Good conversations stick with me for long spells. Slowly over months they seem to percolate and build until they find some kind of public expression on my part.
About a year back I had a marathon conversation with a fairly well-established (albeit close to the bottom-rung) crime fiction author at a union convention. One of the most interesting topics we hit on in that wide-ranging talk was the evolution of writers' circles.
He floated the notion that the increasing sophistication of print-on-demand and distribution services was causing a veritable revolution, transforming a few of these circles from simple self-help (and commiseration) groups into something closer to a full-fledged DIY publishing coop. Members were going from being sympathetic shoulders and sounding boards to providing rigorous editing, layout help, publishing advice, etc.
I could tell from his increasingly glowing, animated tenor that the idea of such a transformation driving a stake into the heart of the traditional publishing industry—or at the least chipping away at it's outer edges—clearly was an idea near and dear. Having worked on both sides of book and publication publishing I could only nod my head vigorously and mutter things to the effect of “right on, preacher man.”
Months later with my own feet starting to dip into the slackeriffic world of hobbyist game designing/publishing I find myself longing for some stake-driving. Let's face it about the mainstream of the rpg industry: it deserves to have a vorpal blade go snicker-snack on it.
The problem is, what's the alternative? In some ways we are already seeing it, a bewildering constellation of single-person outfits and micro-companies. All well and good, let a hundred flowers bloom and all that.
But what about something like those transformed writers' circles to also help chip away at the edges? What about something that combines the best of that rugged independence with a larger pool of skill sets and co-equal work?
What about a DIY game publishing coop?
It's not an entirely new idea. Indeed my favorite hex-and-counter wargame company of the late-90s was the Canadian-based cooperative outfit called the Microgame Design Group, which produced a stunningly creative array of highly affordable microgames relying on then revolutionary technology of desktop publishing.
What I am thinking of—and this is thinking out loud more of a baseline for discussion than a concrete proposal--is something like this:
1. The coop would need to be a reasonably cohesive group with a healthy amount of trust and expectation—at least as much as we can get out of the herd of cats that I know and love out there. It would need to be fairly self-selective about who can be a member: people with drive and/or talent who have a lot of heart for putting out creative DIY rpg products.
2. A member would give something like this to the coop:
Annual donation. Should be modest and affordable, but something to help build a psychological sense of ownership and to have a small base of funds. Can be waived in favor of more work as below.
Work. X amount of work hours per month helping do distribution, layout, line editing, copy editing, technical work, illustration, or what ever their core competency takes them.
And the member would receive something like this from a coop:
Work. X amount of work on a project. Type of work as enumerated above.
Quality Control. Critique/feedback/editing from a pool of like-minded souls on your manuscript or other project work.
Distribution Channel. The coop would run a group distribution and printing channel. Perhaps through a Lulu storefront or other print on demand at first and then traditional printing and distribution later if it takes off.
Income. Member keeps the lion share of the profit of sales after modest cut for coop (10-20%?). At any rate it would have to be something much higher than the industry standard for royalties.
Product. Members will be able to obtain copies of coop works at the production cost of the product.
Lay off the crack pipe, Chris, or something worth thinking about?