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Micropublisher Goosebottom Books has recently announced that it is changing its business model to become nonprofit organization. The children’s book publisher is known for its titles about real-life women who have performed extraordinary feats. (DBW recently featured Goosebottom in an article about micropublishing.)
As a non-profit 501C3 Corporation, the organization can now foster cooperative relationships with donors and grant foundations that share their mission. “Goosebottom may be ideally suited for a nonprofit model because we have a very focused vision: we are dedicated to diversity in publishing,” said Founder Shirin Bridges.
Independent publishers have a variety of business models to choose from. For those dedicated to a specific mission, a shifting into the nonprofit space can make practical and financial sense.
High Book Production Costs
”Goosebottom has had a great run. We have achieved a certain level of success,” said Bridges. “We have a strong footprint, great awareness, and wonderful reviews.” The financial aspects part of the business, however have been challenging. “Books are expensive to produce,” said Bridges. “We cannot reduce the per-item costs. Still, we are competing with large publishers that can.”
Many Goosebottom Books titles are 32-page, full-color books. When printing such books in small quantities, the publisher has had little room benefit from economies of scale. “A Goosebottom book cost dollars to produce,” said Bridges, “whereas books produced in mass quantities cost can cost cents to produce [per item].”
An opportunity to apply for grants
As a non-profit, Goosebottom Books can now apply for grant funding and private donations. In recent years, there’s been an expanding interest in growing the availability of multicultural books for children. Along with this trend, there’s been an increase in opportunities for grant funding dedicated to promoting diversity in children’s literature.
“Goosebottom books have great reviews, have won awards, and are praised by librarians,” said Bridges, “But without a broader appeal in the larger market, it’s difficult to succeed financially.” Until that broader market grows to include these diverse voices, Goosebottom can avail itself of grant money dedicated to diversity in children’s books.
Bridges noted that research has shown that many parents don’t necessarily buy books with a diverse range of minority protagonists. Because of that, some publishers historically have been hesitate to produce large product lines of diverse books. “It’s a risk for a publisher to create new books with diverse settings, protagonists, and historical timeframes because those books have proven to have smaller market potentials,” said Bridges. “We need to get to a point where it doesn’t matter who is the protagonist is.”
Is “Non-Profit” A Growing Option For Publishers?
A non-profit model is not just an option for diversity-minded children’s publishers. Indie publishers McSweeney’s Publishing and Heyday Books also have non-profit status. A non-profit model could work for any small publishers that have well-defined missions and a product line reflects a dedication to that mission. For example, a small publisher committed to publishing books about cars could use a nonprofit model to cultivate relationships with donors who are also cars enthusiasts.
As a cautionary note, Livingston said that shifting to a nonprofit model must be carefully considered for any small publisher. “Nonprofit is not the easy answer, but it works for Goosebottom because we have a clear mission.” Publishers would need to demonstrate consistency of mission. They would also need to be familiar with the tax filing and accounting requirements that are unique to non-profits. “The tax filing and accounting as a non-profit will essentially double the paperwork,” said Livingston. She advises, “Meet with accountants and lawyers before making this decision.”
Another difference is that a non-profit publisher must answer to its board of directors. “Working for nonprofit is a very different way of working,” she said. Livingston advises that before switching to this model to get experience working on and with a committee. “You need to know how to work in a cooperative environment,” she said. Livingston has been working with boards since the early 1990’s.
Livingston is in the process of choosing her board of directors. “Choosing a board is an art,” she said. Her plan is to go slow in choosing the board members. “It’s important to be very clear with the mission and with each board member’s responsibilities.”
An Opportunity for Growth
Goosebottom Books will be using this new status to expand its reach. “The funds the we receive will go toward growing our product line,” said Livingston. “Our goal us to continue our product lines of empowering stories about women and girls.” The publisher plans to add stories from different areas of the world and that take place in different historical times. The publisher will continue its imprint Gosling Press and expand its digital products as well.
Bridges has relinquished the top position at Goosebottom to become the executive director of the Mendocino writers conference and to work on a novel. Pam Livingston will be taking the reigns as “mama goose.” Livingston has been a Fellow of the CORO Center for Civic Leadership, an Adjunct Professor at Dominican University of California, and she serves on several nonprofit boards and advisory councils.
“Goose Bottom was conceived for idealistic reasons,” said Bridges. “We wanted to demonstrate to kids that women throughout history and around the world have made a difference. We tell stories about different religions and different social situations. These are powerful stories.” Their books are created fill in the diversity gaps in on the shelves of libraries, schools, and families. Livingston said, “If we can get kids fascinated by these stories, then we earn the right to tell a larger story—the story that history can be fun and interesting.”
Beth Bacon has an MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She helps organizations large and small define their brands and has a special expertise in helping authors market their books. Beth has won the The Candlewick Award for Picture Book Writing, the Marion Dane Bauer Award for Middle Grade Writing, and is a PSAMA PULSE Award Finalist for marketing.