Apr 27, 2021 - Economy & Business

How McSweeney's survived the pandemic

 Amanda Uhle pictured standing outside a bookstore
McSweeney's executive director Amanda Uhle. Photo: McSweeney's

McSweeney's, the 23-year-old nonprofit publishing company, tripled its readership during the pandemic, executive director Amanda Uhle tells Axios.

By the numbers: 2020 book sales were up 55% year over year, thanks to moving its mostly brick and mortar book sales line to its website.

  • "Our books are objects that people want to pick up," Uhle says. "When that went away and we had to sell books based on a thumbnail image, we had to think about books in a different way."

Why it matters: Most people know McSweeney’s from its humor website, which Uhle says now sees over 3 million monthly unique visits — triple the average pre-pandemic.

  • But the company, which became a nonprofit in 2018, mostly stays afloat selling print books and magazines subscriptions.
  • Magazine subscriptions soared during the pandemic.
  • "McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern," a literary journal, saw a 57% increase in subscriptions.
  • "Illustoria," its art & storytelling magazine for kids, saw a 133% subscription boost.

By the numbers: In total, about 20% of its revenues typically come from donations, although Uhle says donations have declined dramatically during the pandemic.

  • Its budget is around $1.3 million.

What's next: A huge part of the McSweeney’s mission is to support the book publishing ecosystem, which includes independent publishers.

  • Next year, McSweeney’s will publish a new book by founder Dave Eggers as a hard cover, available only in independent book stores.
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