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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.

Go deeper

Books become free speech battleground

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The free speech debate that has engulfed social media platforms is now extended to any information gatekeeper, even those not obligated to host anyone's speech.

The big picture: More books have been canceled recently by publishers wary of the potential blowback they could face for giving controversial figures or ideas a platform. Some publishers are facing pressure from frustrated employees to censor controversial authors or ideas.

Biden: Consequences for Russia would be "devastating" if Navalny dies

Biden after the US-Russia summit in Geneva on June 16. Photo: Brendan Smialowski AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin during Wednesday's summit that if jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies in prison, the consequences "would be devastating for Russia."

Why it matters: Although the White House had previously warned the Russian government over Navalny's imprisonment, Biden personally delivered the message to Putin on Wednesday.

19 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy will support Juneteenth bill

Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy will support a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday when it comes to the floor later Wednesday, his office tells Axios.

Why it matters: The House is slated to pass a bill making June 19 — Juneteenth — a federal holiday that memorializes when the last enslaved people in Texas learned about their freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation.

  • It will then go to President Biden for his signature just days before the occasion and one day after the Senate passed the bill unanimously.

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