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Comunidades, English

Price-fixing and communities of practice

There’s a nice mailing list called «OnFac» (for «On Facilitation») where there is some exchange of opinions related to community facilitation. It does not often deal with communities of practice, and it’s not my favourite lurking-ground, but some nuggets do crop up. This week there was an exchange that ended thus:

On 21/06/07, Elissa Perry <elissa@leadershiplearning.org> wrote:
> Hi, everyone. I’m a very infrequent contributor to this list but wanted to
> respond to this thread with a word of caution. I belong to two other
> «professional» lists and both have stated in their rules and enforce a no
> pricing discussion clause as this can be construed as illegal price-fixing.
> One group¹s rules state «Rule: 1.5 Please don’t discuss freelance rates on
> this list, as it potentially violates antitrust/price-fixing laws. This is non-negotiable.»

Another group has a rule which states

«Rule 72b: Anybody who interferes with a free flowing discussion by
introducing unnecessary words of caution, calling upon laws of foreign
lands and quoting rules from unspecified other groups shall be 1)
cautioned 2) banished 3) deported to Australia.»

Andy Roberts

Andy’s quip is worth reading :-). But Elissa had raised an interesting point. Indeed that was not the first time that I have seen debate about freelance prices quashed in a community resource. A printing and pre-press forum is notorious for the squabbles whenever labour issues are raised.

Communities of practice are a queer beast in this sense. They are somewhat of a «vertical labour union» gathering different levels of professionals, often bosses and workers side by side, so they are awkward places to debate the sharing of the spoils.

And, when the members are indeed all independen service providers… they become a prime coordination environment. In the unlikely event of a profession-wide membership (or a membership wide enough to determine prices) it can indeed be perceived as a cartel. Which can be illegal, or not, depending on the country.


5 comentarios en “Price-fixing and communities of practice

  1. I’m glad you liked the quip. I’ll probably blog a reply myself but meanwhile I’d like to say that I view communities of practice as essentially horizontal, not vertical. What practices do managers have in common with workers? Employers have more to discuss with each other, even in competitive corporations, as do workers of the same trade regardless of who they work for. So I would think it perfectly reasonable for practitioners who organise together in communities to discuss pay and conditions.
    The confusion with price fixing cartels of the rich and powerful is not helpful, nor ever likely to be applicable.

    Publicado por Andy Roberts | junio 22, 2007, 11:38 pm
  2. Hi Andy,

    it was good :-).

    As mentioned above, I know more than a few communities in the field of creative industries whose membership mixes the entrepreneur-who-stays-on-the-edge and the creative-worker-solving-practical-doubts (freelance or not). You will find many of those in other spheres in which the size of the companies is not too big, and also on the scientific world. Even in software development SMEs, company leaders are frequently involved in the communities.

    So it’s not always that clear cut. Communities are for hands-on people, but in many places, that’s also the boss. The larger the company, the more specialised will be the managers and the less likely to be involved in production, evidently.

    IMHO the only way a CoP can fix prices is by becoming a real guild: almost-compulsory membership and profession-regulation attributes. Which is not likely to happen in the western world, now that liberalisation has taken root.

    Publicado por Miguel | junio 24, 2007, 11:24 am
  3. very interesting indeed. I have always been affronted (for some ridiculous Ed type emotional reason probably) that in many companies, you can be sacked for simply asking someone how much they get paid. People are funny about money, period.

    It’s also interesting as a lone freelancer trying to get work at the right rate – having been manipulatively mislead about my worth by an outfit I have been with, I am still unsure how much I should cost etc. and guess many others feel this way, and thought maybe I could ask on one of the forums.

    Money. Weird stuff.

    Publicado por Ed | julio 3, 2007, 11:00 am
  4. Hi Ed,

    good lyrics :D. And a good question, come to that. I don’t think there’s a «going rate» for complex facilitation: it’s just not that commoditized, thankfully, so you can command what you think the specific service’s worth. And there’s widely different opinions on that, I can tell you :-). Still, the prices are coming down.

    Simple online moderation is very close to commodity, on the other hand. Very often people hire part-timers or students, with very low qualifications. Expert volunteers are not very hard to find and often work for the thanks and some merchandising, which further depresses the price. It’s a buyers’ market.

    But you are a community project manager and consultant. You can handle the design, the software and the people. That’s a rare beast. You should be able to squeeze quite a bit.

    Publicado por Miguel | julio 4, 2007, 10:11 am


  1. Pingback: DARnet » Talking about wages is not the same as price fixing - junio 26, 2007

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