In yesterday's round of out-loud-thinking and discussion around the possible launch of a rpg publishing coop, DH Boggs raised the kind of tough and honest question that helps clarify what we are on about.
“The idea, as I read it, was to pool together the talents of several persons of related interests to publish OSR material--the bulk of any profits going to the author. So far, that is no different than a number of the small hobby publishers out there (Brave Halfling, or Autarch, for ex).
But, it will be a non profit and a coop--meaning participants will have to pay a membership fee in either cash or service or a combo of each. Now that is different, and interesting, but what precisely do you see as the advantages over the traditional "for profit" route? Membership (i.e. commitment) would seem to be one. What else?”
Indeed, what else? Why bother?
For starters, I don't want to over-sell it, in the main because we are still in the process of trying to figure out "it" is. And none of this is not to knock all the good people toiling away in small companies or solo operations. I won't support those that I currently support any less for trying something like this.
But off the bat I do see a few differences from the small company model:
Larger Pool. A coop has the potential to build up a larger pool of talent. Forgive (and correct) me if I am talking out of my ass, but many of those operations have very few people doing the hands on work. While I would think we'd want to keep it relatively small and tight in the beginning, I still think we are looking at something like 20-30 designers, writers, editors, artists, programmers, etc.
Entry-level Access. Most of the businesses are primarily focused on promoting the systems and products of their owner/designers--or a very small collection of people close to them--which is great, but other than starting yet another operation of your own it's difficult for a newcomer to break in. Not only can we have the luxury of a wider door (while still trying to maintain quality standards I should add), but we can assist in being as much or more about the development of coop members as we are about the products.
Greater incubation and collaboration. Lee raised this excellent point: “ One way a Co-op could differ is members could ‘pitch’ projects at the idea stage. If accepted the Co-op works on it from the start rather than at the end of the creative process.” In other words by building stronger working relationships we are highly likely to not only be helping people finish or improve their existing projects—we could be launching new “staffed-out” collaborations.
Removes the For-Profit Barrier. Many small rpg companies have strong hobbyist roots--and we all know no one is really making money more than a glorified beer fund—so I don't want to build up a 99 percenter argument here (we have a movement for that elsewhere), but I do think there is a psychological barrier to fuller participation by folks who aren't fully comfortable with the commercial-hobbyist hybrid we often see.
That's four off the top of my head. Undoubtedly others can provide some more—and tough questions to clarify the discussion more.
So what's next?
First of all we need more discussion with an eye to answering tough questions and moving closer to a consensus about what “it” is. Unless someone has a brighter idea, I am going to set-up a Yahoo or Google list serve to channel the discussion better and hopefully get me out of the center a little.
If you are seriously interested in participating in launching this co-op--I don't have everyone's email who chimed in yesterday (and likely today)--please email me at kutalik at gmail dot the com—so I can at the least put everyone together on an informal CC.