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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Re-thinking Academic Publishing: The Promise of Platform Cooperativism

In more practical terms, platform cooperativism can be put to good use in the academic publishing field both for new initiatives and existing ones, and here are some ideas on how that could work.

New initiatives, such as publishing or pre-print platforms, can leverage the concept by inviting platform users — in this case, journal editors, authors submitting their research, peer-reviewers, copyeditors, typesetters, IT developers, and funders — to become platform owners. Depending on the goals of an organisation (or a platform), ownership may imply different things. We can imagine a platform that charges commercial publishers a fee for accessing its network of reviewers, copyeditors, and IT developers. These latter would be the platform owners (while commercial publishers would not) – meaning that each owner may have a stake in the profits the platform makes by charging access or subscription fees. These profits would then be distributed among the owners according to their ‘level of contribution’. Assessing the latter may be tricky but can also be a way to incentivise certain actions and behavious. Indeed, contributions need not be exclusively monetary and can also be in-kind (for instance, a certain number of articles published or reviewed on the platform or of hours worked for its development). By accounting for the latter, the cooperative can valorise and recognise the contributions to academic publishing that often stay invisible. Moreover, by rewarding certain actions and contributions a platform coop can help shape academic publishing behaviours, providing incentives alternative to the existing ones, for example, incentivising publishing in “ethical” or “socially just” versus “high-ranking” journals. Say, a platform owner that actively participates in platform governance, and contributes to independent open access publishers more than to commercial publishers may have a larger stake in profit distribution.

In case we speak about a platform that does not make any profit, ownership would entail an ability to participate in the collective decision-making. Clever governance mechanisms would be crucial. The ability of the platform cooperative to ensure equal representation and respect of the minorities’ interests would depend on the choice of the governance bodies (e.g. the Board, Thematic Committees), the distribution of powers and responsibilities among them (what body decides on what issues) and the types of owner-members that get to participate in each of them.

As for existing mission-driven but privately-owned academic publishing initiatives, platform cooperativism can provide an alternative to a buy-out by a larger player. “Exiting to community,” or selling the company to its users and thus transforming it into a cooperative, can be a viable way for such companies to keep its community-oriented mission and values intact, retaining the trust of its users. Community ownership can be a safeguard for independent academic publishing initiatives allowing to protect these from commercial interests if these go against the interests of the users they serve.

Read the rest at Commonplace


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