Last Friday employees at Chelsea Green Publishing in White River Junction, Vt., clinked glasses of hard cider to celebrate a change in ownership; they now own close to 80% of the stock. The press joins a handful of publishers that have opted for employee ownership, including W.W. Norton, which moved to an employee-owned profit-sharing trust in 1960, and more recently Barrett-Koehler Publishers in San Francisco and Candlewick Press in Somerville, Mass.
Initially, president and publisher Margo Baldwin, who founded the press with her husband, Ian Baldwin, in 1984, had planned to train a successor. A few years ago when a potential hire didn’t work out, the Baldwins began considering an ESOP model, like Vermont neighbors King Arthur Flour, as a way to transition Chelsea Green to a post-Baldwin era and pay back their 40 investors—friends and family and people who cared about the mission of politics and sustainable living—over the next five years.
“Selling to our employees was the only way we could ensure that the company could remain independent and stay in Vermont. The only real way to repay investors, traditionally is to sell,” said Margo Baldwin, who will continue to head the press. She worries that the press, which has been profitable and closed out 2011 in the black, could still be bought and is considering taking additional steps to make that less likely.
This weekend Chelsea Green’s 21 employees got more good tidings to toast. Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World jumped to #14 on the NYT bestsellers list as a result of two airings on NPR’s Fresh Air as part of a story on “Fermentation: When Food Goes Bad But Stays Good.” This is the fourth Chelsea Green book to hit the NYT list in the past decade. “It’s nice to be ten years ahead,” said Baldwin, noting that Katz’s 2003 book on Wild Fermentation is the press’ number two book for the year.