In an agreement signed days before Perseus’ acquisition by Hachette, Microcosm Publishing, an alternative culture publisher and distributor, has signed a distribution deal with the Legato/Perseus distribution unit. The deal will take effect January 1, 2015.
Following the Hachette acquisition, Perseus’ Legato Publishing Group distribution unit will be sold to Ingram. Microcosm publisher Joe Biel said that acquisition “went through 48 hours after we signed” the distribution agreement. He praised the sales staff at Perseus and said that in the wake of the acquisition, he was told "same office, same sales staff." But he also said, "we'll see." Biel said their previous distributor, IPG, “doubled our sales in 2012,” and said that Legato expects to “quadruple our trade sales” going forward.
Microcosm Publishing specializes in an eccentric list of books, zines and originally-self-published short works, comics, merchandise (t-shirts, buttons, patches) and videos on a variety of counter cultural topics that include environmental sustainability, bicycling, social empowerment and more. The company has about eight full-time employees and its offices and warehouse are in Portland, Or. The house publishes about 14 books a years and had annual revenues of about $300,000 in 2013.
Microcosm distributes its books and those of its distribution clients to a unusual “underground” network of retailers that includes bike shops, records stores, clothing shops, and festivals of all kinds. Microcosm targets a growing alternative market for books that Biel believes has been overlooked by the mainstream. Biel and Microcosm author Elly Blue are in the midst of what they call their “Dinner and Bikes Tour,” a combination book tour—Blue is the author of Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy—and distribution circuit that takes the publisher to about 40 events a year and will take them from "Maine to Miami."
They are accompanied on the tour by alt cookbook author Joshua Ploeg (This Ain't No Picnic: Your Punk Rock Vegan Cookbook), and the trio (plus a driver and an adorable service dog) rent a waste-oil powered van, drive to each event and hold combination book/environmental/food/fundraising events that serve as both social activism and book marketing. “The goal is to put activists, the public and multiple related organizations together. This is how we meet our community and we bring the whole Microcosm catalog along with us,” Biel said. The events include a meal cooked by Ploeg and attract from “30-120 people at each location typically. We can attract more but Joshua can't cook for more than that in four hours!”
Among Microcosm’s bestselling titles are Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs(100,000 copies in print after 11 printings) and Henry and Glenn Forever by Tom Neely, Scot Nobles and Igloo Tornado, a graphic novel and hilarious sendup of musclebound punk/metaldudes Glenn Danzig and Henry Rollins (70,000 copies).
“We’re successful in small towns where there are no bookstores,” Biel said about both the “Dinner and Bikes” tour and Microcosm titles generally. “At our events people get to meet their neighbors around food and our books. We think it’s the new social media. It’s what publishers have done for a hundred years; travel around the country with a big box of books in the trunk of your car.”