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ToolBook Business Model

reformatted from

Let's have a look at a possible business model for the ToolBook concept. This is a rough outline to start the processing of hammering out details or spotting obvious bugs.

What is it?: ToolBook is a combination media production/publishing and Maker cooperative. It combines the facilities of Fab Labs and industrial design workshops with facilities for the creation of print, video, and digital media along with small-run economy media production and/or digital distribution. These facilities would be concentrated in some key locations as well as distributed across the globe relying on Internet integration and would be used by a community of Maker and media talent that are co-owners of the venture. Creation of key concentrator facilities could form the basis of physical community development. (ie. Vajra project)

Mission: To match Maker talent to media development talent and share a collective and evolving pool of media and industrial resources for the specific purpose of systematically developing Maker-oriented media that focuses on a functional knowledge-base of tools, technology, and technique rather than just discrete personal artifacts and novelties. Things that empower people to make, not just give them something to make. This is intended to advance the Maker movement beyond the level of disorganized hobbyist activity to a vital open industrial movement and provide a media bridge between the fractured dispersed hacker knowledge of casual Maker activity and the non-applied abstract academic-oriented knowledge of formal engineering. Typical media pursued would consist of user guides for the common tools of the personal industrial workshop and Fab Lab and available building systems/methods such as various modular building systems like Grid Beam, T-slot, modular space frames, and the like. Media design would be based on the evolving visually-oriented aesthetic approaches and media forms of contemporary Maker media as epitomized by the current Maker blogs and magazines. Kit products are also likely. Development efforts would also focus on a systematic duplication of all the common tools of the Fab Lab in open source versions along with key infrastructure systems and standard-of-living artifacts supporting community development and developing world outreach such as independent power systems, farming equipment, relief and durable housing, independent manufacturing systems, open source laboratory equipment, major domestic appliances, educational technology and prefab facilities, and open source vehicle designs. Room would still be made for the more typical Maker novelties as fun is still important to life. But the emphasis of the organization would be on empowerment over amusement.

Legal Business Model: Cooperatively owned multinational corporation, possibly in the form of an LLC or S-Corp.

Operational Model: ToolBook would be a cooperative enterprise based on a simple, but international, corporation that profits on media publishing and where participation is keyed to private stock ownership. One joins the cooperative by buying some minimum number of shares, contributing equipment/facilities in exchange for shares, providing work/services for shares, or by exchanging some of the royalties earned on projects for shares. This establishes communal ownership of all facilities and a basis for group decision making on project choices and business strategy. Stock ownership entitles equal participation in co-op decision-making, regardless of the amount of individual holdings. Owning more stock in the co-op only entitles one to more return on a per-share basis. Some facilities may be residential communities (ie. Vajra) where diversion of royalties or larger share stakes may be applied to 'rent' or 'ownership' of residential space and continual access to local workshops. The publishing corporation may have a specific HQ location for legal purposes but for the most part would function as a structured P2P community globally dispersed, with most participants working from home wherever they are and relying on internet communication, particularly through the use of email/web forum systems, web based project management systems, and collaborative computing and conferencing software. A great many of the participants in the enterprise may only ever appear at physical facilities during social events. Conventional subcontracting may occasionally be employed, particularly for the non- creative duties of bookkeeping and accounting, specialty production services (usually when media product demand exceeds small scale on- demand production) and the like. This is more likely a later development, though, when publishing activities are producing considerable cash flows. Aside from this, ToolBook would function very similarly to current publishing cooperatives as common in the independent book and comic book publishing industries. Members of the co-op work primarily as freelancers specializing in areas of their talent and interests; Makers, writers, graphic and photographic artists, programmers, etc. Any of these individuals -and in certain circumstances non-members- can propose projects which are intended to culminate in the production of one or more media products (book/eBook, video, web site, DIY kit, and occasionally small-run production whole artifacts) and which the whole shareholder community ultimately votes on the investment in through the access to co-op facilities and the investment in publishing. (later on, the company may open up project submission to non-shareholder freelancers as with conventional publishing, though only shareholders would vote on project support) Such projects may be as simple as the publishing of media someone has already made independently or may be as elaborate as extended development for some sophisticated artifacts or technologies that will result in several complimentary forms of media; book, video, etc. Most projects may require a collaboration of several members to create, usually across the areas of design and fabrication, illustration, writing, media formatting, etc. Such teams will carry more weight in project proposals and potential scale of resource investment. All members of a project share, through a joint contract, the royalties produced by publication of the specific media for their project and can work out individual percentage shares according to anticipated work. The remainder of the profits are rolled back into the ToolBook enterprise to recoup project investment, produce stock dividends, and invest in additional co-op resources/facilities according to the collective P2P strategy of the whole co-op community. Occasionally, projects may culminate in not only media products but physical facilities and resources generating persistent income. For instance, a project intended to develop an automated greenhouse for use in developing countries could have its model/demonstration greenhouse, built for the purpose of being documented, operated continuously thereafter producing some nominal profit perpetually while sill being a basis of research and design refinement through experience. Such projects could still employ the same compensation model in parallel with income from published media for as long as the facility remains operational. Also, in some cases more prolific members of the co-op may request group investment in personal facilities which they can use/have at-hand where they reside to facilitate their productivity. (this as one alternative to residential communities built around shared workshop facilities) Such investments would depend heavily on the individual's history of productivity and value to the overall enterprise. Start-Up: Based on establishing a P2P network of prospective founding co-op member/shareholders, the cobbling-together of some approximation of the below-listed Primary Facilities from among the personal resources of the community of 'interested parties', choosing an initial media project and developer team for it, and soliciting possible 'special interest' investor/members. (casual venture investors based on personal interest in the Maker movement, willing to finance facilities in exchange for stock) Corporation would be formerly established along with the initial project contract terms. Public web sites established for web presence and venture history blog, e-commerce for published media, and private web sites for member forums, project submissions, community discourse, conferencing, and voting, collaborative project management. These web based communications would establish basic P2P operational structure through their approach to information and communications management. Though key officers may be needed for legal purposes, administrative hierarchy should be as flat as possible and systems relatively passive in their mode of management. Should be able to accommodate a certain degree of asynchronous participation and communication in order to deal with differing personal schedules and time zones. Think of it as rather like voting systems at the UN.

