A publishing co-op: An idea whose time has come?

Discussions of traditional publishing versus vanity publishing versus self-publishing always lead to the same conclusion: there has to be a better way in the wake of the new technologies and expectations.  And so the idea of a publishing co-op is born.

What is a co-op?

There are housing co-ops, banking co-ops, insurance co-ops.  According to the Canadian Co-Operative Association, “A co-operative is an organization owned by the members who use its services or are employed there.”[1]  Further, the association suggests that co-op ventures exist in every part of the economy.  So, a little bit of research leads to some interesting information on terminology in the publishing business.

Some people who have written about cooperative publishing consider it to be a publishing model that represents the middle ground between traditional and print-on-demand publishing.  Although this might represent cooperation between an author (who pays) and a “publisher” who is contracted by the author, it still says self-publishing to me.  The model of cooperative publishing I’m suggesting here is based on a business co-op model where, as the CCA says, the business (in this case the publisher) is owned by the members who use its services.  In the case of a publishing co-op that I’m suggesting is worth exploring, the owners both use the services and are the “employees.”

Current publishing co-op models

The use of the term “co-op” in the publishing business at present clearly does not embrace the ideals of a co-operative business venture.  For example, one such venture called Ocean Cooperative says clearly in the answers to their frequently asked question that the author contributes $895: “Nothing else.”[2]   This is a self-publishing model since the author is not one of the business owners.

On the other hand, Vala Publishing is closer to the model I’m working toward here.  They say that they are “… a community of people, a cooperative, who participate in the business of producing books.”  They use what they call “grassroots commissioning” an acquisitions model that utilizes people other than editors and marketers as is the case in the traditional publishing model.  The members of this co-operative venture are the business owners and their business structure is that of a traditional co-op business venture, but the members are not necessarily the people who also use the services: some of their members are authors, others involved in the commissioning and acquisitions are not.  This is all clearly set out in their interesting business plan.  This seems a very interesting and democratic sort of approach to the business of publishing but does not quite approach the model of the author-led cooperative publishing business where the authors use editorial contractors and make all the decisions on one another’s books that I’m proposing might be worth considering.

The new co-op publisher business model

Here some characteristics that I think are worth contemplating in a new publishing model:

  • The publishing company is structured like a traditional co-op business venture.
  • The owners are authors.
  • The owner/authors all commit to submitting book-length work.
  • The owner/authors all commit to involvement in book promotion – of their own work and the work of colleagues.
  • The owner/authors agree on a mission (the kind of work they will and will not publish, size of ownership), vision and values.
  • Author/owners edit one another’s work.
  • Owner/authors make decision regarding production issues.
  • Owner/authors make decisions regarding distribution contracts.

This is just a place to start. although I cannot imagine that there are not others out there already – I jsut haven’t found them yet.

There are many (many) unanswered questions, so feel free to submit them as we work toward a model that might compete with the “traditional” model where the author is at the bottom of the heap – lets’ put the author back on top!

[PS I’m on vacation so this might not be as fleshed out as it could be.  I’ll get to that!]

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7 thoughts on “A publishing co-op: An idea whose time has come?

  1. This is actually a fine idea. If I were a lot younger and closer to the beginning of my career than closer to the end of it, I would be tempted to spend some energy trying to make something like this happen. But I am not. Regardless, it is not one one alternative to “traditional” publishing, but a better one.

  2. Indeed there are other definitions of co-op publishing. We call ourselves a co-op publisher here at Publishers Place, Inc., in Huntington, West Virginia. We have been a high-quality subsidy publisher but are moving into the co-op niche simply through participation in typical costs of author-subsidized (we NEVER say “self publishing) publishing.
    We do NOT give our authors 100 per cent control (or anything approaching it). We put all submissions through a rigorous editorial process; we do only custom covers (though sometimes using images and ideas submitted by our authors, many times not). We provide our authors with free warehousing, much free shipping, and quite a bit of free marketing. Of course what is “free” to them is our own participation in costs, hence our share of the co-publishing deal. We do indeed bill them for editing (including developmental), cover design, interior design and typesetting, proofing, and the raw printing costs (not marked up by us) whether POD or offset (depending on quantity of print runs we & the author(s) decide on together). Our authors do not receive all
    revenues from sales of their books but a rather generous percentage of revenues (82
    per cent of cover price for books they sell themselves), 36-64 split (in their favor) for books sold directly to bookstores, 50-50 split for books sold through wholesalers.
    We invite inquiries, though we also are niche limited – authors living in the Mid-Atlantic states and authors who seek to publish either memoirs or true-life-based fiction or
    historical fiction. See us at http://www.publishersplace.org We are a 501-c-3 nonprofit.
    Publishers Place

    1. Thanks for sharing information about your services (I’m going to let you self-promote here because I like to be able to help authors find their niche.)

      You highlight the exact issues writers have been discussing: namely the issue of semantics. A rose by any other name is subsidy publishing — call it vanity, call it self-publishing. And others react to it in the same way.

      Overall, we just all need to get over the labels and look for quality publishing options for quality writing that can be made better by quality editing (regardless of who pays for it).

  3. This is something a group of us are looking into starting: a co-operative publishing group, owned by the authors, not by publishers. Pooling together resources to help authors get their work ready for publishing, then through the process of marketing and distribution. Thanks for you post as it is the closes thing we’ve come across this side of the pond.

    1. Thank-you for reading and I’m glad you found my thoughts helpful. I think that as writers we need to understand that the moment we begin to work as part of a publishing co-op, though, we do take a step into the “dark side.” We ourselves become publishers. Hmm…

      1. Yes. That is the Pandora’s box so to speak. But we found what we think is a user model that is very much what our group is looking for and you’ve somewhat described; in the art guilds. We’ve brought together a group of six ‘framers’ to try and create a framework for the cooperative to begin with using your pyramid as the cornerstones so to speak. Thanks again for the information.

  4. Pingback: The confusing world of 21st century publishing jargon: A glossary for writers | Backstory...

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