Sourcebooks continues to move forward at a rapid pace, with company executives reporting a 20% sales gain in 2014 over 2013. Much of that growth is due to the Chicago-area company’s aggressive move into the digital market with its Put Me in the Story platform, which enables customers to customize books in both print and digital formats. PMITS sales in 2014 were 10 times higher than the previous year’s sales, and its two e-commerce sites, PMITS and Simple Truths, accounted for 18% of the company’s total revenue last year, up from 7% in 2013. PMITS was launched in 2012, followed by Simple Truths less than a year later.
“Put Me in the Story really opened the door for this,” Sourcebooks’ founder and CEO Dominique Raccah said. “Personalized books have been an extraordinary experience.” The company’s partnership with Sesame Workshop, which began in 2013, is yielding high returns with a new line of licensed books, she noted. Sourcebooks is producing PMITS books with seasonal themes and others with Sesame Street characters; both are also available in hardcover. The text, which consists of twists on classic poems, is written in-house during staff brainstorming sessions. For instance, in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street, the Cookie Monster eats the cookies set out for Santa Claus. It has sold more than 6,000 print copies.
“We’re excited about developing other ways for people to interact with great characters,” Raccah said, noting that the company continues to pursue licensing opportunities with other companies. Just recently it signed a licensing deal with Peanuts, which Raccah promises will be a major addition.
Sourcebooks’ e-commerce sites have been so successful that the company is revamping its two sites to better accommodate customers. “We grew so much last year, we actually have to change our infrastructure,” Raccah said. “A thousand people using your cart is different from 10,000, and 10,000 is different from 100,000.” While declining to identify the company, Raccah noted that one partner informed Sourcebooks that PMITS was its top retail outlet, accounting for 40% of its sales.
Children’s books, a highly competitive market that Sourcebooks entered in 2006 with the launch of its Jabberwocky imprint, is also driving sales, with Jabberwocky books for children and the six-year-old Fire imprint for YA readers representing 30% of the company’s revenue in 2014. Juvenile/YA was up 23% overall in 2014 over 2013, and the category is up 71% to date in 2015,
Raccah said. One children’s author and illustrator, Marianne Richmond, who joined Sourcebooks five years ago, has sold two million books. This fall, Sourcebooks is releasing Richmond’s first holiday book: You Are My Merry.
On the YA side, a partnership with Wattpad on two YA novels has also done well. One of the two, Natasha Preston’s The Cellar, has sold more than 90,000 copies since its publication in 2014, with 42,000 copies of that figure selling in the past six months.
It’s not just the digital realm and children’s/YA books that are driving Sourcebooks’ growth: it’s also print. Calendar sales were up 54% in 2014, print sales of adult nonfiction rose 26%, and fiction increased 10% over the previous year. And so far in 2015, fiction continues that upward trend in sales, Raccah said.
“Growth is coming from every part of our business,” Raccah said, pointing out that Landmark and Casablanca, Sourcebooks’ fiction and romance imprints, are at their "strongest ever.” Though sales of the Mediafusion line of print book and CD packages have declined as the use of CDs has fallen, the enhanced e-book packages, featuring Shakespeare plays and poetry, continue to sell, Raccah said. And although Sourcebooks isn’t known for cookbooks, Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson, by IBM and the Institute of Culinary Education, has had a good start since Sourcebooks released it this spring at SXSW with a 50,000-copy first printing.
Raccah founded the press in 1987 to self-publish 1,000 copies of her own business guide, and she admitted that “it took us a long time to find our stride. We’ve really found our voice the last couple of years in the books we publish and the way we publish them. We’ve taken Sourcebooks from what was an adult nonfiction publisher to a much more diversified publisher—and one that resonates better with consumers in terms of unit sales.” The growth has led the publisher to add about 20 people within the last year; Sourcebooks now has 120 employees and plans to publish 300 titles this year.
Comparing Sourcebooks’ seven imprints to a stock portfolio, Raccah said that “it’s about the diversification of our lists and ourselves. We straddle an understanding of books, publishing, and content.”
The print version of this story contained an incorrect percentage for Sourcebooks' YTD 2015 fiction sales and has been corrected. The print version also contained an incorrect number re the press' 2015 releases and has been corrected.