Tagged year of independence

What It Means that We’re Leaving Amazon

This week, when we made the announcement that we will part ways with our trade distributor at the end of 2018, we also announced that we won’t be seeking a new distribution relationship directly with Amazon. We’ve gotten a lot of virtual high fives for this, and there’s also been some misunderstanding about what exactly this means.

“I feel terrible because I still sell / buy on Amazon,” is one reaction we get. “But won’t your company / authors suffer if your books aren’t available on Amazon?” is the other. The answer is simple, but the background is complex, and this post is meant to help clarify the relationship Amazon has with publishers, authors, and consumers, and will hopefully give you some guidance in making more informed choices. (more…)

We are Breaking Up with The Big Boys


We’ve been holding on to a bit of news lately, and we’re excited to finally share it with you all! Here’s founder Joe Biel with the details…

Joe & Ruby deliver books by bicycle.

Starting January 1, 2019, we will be managing our own distribution just like we did for over ten years. Not only will we no longer need to move thousands of books back and forth between warehouses, creators get paid more for each book sold. And we won’t be selling to Amazon. Why. you ask? Well, my grandparents were German immigrants who came here in the 1800s for labor unions and worked to achieve the 40-hour work week…which was then abolished in our lifetime. When Microcosm was just getting off the ground in 1997, I interviewed Ian Mackaye of Dischord Records. He explained that a publisher is only as independent as their distribution is. He was seemingly taking a jab at “independent” labels who handle all of their manufacturing and distribution through a major but his point sticks. 

Microcosm has always tried to work with independent companies, because they feel most comfortably aligned with our mission, values, and goals…but we’ve watched over the past dozen years as each independent distributor gets gobbled up and responds to the demands of the increasingly demanding monopolies.

We’ve watched as our peer publishers either throw in the towel or sell to one of the monopolies, neither of which we are willing to do. We feel that independents need to be independent and the best way to do that is to build an outpost of our own, a shining star where we can continue to thrive instead of relying upon the whims of any global corporation.

So we are returning to our roots to create the world that we want to see within our weirdo clubhouse. 

We will be parting ways with Legato/PGW/Perseus/Ingram in January and have already built new warehouses and software to make this possible. Few events in the history of Microcosm have improved our morale and brought our staff together like this has. As always, our intent is to expand our distribution at the same time. Our new sales people (now a team of four) excitedly understand our books and have more time and focus to dedicate to them. For the first time ever, our back catalog will receive as much attention as our new releases. Within a few years, we intend to begin offering these services to other publishers.

This isn’t as staggering a change as it sounds. Reviewing the numbers, we have come to realize that we know better how to distribute our books than anyone else that we’ve tried to partner with. We’ve handled roughly 75% of our distribution even across these past seven years. The simple fact is that the underground is much bigger than the mainstream.

To ensure that we are still actually serving all of the stores and readers that are interested in our books, we’re bringing on Book Traveler’s West (West Coast), Como (East Coast), and Fujii (Midwest) to actively visit and solicit our books to stores. We will continue to be distributed by Turnaround in Europe and will be working with the same distributors in Australia, Canada, and the rest of the world as well. Readers and stores can still buy books directly from our website, microcosmpublishing.com.

​We are redoubling our efforts to sell direct and to independents instead of helping monopolies like Amazon continue to grow at the expense of others. Perhaps more importantly, we will not be accepting their terms that increasingly just serve to crush everything in their path. If you want to help support the indies during this crucial time, go to your local shops and buy books, and encourage your friends to do the same. They will remember moments like this forever.

We hear from people almost every week that our books are saving their lives, and we feel that we have an obligation to extend that as far and wide as possible. There’s an unspoken rule in the underground that what we do is secret but when these rules don’t serve the goals, we have no choice but to break them.

Joe’s next book, A People’s Guide to Publishing, can help anyone inspired by our journey learn the lessons and wisdom that got us here today.
Check out the kickstarter project here!

Read the more industry-jargony version of this news with more details on Shelf Awareness.

Or, if you want to know more about what this’ll mean, check out Elly’s breakdown.


If you ever need help with ordering, please contact Sidnee Grubb | Customer Service (1-503-799-2698).
For press questions, interview or sample requests, contact Cyn Marts, publicity director, cyn@microcosmpublishing.com.

Independent Publishing Love: Our Radical Friends at OR Books

the team at OR BooksAs part of our Year of Independence, we’ve been interviewing independent booksellers who we love. This month, instead of a bookstore, we’re turning to OR Books, a fellow radical independent publisher that, like us, also sells a substantial portion of its books directly to readers. That’s a relative rarity in the publishing world, where it’s the norm for every book to go through a string of distributors, wholesalers, and booksellers before making its way into your hands. We were stoked to meet these kindred spirits and immediately started gleefully conspiring to support each other… another activity that breaks the mold of mainstream publishing.

