Imprints mean nothing

APM BIC Wizard
I have been to many meetings over the years and heard publishers talk incessantly about the value of their brand and how customers identify with and are loyal to publishers and imprints because … well I’m not sure how they arrive at this as generally in such meetings very little actual evidence is put forward for this belief. It is quite frankly yet another example of the ability of many publishers to delude themselves about what customers actually want and how they make their purchasing decisions.

Oh, and often the examples quoted actually are a better example of the power of categorisation mixed admittedly with an imprint strongly identified with that category. For example, Michelin and hotels or Rough Guide and travel etc.

So, I was very interested in this article from Publishers Weekly which is about the publisher Thomas Nelson in the US moving away from organising itself along imprint lines but doing so by reference to the BISAC category codes. It seems largely because that better represents how people actually buy books and also because of the data they collect from Nielsen et al about which categories are strongest they can better identify any weaknesses in their offerings. This of course makes perfect sense.

And brings me to the equivalent categorisation scheme in the UK know as BIC and propagated by the Book Industry Communication group. This scheme has long been a bug bear of mine. As someone who has for many years provided databases to publishers containing fields allowing them to categorise their books via the BIC scheme I have often been frustrated that it seems to be so imbalanced and whole swathes of cultural phenomena seem to pass it by. For example, (as pointed out in the this posting from the Snowbooks Blog ) lots of Archeology but just the bare bones for fiction. As modern developments such as podcasting and social networking are nowhere to be found. The BIC standard seems to be dominated by those who shouted the loudest and I have not seen any mention of actually using the rich vein of data that has been gathered via EPOS, Bookscan and so on about how the customer finds the stuff they want.

What I would say slightly in the defence of BIC is that there seems to be representation from almost none of the vast bulk of the actual publishers. Surely, categorisation should surely be an exercise between them and their customers (or their customers data at the very least)?

And, so many times when I am demoing software I find that the client publisher struggles to fit their ’round’ book into the ‘square’ peg of the BIC system. How can that be sensible?

So, in conclusion some suggestions for improvement:

1) Allow customer data to better inform the process

2) Allow for a better balance (i.e make sure that everything may be categorised to the same level not some subjects to the nth degree and others only superficially). Also known as the ‘he/she who shouts the loudest approach’
3) Give more weight to the ‘long tail’. Categorisation should not be by a handful of the larger retailers and only the very largest publishers

4) And for gods sake it is 2006 and things change – so keep it contemporary or whole swathes of books representing what people are thinking/feeling/interacting and doing now will slip through the net because no one can bloody find them.


Filed under: Publishing

One Response

  1. […] Following on from the post Imprints mean nothing of a couple of days ago I thought this article was interesting on Thomas Nelson and how they have essentially abolished imprints and replaced them with specialised publishing units based on the BISAC category codes. […]

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