Pondering Bizness Models

Pondering Open Source business models currently. I can see that there is some interesting possibilities for generating revenue around building platforms with PubSweet. The interesting thing here is that PubSweet is essentially an open-ended proposition. You can build anything on top of it. Which also means that there is quite a wide open space for development opportunities. These are not even, potentially, limited to scholarly communications or publishing in general. You could use, as the French Gov is currently investigating, use PubSweet to build out ‘other’ kinds of workflows outside of the publishing sector. As in, with this example, workflows for processing judicial reviews.

That means, if we can generate awareness of the offering, then we have quite a wide space for generating business via bespoke platform development. Secondary incomes, in years to come, can then also support this approach in general ie. helping other orgs to develop on top of PubSweet with workshops, training etc

This is different to other Open Source projects I have been involved with. In the past I have built singular platforms. Booktype is one good example – a python (Django) based book production platform. In many ways a very functional but less elegant predecessor to Editoria.

So… Booktype is a single proposition. It is one set list of features baked into a single platform…. what is interesting to me is that the business opportunities here look quite different. Essentially, since you have to maintain one offering you don’t have the same kind of bespoke development opportunities you have with PubSweet. Bespoke dev for something like Booktype has a very narrow bandwidth – you can only change the main app so much at the request of a client. You don’t build platforms, in this scenario, but you build ‘deltas’ ie you build just the small difference between what you have and what the customer wants. All the time you must be mindful, when doing this, that when you make those changes you are fundamentally changing the initial offering. If you do change it to a substantive degree, you risk alienating your current users unless you are *very* sure these changes are what the majority of users want. The trick being also, that the larger the user base grows, the more difficult this is to determine. Even with a smaller user base you risk losing users if you are ‘too beholden’ to what a single client wants.

So… there are some other options for generating a model here… i am necessarily discounting funding, this is not a medium or long term sustainable model unless you are in a very privileged position which is necessarily a rare circumstance. … off the top of my head these models look (at least) something like this:

  1. monster client – find one monster client that is in such bad need of what you are making, and has such deep pockets, that you just keep building stuff forever. Hard to find.
  2. pay for use – a hosted deployment situation that is either a single instance per client, or a (so called) multi-tenanted solution where you charge per user (or some such). Problem here, is that people don’t want to pay much to use software, especially open source software unless you are solving a really big problem and they cannot possibly live without you.
  3. membership – a membership based program where you charge on a tier according to the capacity of the org… for example, small orgs contribute a little, larger ones pay more…in this situation you must be critical to their workflow if you wish to charge anything more than a trivial amount. If you are critical to an org, you can expect (or at least try) to ask more for the membership.
  4. Services – this one is very open ended and you can be entirely creative. Services might mean support but this kind of service will not work unless you get to a threshold that means you can afford to cover the costs of providing that support. Very difficult for a software starting out. On the other hand, you can also think about services a lot more broadly. Events, for example, can be considered as services. Consultancy also. Podcasts perhaps. One very good example for me, although I don’t know how much they generate from it, is Loomio – its an open source tool for collaborative/distributed decision making but the org that makes it also offers consultancy on how to change the culture of your org to make better devisions. Pretty interesting.
  5. Complimentary revenue – im throwing this in there because I don’t actually know of any good examples but I am thinking of the McSweeney book publishers that generate a lot of revenue to support their core business by selling pirate clothing (and other stuff). It is a pretty interesting idea. Why limit the revenue generation to what the software does? Why not do an audit of the skills in your team and brainstorm what you could do to make money.

All of the above are of course possible for a solution like PubSweet, but frameworks like PubSweet have more options that a ‘single offering platform’. At least, that is the way it looks to me now. It doesn’t mean the future is bleak for a platform type offering, but the scope of offerings for generating income is potentially more limited.

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