Check out their offerings, we think you’ll like them. Their recent releases include such helpful gems as Pocket Piketty and The Animals’ Vegan Manifesto.

OR Books publicity manager Natascha Uhlmann answered our questions over email.

1. What’s the story of OR Books? What matters most to you as publishers?
OR Books arose out of a desire to forge a different path for publishing—one centered around progressive politics, selling direct to consumers, and intense marketing. Our model varies pretty drastically from the standard publishing houses: we avoid Amazon and other traditional distribution methods. It allows us to sidestep some of the pitfalls of traditional publishing and focus our energies where they should be: on the book itself.

2. You are a politically progressive publisher—what does that mean to you?
It means taking on titles that are progressive, transgressive, and sometimes outright bizarre. I think we can all recall wrestling with a book that made us engage with the world in a different way—it’s a revolutionary, world changing thing, and I hope to recreate that same experience for others.

3. What are your personal favorite books from the OR backlist? Any favorites you’ve recently read from other publishers?
Extinction: A Radical History by Ashley Dawson makes the case that the environmental crisis we currently face is fundamentally tied to our economic system. Ashley traces the history of extinction and ties its catastrophic rise to capitalism’s unrelenting drive to expand.

What’s Yours is Mine by Tom Slee is a critical look at the sharing economy. He pushes back against the portrayal of platforms like Uber and AirBnb as democratic, pointing to the means by which these technologies simply shift risk onto the worker and encourages us all to settle for less.

Beautiful Trouble ed. by Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell is a tactical manual for radicals. It traces a wide variety of activist groups and the approaches that they have found valuable. I’ve found it to be an incredibly valuable resource throughout my organizing, and a great primer for interested younger activists.

As for others:

In Defense of Housing by David Madden and Peter Marcuse (Verso Books) explores the commodification of housing and the violence of gentrification. They highlight that housing is endemic, not incidental, under capitalism and point to the successes of several movements organizing for housing justice – and how we can learn from these.

Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel (Melville House) is a brilliant look at the global food economy and engages with some urgent questions: How are hunger and obesity interrelated? What avenues for resistance do we have in an ever consolidating system of food production?

Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination by Alondra Nelson (University of Minnesota Press) explores the Black Panther Party’s fight for health justice. We as activists owe so much today to their organizational tactics, and I think their articulation of health politics greatly informs current debates around single payer activism.

4. What are the most urgent issues facing the publishing industry right now? If you could look into your crystal ball, what is the biggest piece of advice would you give to yourself and other independent publishers?
The advent of new technologies means that it’s harder to command the attention of would-be readers. That said, the field is adaptable and at the end of the day, no one walks away from a good book.

I think the best advice I can offer is to remember why we’re here: because we believe deeply in the power of ideas. To get to work on a book that may go on to shape the way someone sees the world is an incredible gift. It’s a challenging field, but an utterly rewarding one.

Indie Bookstore Love: Women & Children First!

color illustration of the women and children first feminist bookstore storefront
All year, Microcosm is celebrating our 20th anniversary by putting the spotlight every month on a different independent bookstore that we love! Our indie bookstore heart in September goes out to iconic Chicago feminist bookstore Women & Children First—you can find them (and many woman-penned Microcosm books on their shelves!) at 5233 N Clark St. After they hosted the book launch party for Threadbare this spring, we asked them to partner with us for this month. Co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck sat down to answer our questions over email:

1. Tell me about Women & Children First. What is the store’s history? How did it get its name?
In the 1970s, Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon met while earning masters degrees in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Time and time again they would come across a woman writer they wanted to study, such as Virginia Woolf, Kate Millet, and Edith Wharton, only to discover their work was not available. Second-wave feminism was in full force, and activists around the country were starting collectives and businesses of all kinds, including feminist presses and bookstores. It was against this backdrop that Ann and Linda decided that how they would support themselves would also be their contribution to the women’s movement.

In the fall of 1979, in its original storefront on Armitage Avenue, Women & Children First opened its doors. The store’s mission was to promote the works of women writers and offer a welcoming community for all women. From the beginning, the store was committed to offering a wide range of programs, focusing on feminist and LGBTQ politics and culture. We are in a different, larger location now that’s in a more bustling section of Chicago, but our mission remains the same.

