Half a century ago, when modern photojournalism was exploding as a profession — thanks to 35-millimeter cameras and cheap film processing — a group of photographers including the now-legendary Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa formed a member-owned agency known as Magnum, to license and sell their work. Now, a group of award-winning authors and journalists are trying to do the same thing with their digital content, with a collective called Deca.
One of the founding members of Deca is Marc Herman, a writer and journalist who reported on the war in Libya for The Atlantic, and then turned what he had left into a book-length manuscript that he sold via Amazon’s Kindle marketplace for $1.99. By doing so, he was able to recoup the costs of the trip to Libya, and then some — and he says that success got him thinking about a Magnum-style collective of writers who could edit and publish each others’ work.
The collective’s manifesto says: “With every story, every month, Deca brings you what Henri Cartier-Bresson described as ‘a situation, a truth,’ not just an ‘accountant’s statement.'” Stories will be published through Deca’s mobile apps as well as through the Kindle marketplace. Deca singles will cost $2.99 each, while a yearly subscription to all of the group’s collective output $14.99.
Sharing the costs as well as the revenue
Since some stories will be more popular than others, every writer will get a dividend from the group’s overall sales each year. The collective will also pay half of each member’s reporting costs and has launched a Kickstarter campaign as a way of getting started. The goal “is to provide the independence each member has enjoyed as a freelance journalist, while sharing some of the editorial and financial weight.”
The other members of Deca include author and photographer Sonia Faleiro, whose work has appeared in the New York Times; Stephan Faris, a contributor to Time; McKenzie Funk, the author of Windfall, a book about climate change; Vanessa M. Gezari, who has reported for The Washington Post; Donovan Hohn, an author and former features editor at GQ; Mara Hvistendahl, an editor at Science magazine; Delphine Schrank, a former editor at The Washington Post, and Tom Zoellner, an author who has written for The Atlantic and Harper’s.
Deca launched with a feature-length story by Pulitzer finalist Mara Hvistendahl called “The City Swallowed Them,” about the murder of a Canadian model in China. Every month, the collective will publish another story written by one of its members and edited by the group — including a piece about the Arctic, one about an American soldier on trial in Afghanistan, and a profile of the hidden economy of “dark tourism” in Bolivia.
In addition to Deca, there are a number of other startups focused on helping journalists reach an audience and support their writing, including Beacon Reader — which counts a number of foreign correspondents among its members, and pools the subscription income that readers pay to help share the costs.
Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user Mark Strozier