It's no small feat for an indie press to reach its fifth birthday, an important indicator of long-term success. But nonprofit Beacon Press in Boston has passed that milestone 30 times and counting. "What's interesting," said associate publisher Tom Hallock, "is that this place is here after 150 years and doing well in this age of consolidation." Beacon managed to boost sales by 10% in 2002 and had an increase in its net surplus of more than 100%.
To mark its sesquicentennial, Beacon began a year-long celebration with the unveiling of its new logo at BEA. Next came a specially commissioned chapbook by historian and Beacon author Susan Wilson, Boston Sites and Insights, which is being given away at regional trade shows this month. The book covers the press's history from its founding in 1854 through various turning points, such as the publication of The Pentagon Papers. In January, Beacon will introduce an easel-card promotion with quotes from Daniel Ellsberg, Edwidge Danticat and Juliet Schor to be used in conjunction with a display of favorite Beacon titles. The press, which will publish 65 titles this year, has a backlist of just over 500 books.
"I'm so proud to be director of Beacon in the 150th anniversary year," Helene Atwan told PW. "The history of this press is so rich with innovation, daring and enduring quality that it inspires us constantly to try to match the future with the past." That includes convincing poet Mary Oliver to rejoin the Beacon line-up with the just released Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays. Her previous Beacon Press title, New and Selected Poems, is one of the house's bestsellers and won a 1992 National Book Award for Poetry.
In addition to poetry, Beacon continues to be best known for its books on controversial issues, such as Rashid Khalidi's Resurrecting Empire, set for next May. "I really think this is our next Race Matters," said Atwan, referring to Cornel West's look at racial issues, one of a handful of Beacon Press New York Times bestsellers. "Khalidi's done scholarly books like Cornel had, but he has never done a book for the general public."
Hallock credits Beacon's decision to stay close to its mission of publishing socially relevant titles, despite an adverse political climate, as a major reason for its success. The publisher has recently published books on topics such as nonviolence, freedom of speech, economic justice and the estate tax. From an operational standpoint, Beacon has benefited from increasing the number of trade paperback originals it publishes, including the first novel in its Blue Streak line. The use of new printing technologies has also contributed to improving Beacon's bottom line as has its strong relationship with its distributor Houghton Mifflin.
Another special title for next year is Suzanne Strempek Shea's account of working in a bookstore, Shelf Life. "It's our thank you to booksellers who've kept us going all these years," said Atwan.