Microcosm Publishing is an independent publisher and distributor based in Portland, Oregon. Microcosm describes itself as having "a reputation for teaching self-empowerment, showing hidden histories, and fostering creativity through challenging conventional publishing wisdom, influencing other publishers large and small with books and bookettes about DIY skills, food, zines, and art."
Beginning in 1996 with only Joe Biel doing part-time mail order out of a bedroom in Cleveland, Ohio, Microcosm moved to Portland, Oregon in 1999. Microcosm Publishing was originally run partly as a record label, which informed its approach to bookselling, and released records by Flotation Walls, Bedford, Organic, Cripple Kid, The Unknown, The Roswells, Little Dipper, Rock, Star. The operation grew significantly over the next 10 years, and has been distributed by Independent Publisher's Group as of 2011 when they also shifted focus to primarily becoming a book publisher.
In 2006, the Utne Reader described Microcosm as an "esteemed Portland, Oregon-based publisher and distributor of zines, books, pamphlets, DVDs, and other fun stuff." Microcosm is known for works about DIY lifestyles, 1970s aesthetics of instructional books for self-empowerment, a tongue-in- cheek sense of humor, and images and artwork celebrating bicycles and radical politics. Many of the items offered are not available easily elsewhere on the web or otherwise.
Microcosm is also known for incorporating the tactics of early punk record labels, a DIY approach, and guerrilla-style tactics for promoting their titles. Advertising is rarely purchased. Microcosm continues to operate as a non-profit, dividing all money beyond production expenses into the wages of all staff. Microcosm claims to have double the industry standard in the number of authors who are women.
In September 2008, Microcosm opened a new retail store in the Buckman neighborhood of southeast Portland. There was a noticeable shift in the type of reading material offered, since most stock is "hurts" and "remainders" sold at half retail price or less. In January 2014 the store grew for a fourth time, moving to a new location on Williams Avenue in Portland, a few blocks from its former longtime location in Liberty Hall.
Starting in 2006, before the majority of warehousing was handled by Independent Publisher's Group, Microcosm set out on an ongoing quest to find affordable warehousing for the volume of publishing it was doing inside inner-Portland. Unable to do so, it opened a mailorder and warehouse location in Bloomington, Indiana in March 2007. However, because of complications of managing across state lines, this location was later closed in July 2011 and a new location replaced it in Lansing, Kansas. One month later, Lansing staffer Jessie Duquette (aka "Jessie Duke"), an employee since 2006, became co-owner of Microcosm. In August 2012, the organization split into two separate businesses: one that focused primarily on zine distribution, run by Jessie Duke in rural Kansas; and Microcosm Publishing, which focused on the book publishing operation, run by Joe Biel in Oregon. Duke later changed the name of the distribution side to Pioneers Press. Since 2015, Microcosm has been distributed by PGW/Ingram Publishers Services.
On Dec 12, 2014 Microcosm merged with Taking the Lane Omnimedia and Elly Blue Publishing to strengthen their respective catalogs with even more feminist bicycling titles and added Elly Blue as an owner and marketing director.