Teach me how to speak, teach me how to share
In the 1990s, after studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Ed Roland gathered a few musicians together, and they recorded a song called “Shine.” The lyrics and garage sound spoke to the 1990s grunge crowd, and as the song climbed the charts, the band Collective Soul was formed. They had a few other hits, most notably “The World I Know,” and in 2004 the band created their own independent label, which gave them greater control over the artistic and production processes. I like to think that their drive to form their own label was motivated in part by the need to live up to the word “collective” in their band name.
Currently, the world is in a state of flux, and these tectonic shifts are sparking conversations about the benefits and drawbacks of capitalism and the typical business models it produces. The focus on the bottom line has undeniably contributed to income inequality and small business owners are grappling with the tension between remaining competitive with similar companies, on the one hand, and finding ways to value things other than productivity and money, on the other. It’s challenging in this system to be both ethical and profitable.
These conversations were circulating among the six of us as we discussed the structure of our business. Typically, publishers are organized hierarchically, with everyone in the pyramid making a salary based on their experience level and productivity. At DRB, we all bring different skills and strengths to the table, and we wanted to conceive of the exchange of our labor as a barter system rather than a monetary one. We trade services with each other, and we all co-own the company, which means there’s no hierarchy of title or salary.
That’s the collective soul of Dirt Road Books.
“All the words that I've been reading/Have now started the act of bleeding/Into one, into one”
Writing happens alone, usually. Maybe you’re in a coffee shop surrounded by other people, but for the most part everyone is staring at a screen, lost in another world. But ideas need nurturing and maturing, and the process of taking a story from one person’s laptop and distributing it to bookstores and e-readers requires many hands. Dirt Road Books is a collective in terms of our business model, as well as our approach to the act of creation. We believe this increases our impact on readers—we’re able to create richer stories by working together.
We also believe that, by forming a collective, we have the potential to increase our impact on the world around us. DRB’s financial model sets aside a portion of the company’s profits for charity. Our current charitable focus is the refugee crisis in Europe, specifically the Dirty Girls of Lesvos, an organization very near and dear to Gill McKnight, one of our founding members.
In addition to building charitable giving into our financial structure, Dirt Road Books also plans to give authors an opportunity to participate in profit sharing. Stay tuned for further information.
We take our model as a collective seriously, and we consider it not only an organizational structure, but also a calling.
In “The World I Know,” Collective soul sings, “Have we eyes to see/That love is gathering?” We hope that those who travel with DRB, regardless of the point of origin, gather in love and hope to collectively produce something greater than ourselves.