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Thema v1.3

Thema – the subject category scheme for a global book trade

Thema is a relatively 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 the scheme 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, NUR or CLIL, and although this is not a primary goal, it has the potential to eventually replace them.

Thema version 1.3 NEW

Thema version 1.3 was released at the end of April 2018. This version contains around 260 new subject categories and 150 new qualifiers (of which around 85 are national extensions), plus numerous minor improvements to the wording of headings and notes, but it retains full backward compatibility with version 1.2 (no existing data needs to be modified or updated, with the exception of one erroneous code introduced in Nov 2017).

Upon initial release of 1.3, most language versions incorporate the translated headings from version 1.2 plus English text for new category headings, and it will take some months for all translations to be brought fully up to date with the new categories. Not all resources are available yet, but updated translations, mappings and other material will be made available here as they are completed (or updated from 1.2).

  • Executive briefing – a high-level overview of Thema (PDF)
  • Basic Instructions for use of version 1.3 (PDF)
  • Using Thema and ONIX together, questions and answers (PDF) NEW
  • Diversity and inclusivity briefing (PDF) NEW
  • Thema worked examples,– illustrated use cases for Thema codes (PDF) NEW
  • 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, Korean and Greek translations have also been completed, but are not yet available here
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Arabic (Excel)
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Danish (Excel, PDF, HTML and XML) NEW
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Dutch (Excel, HTML and XML) NEW
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in English (Excel, PDF, HTML, XML and JSON)
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in French (Excel, PDF, HTML, XML and JSON) NEW
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in German (Excel, PDF, HTML, XML and JSON) NEW
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Hungarian (Excel, PDF, HTML and XML)
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Italian (Excel, PDF, HTML, XML and JSONNEW
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Japanese (Excel, HTML and XML)
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Lithuanian (Excel, PDF, HTML and XML)
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Norwegian (Excel, PDF, HTML and XML) NEW
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Polish (Excel, PDF, HTML and XML)
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Portuguese (Excel, PDF, HTML, XML and JSON)
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Spanish (Excel, PDF, HTML, XML and JSON)
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Swedish (Excel, PDF, HTML and XML) NEW
  • Version 1.3 categories and codes in Turkish (Excel, PDF, HTML and XML)
  • Mapping from BIC v2.1 to Thema 1.3 codes (Excel) NEW
  • Mapping from Thema 1.3 to BIC v2.1 codes (Excel) NEW
  • Mapping from BISAC 2017 to Thema 1.3 codes (Available from BISG) NEW
  • The entire database with the full range of languages is available on request to EDItEUR members (as an SQLite3 data file)
  • A list of all the new codes and all the changes for version 1.3 (PDF)

For previous versions of Thema (v1.0, v1.1, v1.2)


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 the 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 a 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 was again fully back-compatible with earlier releases and contained around 125 additional subject categories and qualifiers, and around 180 new national extensions. These additions increased the power and expressivity of the scheme. Version 1.2 was available in well over a dozen languages. In 2017, a large number of new Eductional and Geographical qualifiers were added to the scheme, to improve the precision of the qualifiers when used for textbooks, travel guides and so on.

Version 1.3 – the most throrough revision of the scheme so far – was released at the end of April 2018. This version added about 260 new core subject codes, plus 150 new qualifiers (of which about 85 are national extension qualifiers). There’s also nearly 500 slight changes of wording in the headings and notes, intended to make the meaning of each category easier to understand, particularly for those where the scheme is not available in their native language.  

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 and other resources

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