The Mountaineers Books has a lot to celebrate this year aside from its 50th anniversary. Editor-in-chief Kate Rogers said the house, which is the publishing arm of the Mountaineers, a nonprofit organization, did go "through a difficult period starting in fall 2008" and scaled back a bit, decreasing staff and title output from about 40 to 45 titles a year to 25 to 30 (25 titles are slated for 2011). But like many houses, it has come back, as Rogers put it, "tighter and more stable." The past 18 months have been strong, and while the house is not at prerecession sales levels, its fiscal year, which ended at the end of September, was profitable.
Rogers attributes the rebound to the recession-friendly activities that Mountaineers' primary line of books—guides for camping, hiking, and climbing—cover. She also noted the house's imprints—Skipstone and Braided River—address topics that are suddenly popular, such as sustainability and DIY, with one Skipstone title, The Urban Pantry, getting a plug from Gwyneth Paltrow that resulted in some 10,000 copies in print—a big deal for a small book (read more in last week's Cooking the Books, "A Small Cookbook's Big Year"). Third, Rogers said, the anniversary has brought the publisher a fair amount of local attention in Seattle and helped boost sales of its flagship title, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, out in a new edition this year. About 700,000 copies are in print to date, across all editions, plus foreign sales.
Other books that did well this year were Babes in the Woods: Hiking, Camping, Boating with Babies and Young Children by Jennifer Aist, which received support from the Children and Nature Network and the National Wildlife Federation; Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska's Tongass Rainforest by Amy Gulick; Kissing Kilimanjaro: Leaving It All on Top of Africa by Daniel Dorr, named one of Amazon's Top 10 Outdoor books of the year; and Pacific Feast: A Cook's Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine by Jennifer Hahn, just released in October and "out the door very strong," having just made the weekly bestseller list of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association.
Mountaineers has around 250 titles available on Kindle, and Rogers said the company is making books available through "as many of the e-reader platforms as we can." E-book sales are inching up every month, Rogers said, and the ones that have been most successful thus far are narratives, like the climbing memoir Forget Me Not, a foraging history of the Northwest titled Fat of the Land, and The Tecate Journals: Seventy Days on the Rio Grande. Kindle versions of guidebooks often have maps separated from the text and other design issues, but Rogers expects that to be addressed. Mountaineers has also seen strong sales of backlist titles via POD. It has plans to begin bundling PDF downloads and printed editions of some titles. Next year will bring a Web site relaunch; modeled on Chelsea Green's site, the new Mountaineers site will be more interactive, with community sections for readers and authors.
The company still faces challenges, such as fewer outlets for review coverage. But Rogers said, "Things look very good as we go into the holidays. Even though the industry's changing so dramatically, we feel more focused and sure of our mission than ever before."