We all know by now that Amazon browse categories are fundamentally important to selling books, and to attaining coveted best-seller status for our books. However, these browse categories can and do change each year, and we need to be aware that there are multiple category lists. This article will help you understand the recent major changes and provide guidance for monitoring and changing categories.
Summary advice: visit each store or distributor that sells your books and make sure they are in the right categories. This is especially true if you write for children. There were more than 500 new BISAC Subject Codes implemented in 2016 and of these, 446 apply to the new top-level Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction categories. By comparison, there were only 124 changes for 2014. You can find the complete 2015 BISAC Subject Heading list here.
What are BISAC Subject Codes and why are they important?
BISAC Subject Codes are published by the Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit publishing industry research group. Amazon—and many others such as Barnes & Noble, Ingram, Bowker and most major publishers—use and follow the category recommendations of BISG.
Each year, the various stakeholders review, discuss and recommend updates to subject categories in an effort to better match categories to how people search for books. Categories are added, deactivated, renamed and even reactivated in an effort to improve the discovery of books—both online and in physical bookstores. The 2016 update, approved in 2015, was the largest in 10 years. (This is a good article on the changes.)
Implementing the 2015 subject headings
Many of you reading this may have just a handful of books. Large publishers obviously have thousands. Then there are all the distributors, eBook aggregators and of course the retailers that sell the books. The point is that it takes time for a change this large to ripple through the industry. Changes of this magnitude are still being implemented even as you read this (and some books may never be properly reclassified).
That’s why it is so important that you periodically monitor the available categories and make changes as needed.
Another important point to be aware of is that the categories and their names are simply recommendations. I’ll use “children” categories as an example since it was most impacted this year. BISG separated Young Adult (ages 12-18; grades 7-12) from Juvenile (ages 0-11; preschool-grade 6). Here is how it impacted the humor category for these two age ranges:
- YAN028000 YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION / Humor
- JNF028000 JUVENILE NONFICTION / Humor / General
- JNF028010 JUVENILE NONFICTION / Humor / Comic Strips & Cartoons
- JNF028020 JUVENILE NONFICTION / Humor / Jokes & Riddles
As I said, these are simply recommendations. Now let’s look at how these are implemented at the largest online book retailer.
Amazon has essentially 5 groups of subject categories you should be aware of
Like any retailer, Amazon wants to sell books so it is in their best interest to help readers find them. To accomplish this the Amazon store has one set of shopping categories for physical books (books) and a slightly different group of shopping categories for Kindle eBooks.
Publishers that use KDP, CreateSpace, or Amazon Advantage have three category structures into which they can place books. These category lists do not perfectly align with the Amazon store categories! And for that matter, they do not always align with the BISAC subject headings.
A quick primer on picking categories
Before you choose a category for publishing your book, visit the store (as a shopper) and identify the ideal categories for your book. Do this for each format—print and Kindle, and don’t forget Audible for audiobooks—and write down the browse path.
Continuing with the young adult/juvenile example from above, we see that Amazon instead uses the reader-friendly term “Children” to help guide shoppers.
For example, the browse path for a print book of jokes for children would be:
- Books : Children’s Books : Humor : Jokes & Riddles
The same book in the Kindle store would be in the below category because there is no Jokes & Riddles category under Humor:
- Kindle eBooks : Children’s eBooks : Humor
Interestingly, in KDP, the appropriate category is called:
- JUVENILE NONFICTION > Humor > Jokes & Riddles
Is Amazon planning to add a Jokes & Riddles subcategory under Humor in the Kindle eBook store? Who knows! That’s the point, you need to monitor and manage this.
What if you cannot find a store category in KDP, CreateSpace, or Advantage?
- KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing Categories. Select non-classifiable and then email the AuthorCentral support team with the name of the store category you want for your book. You can choose a maximum of two.
- CreateSpace. Select a single category from the pull down and email or call CreateSpace, or AuthorCentral, to add a second category. You can also paste in the BISAC code and CreateSpace will fill in the corresponding category. (Image below)
- Advantage. In my experience, selecting categories in the Advantage interface is the most challenging. In this case don’t hesitate to email the Advantage team to make the changes for you.
Don’t forget that certain KDP categories have keyword requirements
Wouldn’t you know that opportunity attracts scammers? Presumably to thwart attempts to game the search engine, Amazon has implemented required keywords for certain categories.
For example, in order for a book to appear in the category “Teen & Young Adult Mystery/Science Fiction”, you must use at least one of the keywords “science fiction” or “dystopian”.
As of now there are 16 root categories in the US store and 5 in the UK store with keyword requirements. By root I mean top level categories such as History, Romance, Textbooks, etc. If your book is in one of these categories you need to enter at least one required keyword in the KDP keyword field for your book to appear in your intended category.
Also check Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo—everywhere you sell
If that isn’t complex enough, you should also look at the categories available for your books in the other stores where you are selling. As noted above, each has their own timetable for implementation as well as naming convention and number of allowed categories.
Your life may be simplified somewhat if you use an aggregator such as Smashwords, Bookbaby, Draft2Digital, etc., but even then you are one step removed from controlling this yourself. Be sure to read the “5 questions” article below to fully understand the key trade-offs when using aggregators to distribute your eBooks.
Metadata management and optimization
I help authors and businesses manage and optimize their metadata—the information that describes books, and us as authors. This is especially important on Amazon, but it also applies to any online presence, such as your website and social media accounts.
Contact me for a free consultation.