"We're 20 years old, but every time we go to industry events people say 'why aren't we familiar with you?' " recalled Joe Biel, founder and publisher of Microcosm Publishing. "This time we thought, it makes much more sense to bring our books to more people."
Biel founded Microcosm in Portland, Ore., in 1996 after working for several years in the music industry, and since then Microcosm has amassed a customer list of some 600 clients and even opened its own 900-square-foot bookstore. Most of Microcosm's customers, however, are not bookstores and, now, in the company's 20th year, Biel is making a concerted effort to reach out to indies. To that end, Microcosm is running a special promotion through its distributor Legato: buy 20 or more backlist titles, get an extra 5% discount.
Microcosm publishes around 20 titles per year and, according to Biel, its editorial mission is to publish books that "help the reader feel good about themselves and create positive change in the world around them." The list is an eclectic one--although most of the titles are nonfiction books with a do-it-yourself or activist bend, there are also coloring books, graphic novels, cookbooks and the occasional fiction anthology. Microcosm's two most commercially successful books are a D.I.Y. guide by Raleigh Briggs called Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nest Skills, and Tom Neely's Henry & Glenn Forever, a satirical graphic novel about the domestic lives of musicians Glenn Danzig and Henry Rollins.
"I realized that books and publishing would have a much longer life in my enthusiasm and passion," said Biel, who had founded a record label before creating Microcosm. He started that label, he continued, because he wanted to give back, but he realized eventually that publishing books would be a "better way to give back."
Biel's early ideas of how to build an audience and create relationships in the business came from his time as owner of a record label. Microcosm's clients include bike shops, clothing stores, thrift stores and grocery co-ops. The company's single biggest customer, in fact, is a taco stand in Tokyo, Japan, and for 15 years Microcosm sold books to a newsstand in a subway station in Melbourne, Australia.
Said Biel, laughing: "It's proven to be an effective strategy, but it was borne of mistakes." --Alex Mutter