Blockchain: Is it the Future of Publishing? Part 2

By Katherine Steiger for New Shelves on September 9, 2021
By Katherine Steiger for New Shelves on September 9, 2021

If you haven't read it already, you can find Part 1 of this article here.

A New World in Publishing: How is Blockchain the Great Disrupter?


Being fairly paid and making sure your work remains your own are basic problems that have become a struggle for many in the creative community, and blockchains have the potential to at least partially mitigate those issues.”

Blockchain is perfect for publishing because an author can use blockchain to record the book’s rightful owner. It’s in the blockchain, and no one can dispute that it’s that person’s work.

Although blockchain is not likely to stop piracy on its own, it can be a major “player in the fight.” For example, piracy track-and-trace addresses this in print books. This process involves embedding identifiers – like a QR code, barcode, or unique numbers – into legitimate products, entering them into a database, and scanning products to ensure they have legitimate identifiers. Blockchain makes this possible with its decentralized database that no single entity maintains.

Blockchain also records when a customer purchases a copy of a book–it’s part of the blockchain. There are ongoing projects to ensure a unique number is assigned to a digital asset using blockchain technology. Then, using that number with an algorithm, we could identify the source of the digital asset – something like a digital fingerprint. It would be somewhat like an ISBN for a digital copy of a book.

Sukhi Jutla, the author who published the first book on the blockchain with the company, Publica, explains it this way, “When you buy my book on the blockchain, what does that actually mean? You are purchasing a copy of that book, and it belongs to you forever. You are paying me directly, so there is no middleman…When you are paying me, 90% goes to me, and 10% goes to Publica. You own a copy of that book, just like you would if it were a printed book.” When you purchase on Amazon Kindle, you are purchasing the license to read that book. Amazon can take that away from you at any time and has done exactly that by deleting books their customers purchased. Those who have been in the industry for many years recall the debacle in 2009 when Amazon deleted purchased books from customers’ accounts. (How would we read Sukhi’s ebook? Publica offers “a killer” e-reader.)

Reselling and Lending Ebooks

When I buy an ebook from Amazon or iBooks, I don’t own it–I have just purchased a license that allows me access to read it. I can’t lend or resell it. But with blockchain technology, I can do both. If I resell it, the new buyer and I use a common permanent record to establish ownership. The blockchain reflects when that new customer buys the ebook. It’s also important to realize if I resell an ebook I purchased from a particular retailer, the new buyer should be able to use another retailer’s device to read the book. And great news – “the ability to read the book persist beyond the retailer’s lifespan.”

Streaming Payments

Blockchain makes it possible to stream payments. With the use of an author’s smart wallet, there’s no need for banks. Unlike with a traditional publishing company or with Amazon, “the author is at the head of the payment chain.” The publisher gets paid immediately, and the customer only pays for what they consume. All other contributors like editors and book cover designers get their money right away as well.

Sukhi Jutal says the digital music industry almost always leads, with digital print publishing trailing behind. Imogene Heap published an album on the blockchain and accepted micropayments. She is paid when someone is listening to a song. If they stop listening, she stops getting paid at that point. Sukhi believes this could significantly alter publishing. For example, if readers consistently stop reading at a certain point in the book, the author could go back and edit the book to make it more engaging at that point.

Access for Tokens

The blockchain houses the record of the location and types of content held by the publisher. Then, the publisher can tokenize this content, and those wishing to access it pay for access by buying tokens. “Gaining the right to engage with content without paying up-front is sure to be a disruptor that shakes up publishing.” So when I use blockchain to publish an ebook, it is not in the blockchain but a token linked to the book. The token is like a key.”

BATS for Advertising

The Brave browser, which is gaining popularity and attention, already supports BAT (Basic Attention Tokens) – a service that creates a transparent and efficient blockchain-based digital advertising market with publishers, advertisers, and users exchanging tokens. As a result, everyone wins: the publisher makes more money by eliminating the middlemen and fraud, the user can opt-in for an inclusive ad experience, and the advertiser gets more accurate data on their spending.

