Posted in Publishing

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!]