The Microcosm Publishing Annual Money Report: 2020 Edition (with graphs!)
Yikes! 2020 was one of those years that most simply feel lucky to hobble out of. At the beginning of the pandemic this spring, we expected the worst, but calculated that even if sales slowed to a halt, we could keep the company afloat for six months without layoffs or pay cuts. But it turned out that we had the opposite concern: we are selling twice as many books out of our warehouse as we were two years ago, and our staff has grown by six additional people this year, to a total of 17. These are good problems to have, but like so many people this year, we’re emotionally exhausted by all that’s happened this year … and we still can’t keep up with shipping orders.
Unbelievably, our 2020 sales went up 64% over 2019, making 2020, again, our best year ever! In the past year we’ve also increased staff wages by an additional 33% and an average raise of 8.04% per person , with another 33% bonus in December! We are welcoming our sixth employee owner this year as well with a seventh on the way. Despite considerable personal difficulties and losses, everyone on our team has shown up with consistency and deep care for their work. It’s been a relief and a privilege to be able to provide a safe port for our workers in the storms of 2020, and for the next year we are looking at ways to create even more lasting stability while continuing to expand the team.
We’ve again long outgrown our office and warehouse and are now returning to our roots. In March we’ll be opening and operating an additional warehouse in Cleveland. Soon we will welcome Drew, who helped out at Microcosm in the 90s, to manage the new location. Now that Microcosm is a veritable adult, it seems only appropriate that it can also become a full time job.
Aside from more space, social distancing, and people power, the additional warehouse will help us to ship more efficiently to the midwest and east coast U.S. This should help us to get our work to nearby stores much faster and try to keep pace with how much things are picking up. We’ve also added additional field sales reps in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Illinois, and New Jersey. It’s truly incredible to watch our work end up in more and more stores. Returning to independent distribution at the beginning of 2019 was truly the best decision we ever made, and is a huge part of why we made it through 2020 in such good shape (though, again, exhausting).
Let’s look at the numbers.
Our total sales for the year were $1.67 million dollars. Here’s what we are selling. As you can see, zines jumped past ebooks while most of the rest held consistent with 2019 percentages, though published books began gaining on distributed in the latter portion of the year:
Here are our bestsellers, by dollars:
Note that Unf*ck Your Brain, which came out in 2016, is still outselling our other top 20 books, combined. If you disregard the curve breaker, it was a strong year. We published 25 books last year (not including half a dozen that were delayed until 2021), and not all of these new releases immediately took off—only 6 of our top 20 sellers for the year actually came out in 2020—but our backlist absolutely thrived. For instance, Making Stuff & Doing Things, clocking in at #5 for the year, first came out in 2002.
Expenses this year were $1.669M, because of the ongoing increased costs of growth and staff raises. The major shifts this year were our greatest expense went from being salaries to distributed inventory (due to increased managed levels from regular weekly sales), and we now spend more on royalties than on shipping:
One expense that is not in our budget is office snacks! Several zine authors for the last year or more have asked us to direct their royalties into taking care of our workers, and as a result we are able to keep a good supply of snacks and beverages on hand to fuel both blood sugar and morale for the folks who are still needing to work on-site. Thank you, charming benefactors!
To our readers, partners, and teammates: We always appreciate your orders, trust, and contributions, and recognize it’s been a difficult year so your support makes all the difference. Your support has helped us to support our staff, pay royalties to our authors, pay our bills on time, continue to donate books to community programs and send books to people in prison, and do our best to keep our corner of the publishing and bookselling ecosystem afloat. Let’s still hope that 2021 is a little bit easier.
If you want to learn more about publishing, check out new episodes of our weekly pod/videocast if you want to listen to two nerds dissect publishing!
And a friendly reminder: While we’re legally a “for-profit” organization, we choose to operate on a break-even basis. This means that when we have profits, they don’t go into perks for our owners; they go into staff wages and taking a chance on publishing new books we believe in. Getting to do work we care about every day and put books out there that help people change their lives is the best kind of perk.