Primary Facilities:

  • HQ (could be as simple as a mail-stop in global location chosen for multinational business convenience. May also be based on Conference Center or an Incubator Community)
  • Fab Labs and other Workshops (can work in both members-only and public access modes)
  • Stock Bank (as a community, the co-op would be able to buy certain materials in bulk for savings)
  • Tool Bank (a lending library of more expensive/exotic but transportable tools relying on FedEx transport. Likely used mostly for pro media equipment for members who may not find the Media Studio accessible)
  • Data/Network center (web services hosting, streaming servers, render farm)
  • Media Studio (media equivalent of a Fab Lab with facilities for digital studio photography, video, and audio production)
  • Media Production and Fulfillment Center (basically style print-on-demand facilities including CD/DVD and flash drive media capability with some mail-room capabilities)
  • Conference Center

Secondary Facilities:

  • Maker Incubator Communities (Vajra project/Factor E Farm - live-in Fab Labs but could also be used as locations for the Primary Facilities)
  • Testing Grounds: (pieces of property set aside for field demonstration and testing of, usually, large systems and structures such as prefab and deployable buildings, renewable energy systems, greenhouses, vehicles, hazardous systems like rocket engines, and anything that needs a large open space to test or demonstrate)
  • Exhibit Halls. (public access exhibit, likely made as an extension of a public Fab Lab, used as a walk-in showcase of fab technology and Maker culture as well as a retail venue for ToolBook media. Could be a portable facility based on ISO container complex. Could be used in concert with Maker Faire events to showcase member community activities and recruit new ToolBook members and investors. Burning Man camp also a likely venue)
  • Outreach Labs. (same as current Fab Lab projects, but with long-term emphasis on take-away fab and production capability through OS tool replication)

Key Media Projects: These represent the starting point for the spectrum of media/publications ToolBook would pursue. Altogether, this could be a couple hundred individual books or media items. Some may seem similar to existing publications, but the style would be highly visually oriented and some could be produced in computer based indexed video-book form. Not noted are things that duplicate media already done by Make Publishing and the like, so one would have to decide weather to duplicate some of this for the sake of branding or stick with this more focused non-competitive content strategy. Most ToolBook members would probably still participate in the rest of Maker culture activities. I suspect the smart approach is to not try to directly impose some artificial standard of production value on the open and participatory Maker media activity but rather let this more professionally produced and knowledge/skill oriented media have a more subtle influence.

