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Thema – the subject category scheme for a global book trade

Thema is a new global subject classification system for books, which has already gathered wide international participation and adoption.

Thema is a multilingual subject category scheme designed to meet the needs of publishers, retailers and trade intermediaries in all sectors of the global book publishing business. It is managed by an international group of stakeholders, and is free to use. Thema aims to enhance the merchandising, discoverability and potential sales of books by simplifying the communication of accurate and detailed subject information across international markets and reducing the need to maintain numerous national subject schemes.”

Thema is intended for use by all parts of the book business, from publishers to retailers, and even in public libraries. Unlike other book trade subject classifications, it aims to be globally applicable. And in contrast to various academic library classifications that are used internationally, it is tailored for commercial use within the trade. It is a flexible standard that allows each market to retain its unique cultural voice while still presenting a unified subject hierarchy that rationalises book classification. The goals of Thema are to reduce the duplication of effort required by the many distinct national subject schemes, and to eliminate the need for scheme-to-scheme mapping that inevitably degrades the accuracy of classification, by providing a single scheme for broad international use. It can be used alongside existing national schemes like BIC, BISAC, WGS or CLIL, and has the potential to eventually replace them (though this is not an immediate goal).

Thema version 1.2

Thema version 1.2 was released at the end of May 2016. Not all resources are available yet, but translations, mappings and other material will be made available here as they are completed (or updated from 1.1). The new version contains around 125 new subject categories and 150 new national extension qualifiers, but retains full backward compatibility with version 1.1. Every language also includes minor refinements to the wording of headings to make meanings clearer.

  • Executive briefing – a high-level overview of Thema (PDF)
  • Basic Instructions for use of version 1.2 (PDF)
  • Interactive Thema category browser – includes the latest Arabic, Danish, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish listings, plus partial Japanese and Russian translations (note that for these languages, where a translated term is missing, the English term is shown instead). The interactive browser should choose your preferred language from those available automatically, according to preferences set in your web browser, but you can also select any of the available languages manually. Chinese and Greek translations have also been completed, but are not yet available here
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Arabic (Excel, HTML)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Danish (Excel, PDF, HTML)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in English (Excel, PDF, HTML, XML and JSON)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Spanish (Excel, PDF, HTML) NEW
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in French (Excel, PDF, HTML)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in German (Excel, PDF, HTML, XML)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Hungarian (Excel, PDF, HTML)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Italian (Excel, PDF, HTML)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Japanese (Excel)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Lithuanian (Excel, PDF, HTML)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Norwegian (Excel, PDF, HTML)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Polish (Excel, PDF, HTML)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Portuguese (Excel, PDFHTML)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Swedish (Excel, PDF, HTML)
  • Version 1.2 categories and codes in Turkish (Excel, PDFHTML)
  • List of additional national extensions added August 2016 (PDF)
  • List of additional national extensions added January 2017 (PDF) NEW
  • The entire database with the full range of languages is available on request to EDItEUR members as an SQLite data file NEW
  • Mapping from BIC 2.1 to Thema 1.2 codes (Excel) NEW

Thema version 1.1

It is recommended that anyone using Thema 1.1 should transition to the latest version of Thema. Version 1.2 is fully back-compatible with 1.1 (no existing data needs to be modified or updated) and it adds numerous extra categories, improvements in the category hierarchy, and a large number of national extensions.

  • Basic Instructions for use (PDF)
  • Version 1.1 categories and codes (Excel, in English. Also available as PDF, Word,  XML and JSON), updated with additional national extensions added October 2015
  • Interactive Thema category browser for version 1.1. As well as the languages above, the browser supports Spanish, with nearly complete Arabic and partial Japanese translations plus draft Portuguese and Turkish
  • Mapping from BIC 2.1 to Thema 1.1 codes (Excel)
  • Reverse Mapping from Thema 1.1 to BIC 2.1 codes (Excel)
  • Mapping from BISAC 2016 to Thema 1.2 (available from BISG)
  • Mapping tool for BISAC 2014 to Thema 1.1 (provided by BookNet Canada in association with BISG) – this provides both one-off and batch translations based on the BISG mapping. See the BNC blog for details
  • Mapping from CLIL to Thema 1.1 (Excel)
  • Presentations on Thema from EDItEUR’s 37th International Supply Chain Seminar, Frankfurt 2015

Resources for version 1.0

It is strongly recommended that anyone using Thema 1.0 updates to the latest version. Thema 1.2 is fully back-compatible with 1.0 (no existing data needs to be updated) and it adds numerous extra categories, improvements in the category hierarchy, and a large number of national extensions.


The Thema project was launched at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2012, and a pilot draft of Thema version 0.9 was published on 19th April 2013. Early development was guided by a Thema board and a technical group, and drew upon earlier work with an internationalised version of the BIC subject scheme. From mid-2013, ongoing management and governance of the scheme is handled by EDItEUR using a similar model to that used successfully with ONIX. Thema goes further than earlier subject schemes to ensure that it is internationally relevant, by combining a robust selection of shared subject categories with an expansive list of subject qualifiers which can contain national variants and extensions. It is available in a number of languages. Thema provides a structure that has global application while meeting local needs.

The first ‘live’ version of Thema was launched in late 2013, and version 1.0 was presented (PDF) at the CONTEC Conference during the Frankfurt Book Fair 2013. An initial spreadsheet (in English), a set of basic user guidelines, a mapping from the BIC 2.1 subject scheme to Thema, and a simple interactive category picker (with partial translations in six languages) were made available on 31st October 2013. Full translations of the scheme plus an extended multilingual version of the interactive picker (including full translations in German, French, Norwegian) and other resources followed. Further translations became available during 2014. The ‘sunrise’ date – the first date on which it was reasonable to include Thema classifications in product metadata (eg in ONIX files) - passed on 31st December 2013, and many implementations are now available in software vendors’ product management systems.

Thema version 1.1 – improved with around 125 extra categories and numerous other small refinements was launched on 30th November 2014 (initially in English only, though translated resources were added soon after, and further improvements to the translations continue to be made). Version 1.1 is 'additions only', meaning that it is fully backwards-compatible with version 1.0: old metadata records do not need to be revised, but the new categories added provide for improved mappings from legacy schemes and greater precision in classification of children's and scientific titles in particular. The number of available languages with complete or nearly complete translations reached 10 in mid-2015, and an sizeable list of national extensions (primarily geographical, but also covering national educational curricula) was added in October 2015.

Thema version 1.2 was released at the end of May 2016. It is again fully back-compatible with earlier releases and contains around 125 additional subject categories and qualifiers, and around 180 new national extensions. These additions increase the power and expressivity of the scheme. It is now available in a dozen languages, with several others expected to become available over the coming months

Thema is managed by EDItEUR through a number of national interest groups and an International Steering Committee, in a similar manner to ONIX for Books. The elected chair of the Thema International Steering Committee is Howard Willows (of Nielsen Book, though in this case representing the UK Thema national group). The scheme is free of charge for all to use, subject to EDItEUR’s normal, highly-permissive licence. No registration, fee or membership is required to implement and use Thema.

Thema in the press

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