Platform Cooperativism Takes to Publishing

I’m going to take a stab at applying platform cooperativism to publishing, which I actually don’t think is that much of a stretch from established chapbook/anthology cultures.

It starts with five authors. No, it starts with only two. They’re best friends. They went through writing school together, but they haven’t had any luck submitting their work to literary journals. They’re frustrated with the gatekeeper system, so they decide to publish a chapbook together using their own money and limited understanding of design/layout. It’s a bit ramshackle, but it’s a sincere effort. They tell their friends and they bring some by to small art spaces around the city. Some of their friends express an interest in putting together a similar project, so the next time around, there are five authors. With the growth of the group, their reach also expands, and they’re gaining the interest of writers and creatives outside of their immediate social circles. They start to think of themselves as a collective. They stumble over involving people that they don’t directly know, but the city is small and the people interested are still friends-of-friends, so they start holding meetings and thinking about putting together another chapbook.

From my understanding, the story so far is one that many independent presses more or less have in common—it’s also analogous to various artists throughout history who have been unable to find mainstream success, so they’ve broken out and done their own thing instead (for one very notable example, check out the history of the Impressionist movement, following the initial Salon des Refusés  of 1863.)

How I’m imagining this venture could mature into a platform cooperative, however, is if they continued to publish anthologies as opposed to  collections or pieces written by one person. I say this because it seems more compatible with the cooperative model—in the Shareable article, “What is a Platform Co-op?” the contributors talk about the importance of the platform providing a service or selling a product, as well as the centrality of the platform being collectively owned and governed.

I think it takes a great deal of goodwill and organization to set something like this up, but perhaps the collective could be run by an editorial board and an executive board. People on both boards would be voted in, and every member of the collective would contribute a certain amount of money. Collective members could submit pieces for inclusion in that year’s issue, and the editorial board would decide what to publish. A portion of proceeds would go towards supporting the publishing etc., but anything earned beyond that could be paid back to the collective members.

Obviously this sort of idea is only scalable to a point, but I do think it’s possible. It almost feels like a hybrid between a Patreon-like model and a true platform cooperative, but I think it’s the most realistic way to apply the idea to publishing.

Work Cited

Mai Sutton, Cat Johnson, and Neal Gorenflo. “A Shareable Explainer: What is a Platform Co-op?” Shareable. August 16, 2016.


3 Replies to “Platform Cooperativism Takes to Publishing”

  1. Hey Stephanie! I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I think you explained platform co-op really nicely with your example. That’s how I would envision it too, but of course there would be logistics that would have to be thought out. This brings me back to Melody’s point of how governing and making decisions could be a difficult process. Although an editorial board would make things fair, I also wonder if there could be clauses so that not the same people get published, or for all voices to be heard. I also wonder if this is only workable for smaller- medium groups. Are there any examples of this being affective in larger settings? I’m only scared that once it is organized and running, there will be a dominance of recurring, established voices. How we do maintain the balance?

  2. I really liked how you took us through the journey this imaginary publishing coop went through. It drew me in and I was invested in their model. You mention this in your blog post, but I find that the one thing keeping me from committing entirely to the idea of platform coops is the fact that the idea requires that the company makes money. It is so difficult to make money and stay close to your mission statement in publishing already, let alone with the pressures of running a coop. Also, the fact that the board would need to be monitored closely to avoid favoritism and unfairness.

  3. I really like how you draw a comparison and a pathway from existing chapbook/anthology culture to the kinds of platform coops described in the readings of our course. While I enjoyed reading your imagined approach for how a coop could get off the ground, I was left wanting to read a further exploration of how the basis for coop culture already exists in some parts of the publishing world.

    In your final paragraphs you begin to dive into some of the issues of governance that would need to be addressed in a coop. I agree, these are important and complicated issues, but I would posit that these are the same kind of issues that need to be addressed in any organization. Questions of who should be on the board, the bylaws of the organization, as well as decisions of when you need an HR team to make sure you are being fair and treating your employees legally, are all important organizational issues. While coops certainly have their unique character, I am not sure having governance issues is unique to coops.

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