Blockchain also protects the publisher from ad fraud, aka click fraud. The scammers use bots and other digital copy to artificially inflate the number of impressions an ad received–generating false charges for advertisers and skewed statistics. Example: “IBM, for example, has already launched a pilot programme with Salon which uses blockchain to undo the damage of click fraud by building a shared ledger that creates indisputable transparency on behalf of both the brand and the publisher. Meanwhile, travel media brand Ink has teamed up with AdEx to reduce the impact of click fraud on their business. The partnership has also introduced the first ever blockchain-based advertising auction, selling off ad space on one million boarding passes.”

The Democratization of Money

Peter Dakin believes the “democratization of money and the ease of moving it around (including micro-transactions) are key DLT concepts for publishers.” We can think about “democracy” as one person/one vote. We all know private banks do not govern by our consent, and they handle a vast proportion of the money supply. Bitcoin, in contrast, exists because people choose to use it – thus the idea of “democratization” of money. If they didn’t show up, blockchain would only be “source code.” So then, blockchain doesn’t rule by our consent but exists by our consent. The currency is only valuable if people use it.

Smart Contracts

“Smart contracts have the potential to seriously disrupt the legal system and make legal enforcement of copyright affordable to all.”

The use of blockchain smart contracts and other online tools eliminates the need for a big publishing house. Traditionally, it took these large publishing houses with the necessary finances and resources to get a book in print. No longer. A single author can self-publish. However, it still takes lots of talented and experienced collaborators to come together to edit, design, market, and print a high-quality book. In the past, the publishing firm managed the details of this time-consuming endeavor.

A smart contract takes the rules that you set up in the agreement and automates those rules. Then, when a new transaction happens in the blockchain – like you sell a book, the smart contract automatically applies the rules you have set up previously, and you don’t have to do anything.

“More importantly, these contracts can function as part of a wider system – for example, smart contracts can be configured so that when a contributor submits a piece of commissioned content, the commissioning editor marks it as received, and payment is automatically dispatched. This can be extended to any element of the publishing supply chain: photographers, writers, art editors, or equipment vendors. It makes bookkeeping and accounting much easier too, as it automatically creates a full and complete history of contract payments.”

Blockchain Publishing World Today

Here’s just a glimpse into Blockchain and where it is today.

Sukhi Jutla’s book, Escape the Cubicle: Quit the Job You Hate, became the first Blockchain best seller when, Alli Partner member, released the book live on Google Play.

Bookchain, the Canadian company founded by Scenarex, utilizes the Ethereum blockchain to publish, distribute, and resell ebooks. “Through smart contracts, this flexible platform enables the security, traceability, attribution, and distribution of ebooks.” With Bookchain, you can read your digital books using a computer, a smartphone, or tablet and use the web browser of your choice: Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. You access your digital books with this link: Bookchain® Reader.

And certain companies like Bookchain do not require content creators to pay to sign up with cryptocurrency, nor do they pay you with it unless that’s what you prefer.

Blockchain has the potential to revolutionize the scientific publishing industry. In 2018 Antonio Romero (Co-founder of Orvium) envisioned changing up and improving the sectorby decentralizing storage solutions, big data analytics, and cloud computing.” In addition, he saw blockchain technology could be utilized to accelerate the peer-review process significantly by creating a platform “to process, validate, and disseminate research data with an infrastructure that enables open and trustworthy, decentralized and collaborative environment.”

Blockchain and the Future for Publishing

“No matter what the context, there’s a strong possibility that blockchain will affect your business. The very big question is when.”

With companies, like Scenarex, out in front with solutions like Bookchain and other leading blockchain publishing firms disrupting the industry with innovative applications, we now know blockchain publishing is not a fad. It is not only the future, but it is very much in the present. If we haven’t paid much attention to Blockchain since 2018, we are not alone. But it’s not too late to learn what is at stake and begin the journey into the future of blockchain publishing.

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