Eclectic, independent Evanston, Ill.–based Agate Publishing is celebrating its first decade in business this year by highlighting two imprints formed last year. Midway Books, focused on Midwestern topics and authors, and Agate Digital, a line of e-book originals, have joined with Agate’s existing imprints: Bolden Books, specializing in fiction and nonfiction by African-American writers; B2 Books, which offers business-related nonfiction; and Surrey Books, which publishes food-related titles.
The Midway and Agate Digital imprints “each represent what I think are sensible opportunities for a press of our scale at this point in time,” said Agate president Doug Seibold. Since February 2009, he said, Agate has published simultaneous e-book editions of all its print releases. “That’s now making up a very healthy part of our business.”
Agate’s titles are distributed by PGW, and Seibold said the company annually publishes about 24 original print releases and 48 standalone e-books. Agate has a backlist of a few hundred active titles—most recently How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon (Bolden); Virgin Rebel: Richard Branson in His Own Words, edited by Danielle McLimore (B2); The Sardinian Cookbook by Viktorija Todorovska (Surrey); Good Stock by Sanford D’Amato (Midway); and Short Stories from Printers Row, Volume One, edited by the staff of the Chicago Tribune (Agate Digital).
Although he declined to provide exact sales figures, Seibold said, “Our trade business should be up about 40% this year over 2012, after increasing the number of print titles we’re producing by about 25%.” Hot sellers have been I, Steve: Steve Jobs in His Own Words by George Beahm, a New York Times bestseller that has sold 100,000 copies; Jill Nelson’s novel Sexual Healing (the very first book Agate published, from back in 2003, with more than 30,000 copies sold); the novel Freeman, by Pulitzer-winner Leonard Pitts Jr. (with over 35,000 copies sold); and 1,001 Low-Fat Vegetarian Recipes by Sue Spitler, now in its fifth printing (with over 200,000 copies in print).
Another robust element of Agate’s publishing program is its partnerships. The publisher has released titles with partners ranging from Chicago public television station WTTW, Chicago magazine, the Terlato Wine Group, ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and management consulting firm Accenture. Agate’s main partnership is with the Chicago Tribune, and the publisher has produced almost 50 e-books with content from the Tribune over the past 18 months, with several dozen more planned for publication through early 2014. This season, print versions of six Tribune e-book titles will be published—among them, Life Skills; 10 Things You Might Not Know About Nearly Everything; Prep School; Even the Terrible Things Seem Beautiful to Me Now; and Ask Amy, all compilations of popular Tribune columns; plus Capone: A Photographic Portrait of America’s Most Notorious Gangster. Agate has also published e-books with two other Tribune Company newspapers: the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Also flourishing at Agate is an educational arm called Agate Development launched in 2006 (originally called ProBooks and recently renamed), which Seibold described as “a content-development service through which we create texts, courses, assessments, and other learning materials on a contract basis.” Initially aimed at educational publishers and for-profit education companies, the service is adding corporations and nonprofits as clients.
Seibold started Agate in 2003 “in my basement, with a cell phone, a laptop, and a DSL line,” and focused on publishing African-American writers and business-related nonfiction. His background was in those areas; he’d worked as an executive editor at Noble Press, a now-defunct, black-owned small press, as well as at an educational venture that was creating an online M.B.A. program. Agate’s acquisition of Surrey Books in 2006 began the diversified practices that have fueled the company’s growth, and Seibold plans to continue the pattern, exploring opportunities for new partnerships and acquisitions alike. “I am always on the lookout for other publishers that Agate might buy,” he said.