Women of color in tech in a conference room

Bandcamp sold to Epic Games; also, can co-ops and nonprofits be tech/media company models?

News came last week about Bandcamp being sold to Epic Games. The latter is the home of the popular online game Fortnite. However, the former is a long-standing popular music store for many independent artists. What makes Bandcamp attractive to musicians and fans is its favorable terms for musicians. Musicians keep nearly all of the revenue from physical and digital music (and merchandise) sold on their own pages; Bandcamp takes at most 15% of sales, plus processing fees. Bandcamp also offers multiple digital file formats, including lossless FLAC files, along with the usual MP3s. Finally, since the pandemic started, once a month Bandcamp has run “Bandcamp Fridays,” where they waive all their fees and let musicians keep all the revenue.

Given all this, Bandcamp has been a great platform for musicians, especially compared to services like Spotify. However, seeing it sold to a video game company is leaving some worried about whether Bandcamp will keep such favorable terms in the long run. It’s also led some to note that for all the good it’s done, Bandcamp is still a privately-owned company, which will always have to have its own interests first… and also means the owners can do whatever they want with it with little notice. (See Amazon’s recent Comixology changes.) Researching, Bandcamp had taken venture capital funding years ago, which might explain their sale.

I note that this is also a reason in favor of media creators having their own website, no matter what platform they’re using. That way, no matter what happens, their online presence isn’t at the complete mercy of any company? Unfortunately, running a site (that isn’t a free WordPress, Tumblr, or Blogspot page) requires some expense and/or technical skills.

Co-ops and nonprofits: Alternatives to the usual media/tech business model?

Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times” by edenpictures is marked with CC BY 2.0. (Flickr / cropped from original)

As usual for such deals, some online are already asking about alternatives to Bandcamp. Unfortunately, Bandcamp basically is the best—and only major—alternative to Spotify, iTunes, etc. One alternative I’ve seen proposed is Resonate, a music streaming service that’s actually a cooperative owned by the musicians. While it doesn’t offer stand-alone files for sale (something they might want to address), the co-op model does stand out.

It also led me to wonder about co-ops or non-profits as models for tech and media companies. Cooperatives generally serve the people that work for the company, rather than a few wealthy owners. One example is the typical credit union, versus a large bank like Wells Fargo or Bank of America. A few other examples of major cooperative businesses include Ocean Spray (discussed in this Company Man video) and Land O’Lakes. Co-ops even have their own internet domain (.coop). The above also applies to nonprofits. A recent example is the Chicago Sun-Times, which is shifting to a nonprofit model after being acquired by Chicago’s NPR affiliate, WBEZ.

Both of these models still have flaws; they’re still businesses, and involve capitalism. See: some labor concerns for cooperative clothing company REI, or the not-for-profit Associated Press’ recent attempt to peddle NFTs. However, they do have some advantages. Cooperatives usually require more consensus than, say, being subject to the whims of a single owner. Co-op and nonprofit models might also might help address some of the ongoing problems within the tech industry regarding treatment of workers (though again, unionization would also help there).

Co-op and nonprofit media/tech businesses and services

NPR sign
“NPR headquarters” by James Cridland is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr / cropped from original)

Below are a few examples of co-op and nonprofit tech/media companies/services (that aren’t charities) I’ve found:

  • Resonate (resonate.is): a music streaming service run as a co-op of musicians.
  • Motion Twin (motion-twin.com): a co-op video game maker based in France.
  • Collective Tools (collective.tools): a co-op productivity/cloud storage company; it’s basically an alternative to OneDrive, Google Drive, etc. The company uses the open source platform NextCloud as software.
  • Stocksy (www.stocksy.com): a co-op stock image photography service, that works similarly to Getty Images. However, Stocksy is a bit picky about which photographers it allows on its platform.
  • NPR and PBS: the United States’ noncommercial, nonprofit radio and TV networks respectively. While they get a small part of government funds, most of their funding comes from private-sector donations, as well as from viewers and listeners.
  • Creative Commons: a nonprofit organization that offers a system of licensing media works under various levels of user-friendly licenses, versus the standard “all rights reserved” copyright system.
  • Free and open source software (FOSS): software that’s freely licensed for anyone to copy, view the source code, and contribute/fork as desired. Famous examples include Linux distributions, the VLC media player, and the Firefox web browser. Note typical commercial tech companies can still play a development role, or use said software. For example, the proprietary Chrome OS, the system software for Google’s Chromebooks, was based on a fork of Gentoo Linux.

Photo by WOCinTech Chat (Flickr / CC BY / cropped from original)

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