2. How did you personally get involved in books and bookselling? What is your favorite part of what you do?
I started bookselling part-time at Borders while earning my MFA in creative nonfiction writing at Northwestern University. I would later move on to work part-time at Barnes & Noble. While I had many issues with the corporate structure and impersonal environment of both of those stores, being surrounded by books all day was heaven. I always hoped that I’d one day work at indie bookstore. I never dreamed I would co-own one!

My favorite part of my current job is helping to promote the work of local and emerging authors whose work I truly admire. What I didn’t realize until recently is that booksellers have so much power in terms of shaping trends in publishing depending on what they choose to handsell. Everyone at our store is committed to handselling books by a more diverse array of authors—not only women authors, but authors of color and queer authors. We love encouraging our customers to be more mindful of reading authors whose culture or identity differs from their own. Listening to marginalized voices is integral to making the planet a kinder, more empathetic place.

3. Do you have a favorite Microcosm book and/or zine? What about other books generally, what are you most into reading right now?
Definitely Threadbare by Anne Elizabeth Moore and Learning Good Consent by Cindy Crabb. Our Social Justice Book Group is reading The New Jim Crow this month and I hope to finally finish it by then! I read a lot of memoir and essays, but I also can’t resist dark, character-driven, contemporary novels. Two of my favorite books that I read recently are Shrill by Lindy West and The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod.

4. How is the role of the feminist bookstore different and/or the same now as it was in, say, the 1970s? What is the future of feminist bookselling, or what do you dream it will be?
I believe we’ve built upon and strengthened our commitment to intersectionality. Feminist bookstores have always had a responsibility to actively challenge the traditional gender binary. Today, I believe we are more inclusive when it comes to trans, genderqueer, and non-binary identities.

Moving forward, my goal is to generate more effective strategies to have productive conversations with folks beyond our politically progressive base. We have a tremendously loyal community and I adore every single person who supports our bookstore. It can feel deeply empowering and exhilarating to have a passionate conversation with someone who shares your values and philosophy. However, when I read the news or travel outside of our largely like-minded feminist community, I often worry that I have become dangerously insulated. How do we begin meaningful dialogue—not shouting matches or Twitter fights—with those whose worldviews differ from our own? That’s what’s on my mind when I look to the future.

a photo of women and children first storefront books on display at women and children first women talking about books gloria steinem and roxane gay Karen Finley and fans

Our August Indie Bookstore Valentine: King’s Books in Tacoma

The giant mural on the wall of King's booksWe have long been fans of King’s Books in Tacoma, Washington. It’s a humongous store full of new and used books and it’s clear from the minute you walk in that it’s run by kindred spirits. I’m not going to say it’s curated, because that word implies a sort of holier-than-thou poshness that is absolutely not going on here. But like any good bookstore, the books are chosen by someone who knows what they like and cares what you’ll like. A huge bonus is that it’s in Tacoma, which is, as locals told us, the best-kept secret of the Pacific Northwest, and it really is a place we recommend visiting over Portland or Seattle. When you go there, be sure to visit King’s.

King’s owner sweet pea Flaherty answered these questions over email. He promised photos, but for now you’ll have to make due with this one I found on the Tacoma Ledger‘s website.

1. According to your website’s About page, “Originally founded by King Ludwig I as a gift to Lola Montez, King’s Books was painstakingly moved to Tacoma on April 1, 2000.” There are some major historical gaps here—do you mind filling them in a bit? What made the store proprietors choose Tacoma? Were they fleeing a scandal? What is their stance on the rational dress movement?

Right. So what had happened was, Lola Montez had an illegitimate daughter named Fanny Gilbert. Fanny was an entrepreneur who, in her early 30s, bought passage to Tacoma, shortly after its founding. She set up the leading brothel near the port, appropriately titled Fanny’s. The ensuing wealth was passed down until several times great-granddaughter Petunia Smirk brought the original bookstore over from Bavaria. I think that should clear any historical gaps.

At King’s Books, we are strongly opposed to the rational dress movement. Our clothing closest resembles that of Flo-Jo, while also mixing stripes and patterns, not to mention warm and cool colors. Plus corsets are required for all employees, including the cats.

2. What are your favorite books right now and why? What about your favorite Microcosm title?
My most recent favorite read is The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo. In modern Finland, women are raised as vapid commodities and all drugs are banned. The most easily smuggled drug is capsaisin, the component of chiles. It is a quirky, feminist, bizarre take on society.

I also love all the picture books coming out where you get to learn about little-known historical figures, like Miss Mary Reporting, The First Step, The William Hoy Story, and Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea, about one of the first female sports reporters, a school desegregation case from 1847, a deaf baseball player, and the woman who mapped the ocean floor respectively.

