Which Publishers Grew 12% Over The Past Three Years? (A People’s Guide to Publishing)


The pandemic was an unexpectedly magical time for the publishing industry. Sales went up when they were expected to go down. Printing slowed to a crawl due to the paper shortage. But four years later, we have some clear, emergent publishers who seemed to have permanently claimed an additional piece of the market share. This week we take a closer look at them!

Get the People’s Guide to Publishing here, and the workbook here!
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WorkingLit: Publishing Software from Microcosm

WorkingLit is live in beta! Sign up now!

a logo showing an open book

WorkingLit is cloud-based software developed by Microcosm Publishing that gives independent publishers tools to thrive and grow at their own pace. Our industry is run by billionaires and conglomerates, and we want to give our fellow publishers the freedom to market and sell your books, understand your business, and painlessly pay royalties.

Microcosm built our own software from scratch starting in 2002, and we owe it our survival, success, and continued independence. Now we want to share it with you. 

WorkingLit is currently in beta and open to any publisher who would like to use it in exchange for letting us know about bugs and giving us feedback on how to make it better.

Features

  • Manage your product and author metadata
  • Track your sales and expenses
  • Manage your customer account data
  • Calculate royalties and track payments to authors
  • Understand the health of your business and what you need to do to grow
  • See our spec sheet for all current and planned features.

Pricing

The first month is free so you can kick the tires. After that, our rates are based on the number of products (with separate ISBNs) that you manage in WorkingLit:

PlanFeaturesPrice per month
Free planUp to 10 productsFREE
Basic Plan11-25 products$25
Basic Plus Plan26-100 products$69
Premium Plan101-500 products$299
Premium Plus Plan501-1000$599
All Access PlanUnlimited products!$1299

Get stuck or have questions? Check out our site documentation and instructions or email workinglit at microcosmpublishing dot com for help.

Get involved and stay in touch!

  • Sign up to use WorkingLit
  • Join our email list
  • Are you a programmer? We’re looking to grow our team. Email apply at microcosmpublishing dot com with your skillset and why you’re interested in being part of WorkingLit
  • Take the tour:

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What is ONIX and do small publishers need to use it? (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

How does the entire world get information about what you are publishing? It’s from a feed called ONIX, that propagates every detail about your titles. This week on the pod, we take a deep dive into ONIX and its role for small publishers.

Get the People’s Guide to Publishing here, and the workbook here!
Want to stay up to date on new podcast episodes and happenings at Microcosm? Subscribe to our newsletter!

How Should Publishers Create Budgets and Predict Finances? (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

Many publishers find money to be very unpredictable and scary. So this week we take a look at how to create budgets and predict cash flow as well as how to plan a financial future. It’s not as difficult as it seems!

Get the People’s Guide to Publishing here, and the workbook here!
Want to stay up to date on new podcast episodes and happenings at Microcosm? Subscribe to our newsletter!

Can Book Publishers Vertically Integrate? w/Blackstone’s Anthony Goff (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

So much of book publishing is about distributing tasks, so how can publishers take more of these operational aspects in-house? This week on the pod, guest Anthony Goff, President of Blackstone Publishing, walks us through many of their aspects that are vertically integrated, from recording studios to rights sales to printing and distribution—to performing these services for other publishers.

Get the People’s Guide to Publishing here, and the workbook here!
Want to stay up to date on new podcast episodes and happenings at Microcosm? Subscribe to our newsletter!

2023: A Publishing Year in Review (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

What happened in 2023? A lot! We were on Publisher’s Weekly’s list of fastest-growing publishers (again), we bought a new warehouse building, improved staff leveling and pay transparency, and a lot of other stuff. In this week’s episode, we look back at 2023.

Get the People’s Guide to Publishing here, and the workbook here!
Want to stay up to date on new podcast episodes and happenings at Microcosm? Subscribe to our newsletter!

An Interview with Josh Christie, co-owner of Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine.

Welcome to the next installment of the Bookstore Solidarity Project! Every month, we’ll be highlighting indie bookstore owners and booksellers across the country.

