How do Audience, Subject, and Audience Range work together?

A need for accuracy

Publishing professionals, particularly librarians and companies working with them, are the most likely users of Audience, Audience Ranges and Subject information and these values should work together to provide them a clear picture of the book. Unfortunately the data supplied by publishers for these values is notorious for being contradicting or unsuitable for their use.

It follows that these values are the most likely to be modified by retailers and other data aggregators but this page should give you an idea how to make sure your data is used and left alone. Many publishers do a great job and are proficient in their assessments.  Some may not be great at metadata, and may inadvertently add errors and contradictions to their data.  Still others may try to be all inclusive in a mistaken belief that saying "0 to 99" or portraying their audience as limitless will include them in more selects by professionals.  It will not and may result in their data being excluded from a select.

Professional users expect to be able to create book lists or "selects" from databases based on the primary Audience code values. Children and Adult are a common responsibility breakout for duties – and increasingly Young Adult is handled on its own.  Publishers should associate their book with it’s best broad audience category in order to direct it to the librarian or retail book buyer best able to assess it.

ONIX Code List List 28 for Audience Codes

  • 01 - General/trade (intended for a non-specialist adult audience)

  • 02 - Children/juvenile (intended for a juvenile audience, not specifically for any educational purpose.)

  • 03 - Young adult (intended for a teenage audience, not specifically for any educational purpose.)

  • 04 - Primary and secondary/elementary and high school (intended for kindergarten, pre-school, primary/elementary or secondary/high school education.)

  • 05 - College/higher education  (intended for universities and colleges of further and higher education.)

  • 06 - Professional and scholarly (intended for an expert adult audience, including academic research.)

  • 07 - ELT/ESL (intended for use in teaching English as a second language.)

  • 08 - Adult education (intended for centres providing academic, vocational or recreational courses for adults.)

  • 09 - Second language teaching (intended for teaching native English speakers a second language.)

Codes 01 to 03 are trade book categories – books intended for sales to consumers. The balance are for books designed to fulfill the needs of these specialized markets.

In North America retailers expect a book to carry single “trade” audience code. Audience codes can be repeated but it’s rare and normally only done for a specialized audience book that fits more than one special audience category, but sometimes includes books with potential for trade sales.

An example can help: A novel like Huckleberry Finn may be sold in stores and used in schools, but the “01” trade book and the “04” school book would be different and designed for their audience group. An “04” book would include additional supporting materials designed for a limited grade range and may include reinforced binding. The trade book may still contain an introduction that provides context for reading a problematic text, and it’s even possible it may be bought by schools who may want a less expensive book without extensive supporting resources. It’s even possible that a book club might prefer to use a school edition for it’s rich supporting resources and a retailer may choose to stock it. The point is simply that a single audience category still supports those choices better than an ambiguous layering of multiple codes. You can help professionals and consumers find your book by being specific and accurate. An example where a dual Audience Code might make sense is a beautifully illustrated scholarly book on the ecology of sea shores that is designed to fulfill the needs of beachcombers and as well as academics. In such an exceptional cases, especially for publishers associated with a specialized market, adding a trade code makes sense when it’s appropriate for the book to be sold outside of the publisher’s typical market.

When in doubt, use “Trade” identifiers as they are the most common and generic.

Audience Codes and Subject Codes support each other

Trade subject schemes like BISAC or Thema are used with a “main subject” – a single primary subject code. If Audience Codes are used to create broad categories of books their creators would expect to see subjects appropriate to their selected category. 

For BISAC Subjects:

  • Books identified for Children/juvenile or Young adult  MUST be supported by appropriate BISAC Subjects lists for Juveniles or Young Adults

  • Books intended for Adults (Trade books) MUST be supported by appropriate BISAC subjects and NOT include any Juvenile or Young Adult codes.

No one says this is a perfect way to do things, but professionals actually know what they are doing and allowances are made — particularly for YA novels as cross-over products for adults. Also be aware that BISAC Subjects are created so that all subjects are isolated to a single Audience category within the scheme – mixing should NOT happen. 

For Thema Subjects:

  • The Thema Main subject code must be match the audience code (juvenile codes for juvenile or YA books) and be usable to create the broad differentiation for Fiction vs Non-fiction

BISAC has guidelines in it's PDF or Word version and Thema has an excellent guide as well as worked examples.  Please refer to documentation for each subject scheme for more information using it properly. 

Audience ranges

Juvenile books (both Children's and Young Adult titles) must be supported by Audience Range information. If there are any points to be emphasized here it is that:

  • Useful range information is specific:  Any range wider then three or at most four years is considered by professionals to be unusable for most purposes.  

  • YA books can be identified using an open ended statement that implies extending into adults (an example might be 14 and up) but a specific end value is preferred.

  • Adult books are not typically supported by range information and it’s only appropriate for very specialized books

  • A range of 0 - 99 or similar extreme range has no value in a statement. Only a limited range has meaning and it diminishes without focus. Hyperbole may make sense in your marketing or promotional copy but it has no place in coded metadata.

Publishers of Juvenile books spend a lot of time and energy developing expertise in their products and one of the ways they demonstrate it is accuracy in Audience Range information. They mean what they say and are genuinely upset when their data is modified by other industry players. If you're new to publishing talk to children librarians about their needs and look to develop an understanding of how they use this data (BookNet’s blogs and podcast are a great source for information about libraries).  Considering getting help in making assessments from an experienced freelancer. The time spent developing an understanding of professional need will be repaid.

There are three Audience Ranges typically provided for slightly different purposes:

Interest Age  information is the least specific and generally means the content is appropriate to the interests of this age and is supplied as a general guideline to support trade sales.  What age does the editor and author say the book is for?  They should know.  This information is recommended to be available all Juvenile books even if another range type is supplied

Grade Ranges (US or Canada are considered equivalent) can highlight that book has potential for classroom use. A grade range doesn't correspond to any specific curriculum assessment so they are still generic and best supported by other types of documentation that provide curriculum support

Reading Age is a much more technical assessment of a book's content.  For instance a book may have an older Interest Age and a younger Reading Age if the book is 10 year old reluctant reader.  Doing this right requires real knowledge and should only be supplied if the publisher has developed the skills or had professional assistance in providing it.  Note that ONIX provides support for “Complexity Schemes” ONIX Code List 50 as part of a different section.

If a librarian or book buyer assesses your range information as wildly inaccurate it will taint the rest of your good work.

If in doubt, don't supply it.

Want to know more?  The US based Book Industry Study Group (BISG) has two publications: