list of 53 subject headings. Since 2002, adult comics and graphic novels have had their own first-level headings: Comics & Graphic Novels / Manga / Historical Fiction, for instance.
The Juvenile Fiction category has 43 headings for fiction about animals alone, while it has only four subcategories for comics and graphic novels. The expansion of BISAC codes for children's and YA graphic novels follows a larger overall expansion of children’s BISAC categories, earlier this year.
"The new codes allow graphic novel publishers to categorize their titles more accurately," Poulter said. The codes will help publishers produce sales comparisons when acquiring new titles and to study the performance of their backlists. Most importantly, Poulter added, “it helps publishers to communicate to retailers, at a glance, what their book is about and how and where it should be positioned."
For retailers, the codes are helpful in buying and shelving books. "Accurate BISAC codes help retailers – perhaps online retailers specifically – to make accurate recommendations to customers, based on past interest," said Poulter. "Many online retailers also allow customers to search by subject, which will be improved with expanded subject headings."
Sven Larsen, v-p for marketing at the children's graphic novel publisher Papercutz, added that the new codes will help librarians as well. "It will allow libraries to find 'like' graphic novels more easily, tie-in to initiatives like 'Summer Reading,' and make more informed decisions about where titles are shelved in their libraries," he said. "In addition, the new BISAC codes will allow Nielsen and other industry observers to provide a better picture of the category as a whole."
Publishers can assign several codes to a book, Poulter explained, so they will not need to recode older books, as the codes are additions, not replacements. Nevertheless, Larsen said publishers may want to recode older titles: the new codes make it much easier to identify books for specialty lists such as the CBC Diversity listing or for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens listing.
"I’m sure many will update their metadata on older titles to reflect the new code structure," he said.