For January, we managed to wrangle Josh Christie of Print: A Bookstore, in Portland, Maine. Fun fact about Print— it’s where Abby the Marketing Manager was first really introduced to Microcosm, thanks to Print’s awesome selection of zines and books!

Your name and pronouns?
Josh Christie, he/him

Tell us a little bit about the store and your community!
We love being the most progressive, most queer-friendly bookstore in our already lefty little city. We’ve been a store for 7 years in November (!). No store cat, through four of us have dogs and one of us has pet bunnies.

What got you into bookselling?
I couldn’t figure out what else to do with a degree in political science. This is my 20th year as a bookseller, so now it’s hard to imagine doing anything else.

What’s something about your store that you think will surprise people?
Our store has been many things prior to our tenancy, including a furniture designer’s workshop, hardware store / scuba shop, and girls school. Plus, the store is haunted.

What are some of you favorite ways your community supports your store?
The community is super-supportive of all our social media antics, which is loads of fun. They’ve also really latched on to our book clubs – we’ve got four now, and each pulls at least a dozen attendees for every meeting.

What are two books you can’t wait for people to read, or your current favorite handsells?
How to Be Multiple: The Philosophy of Twins by Helena de Bres and Black Punk Now, edited by Chris L. Terry and James Spooner

How can customers who aren’t local shop your shelves?
Our website! Printbookstore.com.


Be sure to follow Print: A Bookstore on Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok (you definitely want to check out their Tiktok). Check out his podcast interview here!

You can read our other Bookstore Solidarity Project posts here!
And click here to get a copy of How to Protect Bookstores and Why.

What Did We Learn at Frankfurt Book Fair? (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

Frankfurt Book Fair is now the world’s largest publishing industry show. It’s open to the public, but it’s primarily for industry veterans to pen big business deals. It’s largely to sell foreign rights translations of your books (or buy the same!). And we did! Check out our report from what happened there in 2023 and how it might be useful for you!

Get the People’s Guide to Publishing here, and the workbook here!
Want to stay up to date on new podcast episodes and happenings at Microcosm? Subscribe to our newsletter!

Microcosm’s 2023 Annual Money Report (with infographics! and video!)

In 2022, Microcosm was Publishers Weekly’s fastest growing publisher, based on our growth of 207% between 2019 and 2021 (check out our annual reports for 20192020, and 2021 for more on that wild ride)! Then in 2023, we were Publishers Weekly’s #3 fastest growing publisher mostly because of our significant growth in 2021.

Over the previous twelve months, we had yet another wild ride. We saw a fork in the road and we chose to self-finance our meteoric rise, reinforce and shore up systems rather than force aggressive, continued growth. As a result of those choices and apprehensive and uncertain retailers fearing a recession, our sales fell -18.67% in 2023. However, 2023 still saw 3.4% growth over 2021. There is much conjecture in our industry that 2021 was an abberration; a “pandemic bump” for books, but we are continuing to grow past it.

We remain fiscally solvent and financing growth with cash; owing $449k and owed $664k, despite purchasing a third warehouse with cash in 2023.

Most of this year looked like a cookie cutter “2022 minus 18.67%” until September, when it looked like we’d make up for eight months of reduced sales. But retailers remained apprehensive and reactive, anticipating a recession that never came by having undestocked shelves.

We published 39 new books in 2023, with 18 more coming this Spring and 21 more coming this Fall!

We’re excited to resume conventions in a few weeks with PubWestWinter Institute, and Vegas Market.

Our newest warehouse in Cleveland handles 67% of our shipments and 78% of our receiving. Interestingly, October was a record shipping month and overall, we saw that orders were on par with 2022’s busy holiday season—our best holiday shipping season ever—so that seems fantastic. And it looks like this will inform cash flows for Q1. 

One store reported, unabashedly “My accountant told me that the more books that we buy from you, the more that we sell for the holidays.” And the buyer has responded in turn.

The major difference this year is that things never stopped (which is consistent with 2020 and 2021 but not 2022). We received the largest order that we’ve ever seen on Christmas Day for over 5,000 different titles. The same store sent two additional orders in the same week, with promises of two more yet to come. Our marketing and sales departments are working closely with them to build these up.

