Blockchain and Publishing

It seems the publishing industry has never shied away from diving into new technology. Over the years I’ve seen publishers testing their luck with CD-ROMs, apps, book websites, video games, and of course e-books and audiobooks. In the past few years, the new hype seems to be around blockchain. Can the publishing industry capitalize on this technology? A few new startups are trying and this essay will explore two different ways blockchain can mesh with the publishing world.

 

What is blockchain?

By now, we’ve all heard of bit-coin and cryptocurrency. Blockchain is the technology behind it. With the help of a handy YouTube video, I learned that it’s an open, decentralized database that allows a community to record and track anything of value whether its money, goods, property, or information (Simply Explained, 2017). Once content gets added to the blockchain, a new timestamp and ownership information is added as a ‘block’. Removal or changes can’t be made to an existing block. It can only be added to it. A good summary of it is that it’s a digital open-access ledger that is unalterable and permanent. It’s decentralized and distributed over a large network of computers. (Simply Explained, 2017). I posted the YouTube video below if any of you want to watch it or need further clarification.

 

What does this mean for publishing?

According to an MIT Sloan School of Management review on blockchain technology and how it can affect media and entertainment companies, it can either be used as a sustaining business model or a disruptive business model (Dutra et al. 2018). Either it can help make the industry more efficient or it can completely overhaul the industry and change the way things are done. In terms of publishing, there seems to be a lot of promises blockchain can do for the industry. At the London Book Fair this year there was a panel and a report by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) about what blockchain can do for authors. Some highlights were it can help with copyright issues, piracy, monetization of content, and an ‘author-centered financial model’ (Albanese, 2018). I’m going to do an overview of two main ways blockchain is being used (or is trying to be used) currently in publishing by using some startup companies as examples.

Accessed from: Dutra et al. 2018

 

Sustaining business model: Po.et

Po.et is a business that is based on a project started in 2015 called Proof of Existence (PoE). As the name suggests, the company is using blockchain technology to allow creators to record metadata and ownership information along with a timestamp onto the blockchain. By using the open ledger anyone can see who and where the original source of content came from (Po.et, 2017). Po.et wants to make it easy for people to access and source content. It also benefits content creators because they can be attributed and even compensated for their work (Po.et, 2017). In a Medium article discussing the benefits of blockchain and publishing, the author argues that blockchain technology can improve workflow and make rights management, especially within the digital content, more efficient (Giri, 2018). From the Po.et blog, the company makes a similar argument for as well. They state:

“When it comes to licensing, the process of finding content and engaging creators is extremely arduous. Media is scattered across various channels and copyright information is stored in siloed databases. Publishers are losing immense value by not having processes in place to more efficiently facilitate the transfer of licensed content.” (Po.et, 2017)

According to BookNet Canada and its interview with the Book Industry Study Group in the US, the current right’s management is a problem. Below is their concise list:

Accessed online from BookNet Canada, 2017

 

To make this technology more accessible for the everyday content creator, Po.et released a WordPress plug-in so that writers can automatically input their data onto the blockchain. They’re looking to create more tools like this to keep integrating their technology into the real-world (Rhodes, 2018). Po.et is also attempting to implement “smart contracts” as well (Walters, 2018). A smart contract is a licensing system (based on the content creator) and can allow for payments and issuance and transfer of licenses to be automated using blockchain (Walters, 2018). Overall, Po.et seems to be trying to make the publishers and author’s life much more efficient with what they’re developing. It’ll be interesting to see how far this pans out. 

 

Disruptive business model: Bookchain and Publica

Bookchain is a new startup by a company called Scenarex based in Montreal. It’s trying to act as an online ebook distribution platform that allows authors and publishers to publish and sell books on the blockchain. Because blockchain is inherently secure and traceable, it allows books to be protected again theft and piracy – especially e-books. It  “allows writers to protect their rights and enables them to choose the way their work is distributed and shared with the world’”(Scenarex Inc, 2018). Publica, a company based in Latvia, is doing something very similar (Rosenblatt, 2018). These two companies are developing reading platforms (Publica already has a reading app) where readers can purchase blockchain e-books through them so that the ownership and the transfers of the digital files can be tracked (Rosenblatt, 2018). You can sell it, lend it, rent it, or give it away (depending on what the licensing agreement is – which is set by the author or publisher) and it’s all recorded on the blockchain (Rosenblatt, 2018).