King’s Books does well with the biking titles, like Bikenomics and Our Bodies, Our Bikes. My most favorite title has to be Walking with Ramona. I haven’t done the tour yet, but I CANNOT WAIT! I might cry.

3. How did you get involved in bookselling? Can you share any hair-raising/funny stories?
I became a bookseller because I was always in bookstores. They are among my favorite places, so it was a natural transition. After my first bookselling convention, I knew I wanted to make it my life.

King’s Books has had a number of, um, colorful customers over the years, including a woman usually in a Marilyn wig who cut pictures of Gandalf out of books (as she thought he was God) and once bled profusely on our floor and a man who is possibly an Amish robot and/or a cannibal who has a number of interesting theories about the most random of topics.

4. What do you think the future holds for the book industry?
Independent bookstores are thriving. I think bookstores that are community centers will only increase their relevance. I love the close relationships bookstores have forged with independent publishers over the last decade. I am always excited to see the smart, innovative things independent bookstores across the country are doing.

Anything else I ought to be asking?
We have two store cats, both rescues, both named by the public. Atticus (Finch, obv) has been with us for a decade and is all black. Herbert (from Tacoma native Frank Herbert) has been with us since October and is a tuxedo cat. They are the welcomers of readers and the scourge of canines.

Visit King’s Books at 218 St Helens Ave in Tacoma, Washington every day from 11-7!

Indie Bookstore Romance: We Heart Quimby’s!

quimbys-art quimbys-comics quimbys-DevilLady quimbys-krampus quimbys-microcomicssign quimbys-mug quimbys-OutsideSign quimbys-storefront quimbys-storiey quimbys-zines quimbys-zlumberparty

quimbys-zlumberpartytent
Quimby’s, the most adorable bookstore in Chicago, and is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary! Microcosm has been working happily with them for many—most?—of those years to get adorable books into the hands of adorable readers like you. (Sorry, we get a little soppy about these things sometimes). When it began, it was a rare outpost of underground literature and zines. Today, it still carries that banner, and it’s impossible to go in without finding a book you absolutely must have an several more that you are very reluctant to leave behind. For our Indie Bookstore Love feature in July, we’re telling you all about them so you can go visit… and buy our books from them, along with many other fine books, zines, and print media of a less easily categorizable nature. You can find them at 1854 W. North Ave, in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Quimby’s boss Liz Mason sat down and answered some of our questions for the occasion, and sent a whole ton of photos!

What’s the story of Quimby’s? How did you get involved in all this stuff to begin with?

Quimby’s is an independently owned bookstore that sells independently-published and small press books, comics, zines and ephemera. We favor the unusual, the aberrant, the saucy and the lowbrow.

On September 15th, 1991, Steven Svymbersky, the founder of Quimby’s, opened the store in Chicago on 1328 N. Damen (at Evergreen) in Wicker Park, in a 1000 sq. ft. space. Since 1985 he had published over 50 zines with his friends, and had published Quimby Magazine for five years in Boston. Steven explained the philosophy of the store with these words: “I really want to carry every cool – bizarre – strange – dope – queer – surreal – weird publication ever written and published and in time Qvimby’s will. Because I know you’re out there and you just want something else, something other, something you never even knew could exist.” (And yes, that was a V.) In 1997 Steven sold the store to Eric Kirsammer, the owner of Chicago Comics. Steven moved to Amsterdam with his family shortly thereafter. Eric purchased the store from Steven in order to continue Steven’s commitment to the First Amendment. After a few years, the rent became too expensive to keep Quimby’s at the same spot in which Steven had opened it. Eric moved it to it’s current locale, 1854 W. North Avenue, to provide it with a more permanent location. He also still owns Chicago Comics. Quimby’s and Chicago Comics have a reciprocal “sister store” relationship, where we transfer materials between each other and often collaborate on ordering, outreach and off-site events.

I got involved because I sold zines at Quimby’s in the 90s and harassed them until they hired me. I’ve been working here for 15 years.

What’s the funniest encounter or wild story that has happened in Quimby’s (or because of Quimby’s?)

I would say the craziest story is that of the nameless gentleman who donated to Quimby’s a huge storage facility compartment full of erotica and porn with the caveat that we drive a cargo van to a rural area and pick it up ourselves. He wouldn’t tell us his name or why he was getting rid of it. Nor would he accept money or store credit as thanks.

When did you start working with Microcosm? Do you have a favorite book or zine by us? What are your favorite things to read lately, generally?

