BISAC subject codes are a crucial part of the book industry supply chain. Place your title in the right BISAC categories, and it will be well represented on large retailer websites and allow customers to discover and purchase your book. However, BISAC does have its limitations. Any publisher knows how restrictive it can feel to be forced to choose a category from a list. “These damn BISAC categories never reflect how special my books are,” grumbles the astute publisher. “I want to make up my own!”

Well, with custom subjects, you can do exactly that.

Custom subject schemes are an alternative to the BISAC categories present in a publisher’s ONIX feed. They allow for a more nuanced and meaningful representation of the publisher’s catalogue right on the publisher’s own site.

Many ReaderBound sites use custom subjects instead of BISAC codes to categorize books.

One example is Playwrights Canada Press. The Drama category in the BISAC code list is limited to a few basic options. Playwrights wanted to showcase the rich diversity in their catalogue. They implemented custom subjects that feature playwrights from different parts of the country (i.e., Northern Playwrights), different cultural backgrounds and marginalized groups (i.e., Black Playwrights and LGBTQ+/Queer Theatre), age groups for school and educational purposes (i.e., Theatre for Young Audiences or plays for teens), and specific interests such as Puppets & Puppetry, Deaf Theatre, and even Super Short Shows.

Beyond these meticulously defined categories, Playwrights has done something even more targeted to their customer base. They have used a second custom subject scheme to identify the cast structure in each play they have available for purchase. So, for example, if you are looking for a play with a small cast of two male characters, there’s a category for that. Or four female and three male: there’s a category for that. There are dozens of options. Playwrights knows their audience better than anyone else. They speak to the community of theatre companies, drama programs, and theatremakers. Their custom subjects answer the question: what do our customers need to hunt through our list of books?

Screenshot of the cast list custom subjects on Playwrights Canada Press


ReaderBound sites can support any number of additional custom subject schemas. Then publishers can employ all the tricks ReaderBound sites have to offer: landing pages, featured collections, featured title blocks, special sales, pages for conferences or trade shows—all driven out of the custom subjects.

Portage & Main Press uses custom subjects to better target teachers and librarians. They have three custom schemas for this: “Big Ideas” (aka curriculum themes); Culture & Peoples (i.e., specific Indigenous Nations and Peoples such as Cree or Dene); and Indigenous Languages. This changes the way educators and librarians can navigate the site and brings the Indigenous focus of Portage & Main to the forefront. This level of granularity simply isn’t available in the BISAC categories that are presented on retail storefronts.

Screenshot of the Portage & Main Press custom subjects filters


On ReaderBound sites, custom categories support a multilevel structure, so publishers can have a parent/child category (e.g., fiction>adventure fiction). This is a ReaderBound innovation. Publishers can also incorporate custom subjects into search results or filters, as Portage & Main has in their advanced search feature.

By using custom subject schemes and leveraging them across the site, publishers are giving readers many ways to find what they're interested in. It’s a unique opportunity to categorize as one would wish. It’s also a business opportunity to sell more books.