Our cooperative implements a market design that expands the public domain, enables public construction of derivative works, and gives consumers a choice of improvements for works they have invested. Our design is compatible with existing business and legal structures, though interfaces familiar to creators, consumers and investors. In this marketplace, creators can earn a sustainable income for their efforts, as they work together with other creators making components, composite works, and enhancements that meet market demand. By asking for each work to be accompanied with an up-front advertisement of expected financial return and a time when it becomes public domain, consumers and creators can make a truly informed choice if they wish to incorporate such a work into their own efforts and processes.

Project Genesis

Our economic model is the synthesis of established business practices. Free markets, where value is signaled by money and society’s resources are allocated by buyers, have produced enormous value for consumers and permitted unmatched opportunity for creators. Cooperatives have shown how shared resources are efficiently regulated not by government or by proprietary efforts, but by democratic control by people who have a vested interest. Free Software has fostered enormous collaborations where users freely operate, examine, improve, and share open works. Silicon Valley has taught us how to work with capital, seeking a multiple on investment so that those producing high-value works can grow their influence. Our initiative is a harmonization of these philosophical approaches directed towards the peculiar challenge in society: how our society funds the creation and improvement of intellectual works.

For our initial implementation, we will emulate successful on-line digital media businesses. Stocksy is a democratic producer cooperative, founded in 2013, that licenses stock photos; in the first 4 years of business, Stocky paid out 20 million to 2,000 artists. Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) is a privately held marketplace where teachers buy and sell proprietary educational materials. Using Stocksy’s success as a guide, we will chase the tail lights of TPT, using a cooperative model as our primary differentiator. However, unlike Stocksy or TPT, the products in our marketplace will necessarily be composites, including derivative works such as language translations, adaptations, and corrections. Hence, some innovation will be required.

Our first initiative will focus on educational materials for school-aged children targeted at home schooling and teacher classrooms. For customers, we will provide tailored, market-specific online stores that reflect the kinds of works they are seeking, help them find exactly what they wish, and make purchase easy. For creators, we’ll have a smooth process for registration and submission of new works, acknowledging all source materials. Our marketplace will include a component store, where creators can collaborate with each other to construct composite works. Purchases of a work rewards all contributors, according to their advertised pricing. Organizationally, we’ll work towards early participation by our members to address challenging problems that could only be solved though democratic cooperation.

We will start with a closed membership of creators and an public interface for teachers and parents. Guided by experience, we’ll open our membership to ever-larger circles of creators. As we expand our membership, new stores will be introduced that focus on other fields of intellectual endeavor. Markets will emerge where dollars signal need and provide sustainable revenue for creators. In more established markets, existing works will become the basis of new versions, improvements, or adaptations, yielding a diverse set of choices for customers and new revenue opportunities for creators. Once market norms are established, investment becomes possible, so that creators could be funded to produce works, with returns that are jointly shared by investors and the creators. Though a competitive market for the change in existing works, consumers will be able to shape the destiny of the works they have invested in and grown dependent upon.

Community Engagement

We will provide a platform for creators and their customers to engage both socially and economically. Customers will be drawn by the diversity of works available in a wide range of subjects. At the same time, creators of valued works will find they can make a living wage doing what matters to them, with direct connection to their customers. These creators will discover how an open ecosystem of source materials and collaborators encourages unforeseen compositions, providing even higher value to customers and our society as a whole. With an ever-expanding public domain, duplication of routine works will be reduced, permitting energies to be directed at more impactful materials that subject matter experts can provide. Critically, the platform itself will be owned by a community of creators who come to rely upon the marketplace as the feedback for their creativity, a source of components, and a vehicle for their economic success.

Rather than one big marketplace, our growth will be though multiple overlapping markets, where each market focuses on the unique needs of a particular community, like shops in a bazaar. For example, medical institutes providing terminologies have very different concerns from those who are producing elementary school workbooks. Both the buyers and the sellers in these markets have very different concerns. Each shop in our ecosystem of markets will focus on usability and localized concerns so that it is comfortable to use. Creators will need interfaces tailored to finding reusable components and consumers will need familiar user experiences that make purchasing works easy.

We will adapt our tactics to be directly relevant to people’s lives. We’ll seek ways to provide seed capital for new creators who are willing to join our ecosystem. This could take the form of a crowd-sourcing or though partnership with foundations; we could also enable private individuals to invest in particularly promising works that provide a return. Besides community investors, we’ll need advocates. For those advocating for a particular cause, we’ll need ways for organizations to endorse particular products in the marketplace; this sort of endorsement may have a monetary component so that their evaluation efforts are sustainable. We may also have an affiliate system so that those helping customers sort though piles of alternatives could be economically rewarded. We’ll make it easy to set up a shop in our bazaar, so that shared infrastructure could be used across many kinds of experiences. Finally, complete transparency will bring the trust needed to survive and grow from community disagreements.

Plans for Growth

The principal method of creator collaboration in our cooperative will be composition, producing components meant to be reused and building end-user works from these components. In this model end-user works themselves are also source material used for translation, adaptation, and other enhancement. The tools and processes we construct will necessarily focus on composition so that incorporating others’ works and designating those works as dependencies becomes a normative behavior. The mechanism of composition will be both technical and financial. Each contributor will be required to name a per-unit price, as well as a total community cost and freedom date, when their contributions become public domain; contributors can always reduce but never increase any of these parameters. The system we create will be designed to enable this cooperation, letting each member decide if they wish to collaborate or compete with a particular work. We may also assist with team-level bookkeeping for creators who work together on a single work, helping them make democratic decisions and allocating revenue.

Over time, community norms will form. To those unfamiliar with collaborative content development, our way of working may require some shifts in thinking. Content creation is not a solitary activity: it involves looking around to find new ways to enhance the works of others, and understanding that your own work might be modified or transformed in ways you don’t anticipate.

Collectively, our marketplace will be cooperatively operated in a democratic way. However, being a cooperative is not a charitable activity – understanding capital investment and revenue is central. It’s not that one works for free, in this cooperative, creators advertise in advance what they expect for their compensation so that others can have an informed choice if they choose to collaborate or purchase. Besides price, the difference between an accepted or rejected work may depend upon many things: quality, if it meets a market demand, how it is advertised, if reuse is encouraged, and the reputation of its creators. Over time, expectations for these factors will meld to form a community culture, supporting our mutual economic success.

It’s important that we start minimally and grow incrementally. Our initial membership will be closed so that our creators could form mutual trust. Business relationship formation will be necessarily confidential. That said, we’ll do our organizational and infrastructure development out in the open, adjusting our vision and tactics as we learn more about how to collaborate. While we may have 1-1 meetings, we’ll form a habit of writing up publicly relevant summaries to facilitate an open community. Moreover, we’ll have a an organization so that contributions can be tracked and rewarded once we have revenue. Initially, some of each creator’s time could also be tracked in this manner, as we develop coaching materials. Keeping documentation on lessons learned will be especially helpful to onboarding others.