I started working with Microcosm when I started working at Quimby’s, because back then Microcosm was just a few zines on consignment. My fave Microcosm title is probably Xerography Debt, but maybe that’s just because I’m a contributor. But also it’s because it’s interesting to see what other zinesters and zine enthusiasts are enjoying. Lately I’ve been enjoying reading things in all sorts of different things (There Goes Gravity by music journalist Lisa Robinson, The Vorrh by the artist B. Catling, the new graphic novel Patience from Dan Clowes). But also, I’ve had my nose buried in mini-comics I bought at CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) recently, so I’ve been enjoying the new comic from comics collective Trubble Club, Sara Becan’s Stockholme Is Sauceome, and the new issue of John Porcellino’s long time series King-Cat. Also of note: someone consigned a zine here that cracks me up called Crunch: A Taco Bell Fanzine. How could I not love that?

You’ve been in a position to watch as independent publishing and zine culture have gone through some huge changes over the years. How would you describe those? What do you predict will happen in the next 5 years?

There are a lot more resources offered to make publishing easier than ever before, what with all the DIY-advice-offering in both print and digital. Zines about how to make zines! Zines about how to make books! Books about how to make zines! Websites on how to make zines about making zines about books! Also, the internet really has changed everything, and has in some ways, become the great normalizer in that there are no more “gatekeepers” for “cool” stuff. Zines and their brethren mini-comics and chap books are a lot easier to come by. There are a ton of websites devoted to promoting, distributing, selling, ordering and archiving them, not to mention commerce websites creators can use to get the word out about their work. Another thing that has changed is that the punk rockers that made zines when they were younger are growing up and becoming teachers, librarians and zine archivists that teach younger folks about zines, inspiring a new generation to conitnue writng about the same isolation and unhappiness as their mentors did before them.

Anything else I ought to ask?

Yes! This year Quimby’s turns 25!

If you’re in Chicago, drop by Quimby’s to say happy birthday and check out their brilliant selection of independently published reads! Thanks Quimby’s! We can’t wait to keep working with you for decades to come.

Indie Bookstore Love: The Powell’s Interview

Kevin Sampsell poses beside the book pillar at the entrance to Powell's BooksWhat can we say about Powell’s Books? It’s a huge, used-and-new, independent bookstore in downtown Portland that takes up a whole city block, plus a couple of smaller but still large and equally interesting outlying stores. It’s one of the best things about living in Portland, and any time we need inspiration—professional or otherwise—we head straight to one of their locations to get lost in the stacks. It never fails.

Powell’s has also been one of Microcosm’s longest running customers. Starting almost 20 years ago, when Joe moved the business from Cleveland to Portland (you can read about those early days in his new book, Good Trouble), and continuing to this month when we’re partnering with Powell’s to spread the indie bookstore love. All month, Powell’s is featuring our newest edition of The Zinester’s Guide to Portland at every register. And for a week mid-month, you can see a display of Microcosm books at their downtown store—keep an eye out for it.

For this month, we asked Kevin Sampsell, who we’ve long had the pleasure of working with during his 15 years and counting reign over the downtown Powell’s storied Small Press section. When not curating the zine rack and slinging books, Kevin’s writing, editing, and running his own small press, Future Tense Books.

1. What’s your history working with Powell’s? How did you become the Small Press guy?
I started working at Powell’s at the end of 1997 as a holiday temp but I dug my claws in and worked hard and passionately so they couldn’t let me go. In 1998, I became an events coordinator, which means I get to schedule and host author events at the store, which is a privilege and a thrill. I became the small press guy around 2001. My predecessors were the amazing Vanessa Renwick and the late great Marty Kruse. Running the small press section is almost like running my own store. It’s an amazing experience. I love my jobs.

2. Do you remember your first encounter with Microcosm? Do you have any embarrassing or hair raising stories about our early days in Portland?
I remember Joe riding his bike down to the store with his plastic buckets strapped on with all the zines and books crammed into them. A couple of times the zines would be a little rough around the edges or dirty from the rain or dirt. I’d have to flatten out things or wipe them clean before I put them out on the shelf.

3. What’s your favorite Microcosm book or zine?
I was a big supporter of the Zinester’s Guide to Portland, even in its first pamphlet-size format. I thought it was a good idea, and before Microcosm had bigger distribution, I’d be the one who had to email you guys and ask for more. Eventually, after the more polished paperback editions came out, our main book purchasers wised up and started buying them in chunks of hundreds. It’s been one of our most consistent best-selling books in the store for several years now.
Some of my other favorites over the years have been Coffeehouse Crushes, Indestructible by Cristy Road, Sarah Royal’s The Book Bindery, the About My Disappearance zines by Dave Roche, and Sarah Mirk’s Sex From Scratch.

