While Minnesota Historical Society Press faces the prospect of laying off one-third of its staff and reducing its book production by 30% in the face of expected state budget cuts, the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in Madison is having a record sales year. Though Kathy Borkowski, WHSP’s editorial director, acknowledges that she’s not been able to fill two open positions at the press due to a state hiring freeze, the press’s gross revenues have already topped $1 million and should reach $1.1 million when the fiscal year ends July 1. This year’s sales are more than double last year’s revenue of $484,000, and five times the $210,000 the press grossed in 2004, when Borkowski took the helm.
“We’ve really focused our efforts on publishing books to reach a wide audience,” Borkowski explained, attributing the press’s success to a regional audience becoming more interested in the history and culture of their communities as they simultaneously appreciate the importance of buying locally. WHSP releases 12-14 titles each year, with an average 5,000-copy first print run. There currently are two full-time permanent employees, one half-time permanent employee and five part-time temporary employees.
Three 2008 releases are driving the press’s phenomenal showing this year, all of them selling more than 3,000 copies: Fill ’Er Up: The Glory Days of Wisconsin Gas Stations; On the Hunt: the History of Deer Hunting in Wisconsin and Old Farm: A History.
Borkowski reports that the press’s lead title for spring, pubbed just two weeks ago, is already making an impact in the marketplace. The Flavor of Wisconsin: An Informal History of Food and Eating in the Badger State, first released in 1981 and reissued with a 7,000-copy print run, has been updated to reflect recent influences on Wisconsin cuisine, such as the swelling numbers of Hmong immigrants and the growing popularity of farmers’ markets in the state