Economic models for cooperative publishing projects

Continuing the discussion from Ingram Checklist for Submitting Books:

Hi Marco, I am creating a new topic with this reply, since it doesn’t relate directly to book metadata but touches on the economics of collaborative work. You asked:

My hope and intention is that in the future we have at least a couple or more professional-level (or skilled/hobby/apprentice-level amateur) designers in the co-op who could could offer their services to a given project on a basis of whatever up-front compensation we can offer, with the possibility to be more fully rewarded later if a project generates income. This would mean our books would appear more aesthetically coherent and reflect well on the co-op as a whole.

I have been calling this a “faith-equity” model because the premise would be contributing to a project because one believes in it, not necessarily out of expectation of a reward… though open to acts of divine grace. In other words, this is for projects that are worth doing anyway, even if they are not immediately profitable.

However, we could also use a platform such as Open Collective to create Patreon-like (but communally focused) sponsorship options for projects that could be used to fund design, typesetting, proofreading, and so on. The co-op could have a fundraising and budgeting bucket earmarked for design.

A third possibility is that we create a credit system or internal currency to track the various contributors’ inputs into a project, so as long as people are happy giving and receiving, there could be a kind of gift economy among co-op members

It is likely that initial projects will utilize some kind of contract mechanism whereby income can flow back to contributors, being capped by the value of the time they have put in, perhaps with some additional gratitude premium

A sample breakdown might be:

  • Cosmos Co-op (split with Untimely Books): 30%
  • Author Royalties: 35% to 70%, unlimited
  • Contributor Dividends: 35%, capped

So for example, let’s say a book earns 10,000 in profits and $2,000 of design work has gone into a project. The author and design team would each earn 35% until roughly $6000, after which the author would earn 70% of the remaining amount.

This is just an example I have been noodling of how the economics of this could work. Currently, @kayla is lined up to design Geoffreyjen and Brian George’s books, but she generally has less than 10 hours/week available for Cosmos work and also handles various web design tasks. That’s why I am hoping if we open up formal membership and extend a wider invitation, we could add to the sum total of creative skills available in the community, while growing our capacity to produce beautifully made books.


Dear Marco, this sounds an interesting and inspiring project.

I love the idea of the internal currency or any other mechanism which flows back a capped income to contributors. As an author I can immagine to be willing for 0% royalties until the dividends have been paid back.

Great is also the idea of a ‘faith-equity’ model of people who collaborate because they believe in a project. That indeed could make a difference. I’m optimistic that could work with beta reading and proof-reading groups.

The question is, however, if that would work also with the professional side (the design, formatting, book cover, aesthetics, etc.) Here we usually speak of thousands of dollars that an author would have to put on the table (and which is obviously a powerful deterrent for most indies who will finally go for the DIY way… ) because this is a work that notoriously needs skills and a dedication that are very time and energy consuming. Would people be willing to go for that on the basis of a ‘faith-equity’ model “open to acts of divine grace”…. ? Perhaps a mix between this and a traditional model could work better.

Other questions circling in my head are whether that will be a print on demand service or a traditional print editor, what kind of distribution will be available (locally and globally). But, perhaps, it is better to leave this for later…

Hi Marco, I see your point; book design it is a different kind of contribution than the one made by fellow writers or editors, who naturally could offer feedback, editing, and other in-kind services in a gift economy type loop.

It is also a factor that some books—but especially those without an overriding commercial interest—may fail to recover production costs, let alone compensate the author for their countless hours of intellectual labor. In this case, I think we should consider how general membership contributions as well as other income sources such as courses could address the shortfall.

Deeper dive into membership structure...

The following is a copy/paste from another message thread. It is based on the idea that Cosmos would be structured as a multi-stakeholder cooperative with a three-tier membership structure:

  • Worker Members, doing the day to day work providing membership support and keeping the co-op going
  • Creative Members, using the platform for creativity, collaboration, teaching, publishing, etc.
  • Sustaining Members, mainly participating on a social level, for learning opportunities, and to support the idea of Cosmos

The numbers may be off if many Creative Members are putting in labor instead of paying dues, but then, the labor could provide some essential services (such as design and web development) that otherwise we would have to pay for. The important thing would be that members’ values are aligned, and people are doing what they’re good at and what they like in a symbiotic fashion.

We might also consider buying institutional or educational licenses (at a discount) for software that members may wish to use occasionally but not subscribe to or purchase outright for themselves. Or, we could focus the professional services we have access to on creating templates that could be reused across projects so the design work is not so labor intensive every time.

Thanks for your feedback and suggestions.