4. You’ve been a mentor and something of a bellwether for Portland’s small press and zine culture. How have you watched those scenes change over time? What do you predict for the future?
Thank you. I have always enjoyed supporting small presses and individuals through my job. The scene here has grown just as the city has grown–very quickly and with a wide swath. I think we’re slowly getting more diverse and inclusive and there’s a beautiful synergy that can often be witnessed between established writers and authors and newer writers coming up. I think that’s one of the reasons writers keep moving here, because they know something special is happening here. But in the last couple of years, the rent problems are making it a challenge to stay here. It’s a trend (the higher cost of living) that I hope doesn’t continue because when you discourage the creative class—who often come from financial struggle–it results in the sad decline of artistic excitement in a city. I don’t want that part of Portland to be “over”—I want it to to stay a haven for artists and risk-takers.

Indie Bookstore Love: Mac’s Backs in Cleveland

macs backs bookstore in clevelandOur indie bookstore crush this month is on Mac’s Backs, a paperback-focused new and used bookstore in the Coventry district of Cleveland, Ohio. This was the store where young Joe would go to get inspired… and when we went back a couple of years ago (after having peanut butter, banana, and pickle sandwiches at the attached restaurant), the bookseller he remembered best, Suzanne, was still there, with a friendly greeting! The store is one of those labyrinthine places, where just when you thought you’d seen every section you find a new door or spiral staircase and it takes you to a whole new realm, with books stacked everywhere and a well-chosen but not-too-controlled selection—perfect for browsing.

We partnered with Mac’s Backs this month in honor of Independent Bookstore Day (which was technically in April, but we like to celebrate it every day). Suzanne, now the owner, thoughtfully answered our interview questions. Read on!

1. What is the story of Mac’s Backs? How did you decide to get into the bookselling business?
My business partner Jim McSherry opened the bookstore in 1978 and when he was looking to open a 2nd location in 1982 I came on board to run it. I thought I would be doing it for a few years until it got off the ground and here I am 36 years later!

We are a new & used bookstore with magazines located in a busy walking neighborhood near Cleveland’s museums and Case Western Reserve University. Our area is very diverse and we have a wide range of customers. It is essentially progressive, democratic and left-leaning politically. There are also lots of families that come here—we are attached to a very popular restaurant that caters to all generations. Our business district has many unusual indie shops and restaurants and being part of such an eclectic shopping community has contributed to the longevity of our store.

2. Joe still talks about buying books from you when he was a teenager growing up punk in Cleveland. Have you seen changes over the years in what kind of books your teenaged—and other-aged—customers are looking for, and what they seem to be making of them?
Over the years our customers have read to educate themselves as well as for entertainment. Our best sections have always been classics, literary fiction, philosophy, poetry and political books like the People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. We have a huge used science fiction section so we have tons of sf customers. Our biggest growth sections in the last few years are children’s books and graphic novels. And if five good graphic novel for middle-grade girls could be published every day that still may not be enough to satisfy the demand!

3. What are your favorite books that Microcosm publishes or distributes? What about your favorite non-Microcosm book in the store right now?
Some of my favorite books that I buy from Microcosm are by Aaron Cometbus. I liked learning about the Berkeley booksellers in The Loneliness of the Electric Menorah and I really enjoyed Bestiary of Booksellers. There is a writer in Ellensburg, WA named John Bennett who used to publish a series called Survival Song, which was an episodic chronicle of his life that I was addicted to reading. I find the same everyman qualities in the books by Cometbus.

Other Microcosm staff and customer favorites are The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting, Bikes in Space, Henry & Glenn, Guide to Picking Locks, This is Your Brain on Anxiety, How to Ru(i)n a Record Label, and Good Trouble.

My favorite non-Microcosm book to recommend to customers is Through the Windshield by Mike DeCapite, a fictional account of a soulful cab driver in 1980’s Cleveland whose best friend is a wise-cracking compulsive sports fan who bets on everything.

4. What do you think of the state of the book industry right now, and where do you foresee it going in the next ten years? What would you most like to see happen?
I think neighborhood and indie bookstores have been strengthened in recent years. The robust grassroots buy local movement across the country has really made a difference in how people think about shopping. They understand that their choices have consequences in their community and have responded by supporting local independents—and that has made a huge difference. This has allowed us to continue to do what we have always done—to be a friendly community gathering place, maintain a broad and interesting selection of books for our customers to discover and provide the best customer service possible. And our partners in this have always been the small presses like Microcosm.

