Business Profile: Sourcebooks Publishing in Naperville

The formula works. Sourcebooks’ revenue jumped 35% in 2022, when the industry as a whole saw a 6% decline. The outlay of new capital invested by Penguin Random House in 2019, just before the pandemic, helped finance some of that growth. Raccah sold, under undisclosed terms, 45% of her stake in Sourcebooks, but says her new collaborator hasn’t changed the business in any fundamental way.

“I’m still here and little has changed. They didn’t impose any program on us at all,” says 65-year-old Raka. PRH, she explains, has offered its vast international network to distribute Sourcebooks titles abroad. When Raka decided to keep most of its workforce remote last year, PRH didn’t protest. “We now have employees in 10 states, working from places like Texas and Arizona. This has allowed us to hire talent that we couldn’t find in the past,” says Raka.

The rise of Sourcebooks over the past three decades has come amid a marked decline in retail channels—major bookstore chains like Borders and Crown Books are long gone—and the advent of e-books, which 20 years ago were predicted to will turn all reading to the internet. That didn’t happen.

“We invest heavily in categories like children’s books and gift books, and e-books are terrible for categories like those,” says Raka, who reports that 85 percent of her book sales are in paper and ink volumes. “I expected that all teenagers would be reading digitally by now. As it turns out, teenagers love physical books. Indeed, Sourcebooks is the publisher of bestsellers for young audiences, such as If He Had Been with Me by Laura Nowlin.

Sourcebooks isn’t the kind of high-profile publisher that would pay $65 million for a Barack or Michelle Obama memoir — PRH won that bid six years ago. It also doesn’t focus on cookbooks or academic subjects. He really has a nose for self-help and romance and books destined to hit the bestseller lists. Its stable of authors includes household names such as EL James, creator of the Fifty Shades trilogy; and the prolific Adam Wallace, creator of the How To Catch series, which launched seven years ago and has sold 14.4 million books across 17 titles, 11 of which made The New York Times bestseller list.

Raka is the daughter of a French physicist who moved to the US as a college professor. She was addicted to libraries and reading in school, graduating as a psychology major at the Circle Campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago and then studying analytics in graduate school. After graduation, she went to work at Leo Burnett in the advertising agency’s consumer research department in Chicago. She could tell the youngsters would probably fall in love with Tony the Tiger before the rest of us knew.

Married with three children, Raka started Sourcebooks initially as a publisher of business books, which she admits were “boring”. Someone told her to follow her heart, and she turned to self-help, with her breakthrough, Finding Time: Breathing Room for Women Who Do Too Much by Paula Cox, which sold 90,000 copies in 1992, roughly the time when Sourcebooks opened its first stand-alone offices in Naperville.

The commercialization formula was refined in the following years as Sourcebooks became, as its CEO puts it, “increasingly data-centric” in analyzing sales trends and consumer sentiment to predict what the silent majority wants to read in the suburbs.

“Sourcebooks does a lot of listening and market testing, and then they go with what they find,” says Dennis Abboud Jr., vice president at Readerlink Distribution Services in Oak Brook, the nation’s largest wholesale book distributor. “No one in publishing has a better read on customer needs and preferences.”

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