We’ve seen that responding to the individual needs of each retailer and what they need from us is fundamentally what grows those sales. So it’s largely listening and being responsive. e.g. We were understocking in Q2 of 2020, anticipating recession, and stores complained that we were sold out of titles they needed so we responded and found a middle ground…until it was clear that sales were not slowing at all. But it took four months to bear out that data.

It remains clear that the more warehouse space that we have, the more books that we can sell. So we continue to inch in that direction—just not too fast so we can prevent cash and protect everyone’s jobs.

The most interesting thing here is that we have built our systems so that we don’t have “slow months” or “increase returns exposure” in January and February—because they are some of our busiest months. Our total returns for the year were a scant 1.48%.

Our success continues to be based 50% on what we publish and 50% on how we publish. Meaning that, of the 12,000 stores that we work with (1788 of which we added in 2023), about 25% of them purchase all of their books from us and so our salespeople don’t stick them with hyped books that they cannot sell. 99% of our books are evergreen, so we aren’t fighting a timer to make them burn bright before they fade away. Best of all, the practical skills and values in our books are what the world has wanted for at least the past 28 years. Probably longer. The need remains vast. So does the interest. And we really focus on how each book can bring meaning and purpose to someone who feels lonely in the world.

We added our eighth co-owner this week, though all profits are shared with our entire staff. In 2023, profit sharing equated to an additional $1.50 per hour per person for the entire staff and we were able to increase our budget for wages by 26.67%. We increased our paid time off benefits and also offer insurance to our staff (though that became 67% more expensive in 2023).

And if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of publishing, check out our podcast.

But before we wear you out completely, let’s take a look at the numbers.

Our total sales for the year were $3.8 MILLION DOLLARS, with our own publishing comprising about 64.4% and ebooks comprising 4% of our sales:

And here are our bestsellers for the year by dollars earned (minus expenses like printing and cover design):

UNF*CK YOUR BRAIN, which we published in 2017, is still outselling the following twenty books—combined. This one title continues to comprise 9.57% of our total sales. Even if you ignore this aberrant title, it was a phenomenal year. We published 39 new books and over twice that many zines. And healthfully, 95% of the titles selling in the top 20 were published prior to 2023, meaning that the sales are “sticky,” the books will continue to sell for years to come (and we expect our 2023 publications to shine this year).

So where did all those millions go? As is written into our company bylaws, we invested it all back into the company and into our workforce, including hiring new workers and those profit-sharing employee bonuses mentioned above. Nobody got a yacht, but we all got by. You can see that piece of the pie alongside the rest of our outgoing money below.

Expenses for this year were $3.8M, which notably includes the self-financing of our continued growth (as opposed to, say, a bank loan):

As you can see, our biggest expense is increasing inventory to fill those warehouses, followed by payroll, the new warehouse we purchased, and shipping.

What trends are we seeing in our patterns? Tarot books were up 40%, Science was up 12%, Spirituality was up a whopping 91%, Humor was up 2.78%, Labor was up 96.78%, Astrology was up 40%, Crystals were up 25%, Anarchism was up 14%, Self-care was up 11%, children’s was up 14%, and Metaphysical was up 2534%!

Where are we selling our books? Funny you should ask:

We are back to being mostly sold in specialty stores. Bookstores now comprise about 11% of our sales, about the same as stores and charming individuals who order directly from us. Gift stores took a hit this year, mostly due to underordering. But wholesalers have been increasing. Distributor represents our export sales.

Remember: when you order directly on our website, the author’s royalties are doubled and everything left over goes into profit sharing for our entire staff!

Thank you for supporting us, our authors, and our team in the last year, whether as a reader, partner, or member of our team. The last four years have been difficult in myriad ways, but it’s been heartening the way our entire culture seems to have turned to books for comfort, meaning, perspective, and a little bit of escape. We’re prouder than ever to get to play a role in bringing people and books together.

Tags: annual reportbooksbusinessbusiness of publishingmicrocosm publishing