Tagged business of publishing

The History of Microcosm in 10 Books

Essential titles for understanding who we are, what we do, and why we do it

Some of these books hold the key to the Microcosm ethos; others are books that marked a turning point or opened significant doors for our publishing operation. Each is a damn good read selected by Elly for your reading, learning, and DIY-ing pleasure. Shop the collection or read on to learn more about the role each has played in the life of Microcosm!

Making Stuff and Doing Things: DIY Guides to Just About Everything by Kyle Bravo
When Tree of Knowledge folded their publishing operation in 1996, this was one of the first books we published and still one of our perennial bestsellers. 28 years later, this cut-and-paste zine-style compilation of how-to guides on subjects ranging from crafts to health to community is still capturing imaginations and turning 20-somethings away from consumer culture.

Make a Zine: Start Your Own Underground Publishing Revolution by Bill Brent and Joe Biel
The late, great Bill Brent started this guide to the ultimate, original form of self-publishing. Brent invited a young Joe Biel to be involved with the project as a way to appeal to younger readers. As zine popularity waxes and wanes, so does this little book, now in its fourth edition and almost completely rewritten for modern times. Is there anything more punk than putting out a zine?

Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs
This friendly, handwritten book came out in 2007. In 2008, just as the recession hit, it got a bunch of great blog write-ups and sold thousands of copies overnight. It was our bestseller by a mile until Dr. Faith came along.

Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever: Ridiculously Complete Edition by Tom Neely and Friends
This little comic began as a joke scribbled by cartoonists on napkins in a bar. We never sought out a lick of publicity for this book, but it quickly went viral and has escalated from there into more comics and much astonished laughter. If you get it, you get it.

Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy by Elly Blue
We’ve long published books about bikes, starting with the iconic Chainbreaker. Elly Blue wrote Bikenomics for Microcosm in 2012 and then got hired three years later, proving that you actually can leverage writing into making a living, sort of. Elly Blue Books and Microcosm merged companies in 2015, and we continue to publish feminist bicycle books and zines today.

Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life and Business with Autism by Joe Biel
Joe Biel’s honest, earnest, and sometimes harrowing memoir from 2016 also tells the story of Microcosm. Its publication deliberately marked a transition to new era and new culture for the company, in which we grew up and professionalized a bit while holding on tight to our values and spirit.

Unfuck Your Brain: Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-outs, and Triggers by Dr. Faith G. Harper
Dr. Faith appeared in our office one day in 2015 with what looked like notes for a powerpoint presentation called “Your Brain Is an Asshole.” Over the course of the next hour and a half, we developed it into the seed of a book (and series, and line of books by other authors about mental health and healthy relationships) that’s changed millions of lives around the world.

A People’s Guide to Publishing: Building a Successful, Sustainable, Meaningful Book Business From the Ground Up by Joe Biel
We made Joe sit down and write notes on everything learned about publishing in over the last quarter century, primarily so we could unlock that knowledge for ourselves. This one caused the book industry to really take notice of the work Microcosm has been doing, and, more important, has helped countless new publishers get their start.

The Practical Witch’s Almanac by Friday Gladheart
Around 2017, we had a salesperson on staff who discovered that witchy stores really, really like to buy books, so we started looking for witchy books to publish. Our turning point was meeting Friday Gladheart, who began publishing her almanacs the same year Microcosm started. It only took us 20 years to find each other. We started out distributing her 2018 almanac and became her publisher in 2019—the 2025 edition is now available for preorder!

How to Resist Amazon and Why: The Fight for Local Economics, Data Privacy, Fair Labor, Independent Bookstores, and a People-Powered Future! by Danny Caine
Danny Caine, owner of The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, KS, started publishing this zine during the height of the pandemic. Our publicist at the time found it on social media and reached out to see if Danny wanted a hand with production and distribution. We helped free up his bookstore team from stapling zines in their back office so they could focus on other groundbreaking initiatives, while we were able to help bring this ray of resistance to indie bookstores around the world.

Bookstore Solidarity! Josh Christie of Print: A Bookstore (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

Print: A Bookstore has been a triumphant, bright light in envisioning what a bookstore could be. Both as a brick and mortar that is a champion for information and reading, but also holding up its staff and creating entertaining skit videos with its staff! This week on the pod, we feature co-owner Josh Christie about the store in our ongoing Bookstore Solidarity project!

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!

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!
Want to stay up to date on new podcast episodes and happenings at Microcosm? Subscribe to our newsletter!

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!

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

How Should Publishers Talk About Current Events? (A People’s Guide to Publishing)

We live in an era where Hershey posts perspectives on trans rights and Heinz offers opinions on foreign wars. Naturally, book publishers feel pressure to talk about what’s going on in the world around them. This week on the pod we look at best practices for expressing yourself.

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!