  • Maker's Sourcebook (Maker culture equivalent of the Whole Earth Catalog, published annually in book form and as a blog)
  • Maker Culture (casual or coffee-table book on the Maker culture and activity around the globe. Similar to books on hacker culture, the MIT Media Lab, the young designer community, etc. Would showcase Fab Labs, Maker Faires, and key personalities, possibly including ToolBook community members)
  • Maker's Shop Guide (guide to layout, safety, and DIY building methods for personal workshops and their furnishings)
  • Maker's Engineering Handbook (simplified engineering and technology principles for aspiring makers with buildable demonstrators. strong potential as a high school and college textbook)
  • Maker's Electronics Handbook (similar to the engineering handbook, but focused on electrical and electronics engineering topics)
  • Maker's Networking Handbook (similar to the above, but focused on networking systems with example projects for DIY telecom and network hardware)
  • Maker's Codework Handbook (simplified guide/introduction to Linux, processor platforms like Arduino, and common open source software commonly used in Maker projects)
  • Maker's Robotics Sourcebook (guide to applied robotics and automation for Maker projects)
  • Maker's Contraptions Sourcebook (a guide to common mechanical/ electromechanical mechanisms)
  • Maker's FabTech series (series covering specific areas of fabrication such as woodworking, forging/metalworking, glass, ceramics, textiles, casting and molding, etc.)
  • Maker's Energy Handbook (guide to principles of energy and renewable energy technology)
  • Maker Entrepreneur Handbook (guide to garage-shop manufacturing for profit with basic business management skills and economics principles - geared to the village or local area production scenario and to starting industrial designers)
  • ToolBook Project series (DIY project books, organized by fabrication class, sometimes focused on more complex individual projects, other collecting sets of the best artifact project designs from the ToolBook member community. Similar to some project and craft books now coming out of Make Publishing)
  • Papercraft Engineering Handbook (kids-oriented guide to papercraft model making using computers and desktop digital paper cutters. Would ideally include CD ROM CAD software and model collection and/or web site model catalog with emphasis on papercraft automata. Produced in concert with manufacturers of these cutters, such as Xyron, would be used as a way of introducing kids and grade school teachers to principles of independent industry through a safe low-cost machine and cheap paper and cloth materials)
  • Fab Lab Handbook (visual guide to the contemporary Fab Lab, its tools, and common techniques)
  • Fab Tools Handbook series (a series of more dedicated guides to each of the classes of tools common to the Fab Lab)
  • OSfab series and kits (manuals and kits for open source versions of each of the tools of the Fab Lab)
  • OShop series (OS designs and fabrication instructions for common hand and power tools)
  • Osystem Sourcebook series (sourcebooks for each of the various common building systems available today; Grid Beam, T-slot, space frames like N55 and rod & clamp, rod and plate systems, basic modular wood joinery, welded space frames, etc.)
  • OSfarm Sourcebook series (could also be Factor E Farm branded. Guide to OS farming tools like the LifeTrac, hydroponics, mariculture, permaculture and other high efficient agriculture techniques)
  • Global Relief Tech Sourcebook (catalog and instructions for relief shelters and support systems)
  • Container Mod Sourcebook (guide to the repurposing and reuse of ISO shipping containers)
  • UtiliHab Sourcebook (guide to the open source version of currently emerging T-slot based plug-in architecture systems)
  • Earthbuilder Sourcebook (focuses on techniques for CEB, rammed earth, cast earth, SuperAdobe)
  • Evolvable Architecture Sourcebook (focuses on various approaches to evolvable and P2P architecture)
  • OScar Sourcebook series (starts with a guide to the current OScar movement. Branches into manuals for specific designs)
  • OSpace Sourcebook (a sourcebook to the emerging culture of open source aerospace development)
  • ToolBook TV and Podcast (journalistic guide to the latest in Maker culture, Fab Lab development, and desktop manufacturing technology) So that's how I'm imagining this at the moment.

Eric Hunting

Guides from Cathal