Anything else you want to share?

Happy Anniversary Microcosm!!

Thanks, Suzanne! Everyone, go to Cleveland and find our books and others at Mac’s Backs!

Indie Bookstore Love: Boneshaker Books in Minneapolis!

boneshaker-signOur indie bookstore crush for the month of April is on Minneapolis’s one-and-only all-volunteer bookstore collective, Boneshaker Books. Walking into Boneshaker is an amazing experience—a friendly person greets you, and you’re surrounded by a selection of books, each one of which was obviously chosen because someone passionately wants you to read it, not because of sales metrics. Even the way the sections are selected is thoughtful and eye-opening. For instance, most bookstores have a separate sections for African American and Native American histories… in Boneshaker, those are both just plain American History, and make up the bulk of that section. Chances are a volunteer worker will make you feel right at home, leaving you alone to browse if that’s what you prefer or engaging in a spirited discussion of the ethics and techniques of writing fiction, if that’s up your alley.

The collective is putting up a Microcosm books display this month to celebrate our shared history and values (pics coming once that happens!), and they also took the time to answer a few questions for us.

1. What is the history of Boneshaker Books?
After longtime Minneapolis radical bookstore Arise! closed in 2010, a group of former volunteers decided that there was still a need for an all-volunteer community bookstore—and, that if done thoughtfully, it could be successful and self-sustaining. Our original crew had an extremely diverse skill set that included a professional fundraiser, a carpenter, an artisanal iron worker, and a web developer, and we leveraged those skills as much as possible.

boneshaker-attitudeAlong with the usual Kickstarter and benefit events, we came up with a unique fundraising plan: every donor of $250 or more could pick a book title that we would stock forever. So not only did we build a strong donor base, but they literally built the foundation (or skeleton) of our collection. We like to say that every book in the store is there because someone—donor or volunteer—loves it.

We intended to open in the old Arise! Bookstore building, but it fell through for a few reasons, mostly due to money. After contacting some neighborhood groups, we found an odd space in the back of a quirky building in the Seward neighborhood, near our friends at the Seward Cafe. It turned out to be a perfectly magical fit. We were also able to share the space with our friends at the Women’s Prison Book Project who distribute books to women and transgender persons in prisons.

After a year of writing business plans, fundraising, building beautiful custom bookshelves, and making dreamy book lists, we opened in January of 2011. Over the last five years, we’ve sold thousands of books, hosted hundreds of events, meetings and book clubs, and thrived with the support of countless volunteers and patrons. It’s been a wild ride, and we look forward to the adventures the next five bring.

2. A boneshaker is a Victorian-era bicycle; we too love the combination of books and bicycles. How did you choose the name and what do bikes + books mean to you?
So one of the ideas that we included in our vision of Boneshaker Books from our earliest collective meetings was to offer a free bike delivery service for special orders. Many of our founding collective members rode their bikes for transportation already, and it just seemed like a natural addition to our store. So as we discussed that intersection of interests, we gravitated towards a bike/book name.

And as we thought more about that combination, we thought about the ideological similarities between riding bikes and reading books. Today, neither of those things is seen as essential to enjoying your life—but anyone who rides a bike or reads a book will tell you how empowering those activities are! How they are essential to so many of us!

Riding a boneshaker bike is also a really jarring experience, which we think describes our inventory pretty well. We carry books that rattle your core, and the name Boneshaker Books fits that perfectly.

boneshaker-staff3. What’s your favorite (or the most popular) Microcosm book in your store? How about any book at all?
So this might be a little biased, but our favorite Microcosm book is Fire and Ice by Joshua Ploeg. In 2012 we were hosting a Valentine’s Day fund raising dinner—and maybe not surprisingly, we don’t have a ton of experience catering gigantic dinners. But it turned out that Joshua was going to be in Minneapolis that night, so we reached out and asked for his help.

And he pulled through in such a huge way! He helped us make the most incredible vegan dinner, with, like, Husker Du themed foods! And then one of his fans showed up, this awesome vegan chef from Minneapolis, and she cooked a ton of delicious food with us, too. It was just this totally overwhelming experience, and it still stands as our most successful fund raiser ever, four years later.

Fire and Ice happens to be our best selling Microcosm title too—which is nice.

4. You’ve been around through some major ups and downs in the book business. Has being a volunteer-run collective helped get you through that or given you a different perspective than a for-profit bookstore might have? What do you hope happens next?
At any given time we have over 40 active volunteers, and sometimes that number goes up to 60. That means every day there are between 40 and 60 people who are contributing ideas, recommending books, organizing events, and making Boneshaker Books a better community book store.

