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How the 9-publication cooperative Brick House designed a revenue splitting system that could be a model for new media bundles


Maria Bustillos

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Last August, nine independent publications joined in a collective experiment: banding together, they formed the Brick House Cooperative, a media company that would be worker-owned, subscription-based, and free of formal investment.

The veteran journalist Maria Bustillos, who is the leader of the project and the founder of “alt-global” online magazine Popula, said the goal was to create a “wolf-proof” media organization whose ownership and payment structures safeguarded against internal division and external threats.

The nine participating publications cover distinctly different subject matter, ranging from investigative news at Sludge and faith at Preachy, to African politics at Olongo Africa and comics at Awry. The common link between most of them is their shared experience at the now-defunct Civil, a cryptocurrency-backed publishing platform that launched in 2017 and shuttered in June. Rather than discourage Bustillos, the closure of Civil pushed her to continue experimenting with new ways to fund journalism, which led to the Brick House Cooperative.

To finance the project, the collective launched a Kickstarter campaign on August 25 and closed it September 25. In total, the effort raised $90,668 from 1,321 backers — 813 of whom subscribed, paying either $7 per month or $75 per year for access to all nine member publications.

When the Brick House Cooperative officially launched on December 8, it also imported Popula’s roughly 500 subscribers, bringing its total number of paying members to around 1,300. By early January, one month into its existence, the cooperative has gained 500 more subscribers, increasing its total number of paying members to just under 1,800 and bumping its revenue up $10,000, to just north of $100,000 in total, according to documents reviewed by Insider.

To determine how this revenue would be split among publications, and to codify the collective’s rules more generally, the Brick House Cooperative created a 25-page operating agreement. This agreement, which Bustillos shared with Insider, describes how the group will divide profits, oust members, decide internal debates, and other operational matters. 

The document offers an intriguing blueprint for entrepreneurship, media or otherwise, by laying out a vision for how individual businesses can work together in a loose collective. Models like these are freshly relevant thanks to the recent proliferation of single-operator newsletters using platforms like Substack and the growing creator economy, as players in both of these ecosystems could use the Brick House structure as a framework for how to bundle independent ventures without sacrificing autonomy. 

Brick House’s fundraising method and its early success are also notable, especially given the skepticism of some toward venture capital-backed media companies, whose nature demands returns on investment that can sometimes prioritize growth over long-term sustainability.

If Bustillos’ experiment is successful, she and her colleagues will have proven another viable pathway for sustainable, worker-centric enterprise.

“Our principal goal is to build a safe haven where journalists, artists, editors, and publishers can generate, not profits, but a sustainable amount of money for the continued freedom to publish as we wish,” Bustillos said. “In time, there should be …read more

Source:: Business Insider

      

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