 

It seems to me, Bookchains competitive edge is that it allows payments to be connected through regular methods such as a credit card, whereas Publica only accepts cryptocurrency (Scenarex Inc 2018; Rosenblatt, 2018) Like Po.et, these two companies also are using smart contracts to establish an author or publishers rules about e-book ownership (Rosenblatt, 2018). However, I’m not sure if I can get behind Bookchain and Publica just yet. It seems these ebook ownership rights and restrictions only matter to the publisher and author and not so much to the reader. I wonder what incentive Bookchain and Publica will give to the reader to purchase ebooks through blockchain and not through Kindle and Kobo. It’d be interesting to see how they compete with Kindle and Kobo as well who already have built-in restrictions to e-book sharing. 

 

Overall, I think blockchain technology is really interesting and I’m excited to see where this goes. I think the publishing industry can potentially use it to make rights management and licensing more automated and time efficient. I’m not sure and unclear at this stage as to how Bookchain and Publica can entice readers to buy books on blockchain but it’ll be interesting to see! 

 

 

 

Sources:

Albanese, Andrew. London Book Fair 2018: Meet the World’s First #1 Bestselling ‘Blockchain’ Author. Publishers Weekly. April 11, 2018. Accessed online on Dec 5, 2018 from:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/london-book-fair/article/76592-london-book-fair-2018-meet-the-world-s-first-1-bestselling-blockchain-author.html

 

BookNet Canada. Can Blockchain help publishers better manage rights? BookNet Canada. Dec. 11, 2017. Accessed online on Dec. 4, 2018 from: https://www.booknetcanada.ca/blog/2017/12/11/can-blockchain-help-publishers-better-manage-rights

 

Dutra, Andre, Andranik Tumasjan, and Isabell M. Welpe. Blockchain Is Changing How Media and Entertainment Companies Compete. MIT Sloan Management Review. Sept. 11, 2018. Accessed online on Dec. 4, 2018 from: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/blockchain-is-changing-how-media-and-entertainment-companies-compete/  

 

Giri, Ashok. Blockchain and the Future of Publishing. Medium. May 1, 2018. Accessed online on Dec 5, 2018 from: https://medium.com/pagemajik/blockchain-and-the-future-of-publishing-65086b412d37

 

Po.et. Introducing Po.et: Digital Media & Blockchain Technology Collide. Medium. June 19, 2017. Accesesd online on Dec 4, 2018 from: https://blog.po.et/introducing-po-et-digital-media-blockchain-technology-collide-e53728fc1c24

 

Rhodes, Delton. Blockchain Publishing: Improving Payments & Rights for Authors. Coin Central. May 30, 2018. Accessed online on Dec 4, 2018 from https://coincentral.com/blockchain-publishing-improving-payments-rights-for-authors/

 

Rosenblatt, Bill. Can Blockchain Disrupt The E-Book Market? Two Startups Will Find Out.  Forbes. Aug. 18, 2018. Accessed online on Dec 4, 2018 from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/billrosenblatt/2018/08/18/can-blockchains-disrupt-the-e-book-market-two-startups-will-find-out/#487a8c6d5a0b

 

Scenarex Inc. Bookchain. Scenarex. 2018. Accessed online on Dec 5, 2018 from: https://www.scenarex.ca/en/bookchain

 

Simply Explained – Savjee. “How Does a Blockchain Work?”. Posted Nov. 13, 2018.  YouTube Video, 5:59 mins. Accessed online on Dec. 4, 2018 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSo_EIwHSd4

 

Walters, Steve. Po.et (POE) Review: Securing Intellectual Property on the Blockchain. Coin Bureau. May 18, 2018. Accessed online on Dec. 5, 2018 from: https://www.coinbureau.com/review/po-et-poe/

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