So that’s probably the biggest perspective-shift between Boneshaker and a for-profit bookstore. We have more ideas coming in, we have a more diverse set of stake holders, and—as volunteers—we’re less dictated by making stacks of cash. We need to pay rent every month, but other than that, we don’t have nearly as many expenses as a traditional bookstore—and that lets us take risks with our inventory that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

Our next big hopes are to expand our bicycle delivery service to include a dedicated bike trailer stocked for events, and we’re dipping our feet into online sales. Maybe.

Visit Boneshaker Books every day from 11 to 8 at 2002 23rd Ave S in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota! And thank you for supporting independent bookstores!

Indie Bookstore Love: Ebenezer Books in Johnson, Vermont

inside ebenezer books in vermont ebenezer books storefront a wood cut sign with a dog's head and the text ebenezer books the Nonfiction shelf at ebenezer books a longer shot of the zine display with a copy of the quran

display case of zines
We’re celebrating our 20 years of independence by highlighting a different indie bookstore that we love every month for a year! This month, we’re featuring the wonderful Ebenezer Books at 2 Lower Main Street in tiny Johnson, Vermont. They first caught our eye because of their prolific and eclectic zine orders.

We asked Ebenezer’s owner, JJ Indeliclae, a bunch of questions and she sent a bunch of photos, including one of the rack right inside their front door that features a ton of the zines we distribute and publish, as well as the American Quran, which she says she added to her front display in solidarity after someone freaked out about it being on display in another Vermont store.

1. What’s the story of Ebenezer’s? I also have to ask about the store’s name… did it come from a grizzled old New England settler, or is it about a ghost of Christmas?
Neither, actually: I named Ebenezer Books after my dog, Ezer. “Ebenezer” is most commonly translated from Hebrew as “place of refuge,” or, more literally, “stone of help.” For me, bookstores have always been both. My Ezer deserves some of the credit for landing me here in rural northern Vermont. (He is a bit grizzled now, almost fourteen… and there is an Ebenezer Road nearby, so there may well have been an old New England settler by that name. The Dickens reference is pretty slant.)

I bought the store in 2008, just weeks before the recession hit. Ebenezer Books is a true brick-and-mortar, inhabiting a 100-year-old bank building. The founding bookseller on this site, Stacey Burke, restored the original tin ceilings and created a beautiful space for books (in 1998).

2. You sell some of the books we publish, and you also buy zines that we distribute! At this exact moment, what is your favorite Microcosm book, your favorite non-Microcosm book, and the zine that stuck in your head the most in the last year?
Yes! We are thrilled to carry Microcosm zines and books. It’s an almost-daily pleasure to watch people discover zines; I’m continually surprised how many of our customers are discovering them here for the first time. (“Excuse me… what are these little books?”)

It’s tough to pick a favorite Microcosm book! Hot Pants, maybe. Or J. Gerlach’s Simple History series. I’m a longtime fan of Ayun Halliday, so I enjoy recommending her Zinester’s Guide to NYC. My current favorite non-Microcosm book is forthcoming in May: Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene. The zine that stuck in my head the most from the past year? There are so many contenders that I’m going to pick the title that first struck me from another store’s zine rack: We’ll Never Have Paris. I’m partial to literary collections.

3. Your bookstore is small but mighty—how would you describe your customers? What keeps you going?
Johnson is a small town, but it is the home of the Vermont Studio Center, the country’s largest residency program for writers and visual artists. They draw people active in the literary community from all over, so many of our customers come from far afield. Consequently we are able to maintain a rich and deep selection of books, especially in poetry and literary fiction. We serve our neighboring towns and are pleased to have customers in an increasing radius from Johnson. Some of our seasonal traffic comes from neighboring ski resorts, and many people also come through town on road trips to view fall foliage. Bookselling is definitely a labor of love. Our best customers share our veneration for the physical book, and their loyalty is a force.

4. What do you glimpse in your crystal ball for the future of books?
I have to believe that there are enough people who care about cultural literacy to continue to buy books, and to buy them from independent channels. I’m encouraged by the resurgence of independent bookstores very recently, though this national trend has yet to buoy us much, as bookstores in particular depend on a political awareness that is still evolving. Book industry upheavals are not yet played out. My hope is that more and more small independent bookstores will thrive, and in turn support small publishers such as yours: especially the ones that care about literary and production quality.

This has been an interview with JJ Indeliclae, owner of Ebenezer Books in Johnson, VT! Be sure to pay them a visit when you’re next up that way, and support your local indie bookstores in the meantime!