Remember when there was no internet? Remember when we used landlines and phone boxes? Remember (before PayPal) when businesses had to use expensive merchant accounts and cross-border payments and receipts were incredibly expensive?
Every year, technology marches on and I try to keep up to date and share what's happening with you on this blog and in my podcast.
I've talked about Blockchain before, and by now, you will have heard more about it – some of the highs and lows of its development.
But what do Blockchain technologies mean for authors?
The end of the indie publishing world is nigh!
Variations on this phrase have been popping up on my Facebook feed with alarming regularity. It seems like the indie community is going through another Chicken Little moment, particularly when it comes to the-store-that-shall-not-be-named and its control over our pay cheques.
Books have vanished from platforms (okay, one platform) for days on end.
Ads aren’t working as they used to.
Also boughts have disappeared.
(Then reappeared. Then disappeared again.)
It’s not surprising that many authors are feeling rather despondent about the future of indie publishing.
But as booksellers of the past have come and gone, so too will many of the platforms we buy and sell books on today. Yes, even the-store-that-shall-not-be-named.
Which is why we should look to the future. To what comes next in publishing’s evolution.
So, let me paint a picture of a more positive future…
- What if there was a way in which any person in any country in the world could buy your book and you would receive instant payment?
- What if you could make ownership of your content indisputable without having to worry about registering copyright or legal battles?
- What if there was a secondary market for eBooks, where you got paid EVERY time your book is resold?
Well, there is a way all this can happen. It’s called the blockchain and it may just change the future of indie publishing.
So, what is this Blockchain thing?
The blockchain allows you to carry out a transaction safely and securely without going through a third party such as a bank or an online retailer. It’s the global equivalent of meeting your friend in the street and trading a bag of apples for a second-hand book.
To get a little bit techy, the blockchain is just one type of distributed ledger technology (DLT), but it’s the most well-known because of its association with bitcoin. If I were a pedant, I’d be using the term ‘distributed ledger technologies’ throughout this article, but it’s a bit of a mouthful, so I’m going to stick with ‘blockchain’.
For those of you whose eyes are starting to glaze over, check out this two-minute video which gives a really simple explanation of Bitcoin and the blockchain. If you still have questions, this article may help answer them.
How can the Blockchain improve indie publishing?
1) Get rid of the middleman
Blockchain technology allows authors to sell/license digital property (e.g. an e-book) directly to readers safely and securely without using a bank or credit card company as an intermediary. Payments can be split at the point of transaction, and royalties deposited in your wallet instantly.
No more waiting 90 days for payment.
No more wondering if your sales figures are accurate.
You could even get your readers to pay you only for the pages they read. Kind of like Kindle Unlimited, except you get precise data on how far through the book readers are getting.
(And while you may be sad to learn that people abandon your book part way through your epic five-chapter battle scene at the end of the second act, at least you know how you can improve read-through.)
This technology also means that anyone, wherever they are in the world, can buy and read your books on their smartphone, tablet or computer. That goes for audiobooks too – they’re still digital property.
It’s a more author-centric model which gives authors the independence to connect directly with readers and have full control over their products and pricing.
2) Get paid twice
One really cool thing about the blockchain is the ability to track ownership of a digital product. This makes it possible to have a secondary market for eBooks which directly benefits authors.
Let’s say you buy a copy of Gerard’s Guide to Golf for your brother-in-law, Dave, for $9.99. Dave doesn’t actually like golf (he just said that once when drunk on your dad’s scotch) so he sells it on to his work colleague, Jim, for $6.99.
Jim does play golf but after reaching chapter three of the book, he realizes he’s already read it, so posts it for sale on the secondary eBook marketplace.
Geraldine spots the book and thinks it’s a bargain at $4.99. She reads it avidly for a year, then decides she no longer needs it and sells it to a Charlotte, the new girl at her golf club, for $2.99.
Dave, Jim, Geraldine and Charlotte all benefit from this arrangement by being able to sell the book and/or get a cheap copy. But Gerard (the author in this story) also benefits, as each time a transaction is carried out, he’ll get a proportion of the profits.
One book sold four times. Good for readers, great for authors.
3) Fingerprint your creative work
If you’re a regular listener of The Creative Penn podcast, you’ll know all about the importance of intellectual property rights. And while you can register and defend your copyright today, if you’ve ever been challenged over ownership of your books, you’ll know it’s a sure-fire way to lose precious writing time, not to mention money.
Using blockchain technologies you can cryptographically link your content to you, making ownership indisputable. And this doesn’t just have to be for final versions of your product. Your digital fingerprint will be on the drafts you send to your editor, beta readers and reviewers.
4) Make collaboration easier
More and more authors are choosing to collaborate to reach new readers and publish more books. But whether you’re co-authoring a series or taking part in a multi-author anthology, there’s always a sticky issue around money.
Unless you use a service like BundleRabbit, one person has to stick their hand up and volunteer to receive payments and distribute royalties to everyone involved.
In the future, you’ll have a smart contract embedded in the blockchain which allows royalties to be automatically split at the point of sale between different creators.
Less time moving money around means more time for writing. (Or drinking gin – your call.)
What’s happening on the Blockchain now?
In the evolution of distributed ledger technologies, we’re still at the toddler tantrum stage. Blockchain for books has a long way to go, particularly when it comes to the reader experience, but several start-ups are moving fast to solve these teething issues.
Here are a few of the companies developing blockchain solutions in the digital publishing space:
- Publica has developed a platform for people to buy and sell books on the blockchain as well as a crowdfunding tool authors can use to pre-sell copies of their latest work.
- po.et aims to tackle ownership issues in the digital publishing industry by building an authentication platform that creates timestamped ‘fingerprints’ for digital assets embedded into the blockchain.
- Smoogs is looking to utilise micropayment technology for content creators.
I’d also recommend checking out the ALLi Blockchain for Books White Paper which goes into more detail on the possibilities and challenges the blockchain poses for the future of indie publishing.
What does the future hold?
It can be tempting to ignore new technologies, particularly if we don’t fully understand them. But if you approach your writing and publishing from a business perspective as well as a creative perspective, it’s important to know what’s around the corner to be able to take advantage of opportunities.
And the blockchain isn’t just about books. Huge corporations, governments and start-ups are currently exploring how this technology can be used in fields such as healthcare, banking, energy and identity verification.
Can the blockchain fix all our publishing and marketing problems?
But it does offer an opportunity for an alternative, author-led system of content creation and distribution. It’s up to us to decide if we want to take it.
Are you interested in how the blockchain will affect the indie author space and your ability to sell books? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Alison co-hosts the Crypto News Podcast, a weekly round-up of the most significant, interesting and humorous news on cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, with fellow author Paul Teague.
[Sharing image of the earth from space via NASA and Unsplash. Tomatoes photo courtesy Elaine Casap and Unsplash. Smartphone image courtesy Rodion Kutsaev and Unsplash. Graffiti image courtesy My Life Through A Lens and Unsplash. Change image courtesy Ross Findon and Unsplash.]