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Creatokia is one of the first book-specific NFT platforms and in this interview, co-founders Jens Klingelhöfer and John Ruhrmann explain what NFTs are and why they are an opportunity for authors and rights-holders. They are also the co-founders of Bookwire, which already provides digital publishing solutions for the publishing industry.
After the interview, I reflect on key aspects of our conversation, and talk about why the recent YA NFT project Realms of Ruin didn't work, and why we need to ‘jump the S-curve' into a new business model.
Jens Klingelhöfer and John Ruhrmann are the founders of Bookwire, which provides digital publishing solutions for the publishing industry. They have recently launched Creatokia, the world of digital originals, with an accompanying podcast (currently in German, but will soon be in English.)
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- What are NFTs and what is Creatokia?
- How will royalties on resale of digital originals help authors and publishers to make more money?
- What can go into an NFT? (for example, a limited edition ePub, a virtual ticket, community access, and more)
- Will the language change around NFTs? Will it become a normal part of the publishing landscape as ebooks have?
- Addressing environmental concerns about NFTs
- Intellectual property rights and why you need to specify ‘digital' or ‘ebook' or ‘audiobook' rights in a world of digital originals
- How will Creatokia work, and when will it be available?
You can find Jens and John at Creatokia.com and on Twitter @creatokia
Transcript of Interview with Jens and John
Joanna: Welcome to the show, Jens and John.
John: Hello, Joanna.
Joanna: I'm so excited to talk to you today. Let's start with a question that might be basic for us, but maybe not for the listeners.
What are NFTs, and what is Creatokia?
John: I think the interesting things about NFTs are it's the short version of nonfungible tokens. The thing is that NFTs are on a blockchain, and you can collect them, and you can own them, and you can trade them.
It's a decentralized technology. It does mean maybe for the publishing industry that you don't need another organization than the technical idea of the blockchain to trade a book or to trade very rare stuff and to give it to someone who can say, ‘I really own a digital original.' And that's the idea of Creatokia.
Creatokia is the possibility — in a time of limitless supply in a digital era — to bring the original back into our world and connect two worlds, a digital world and a real world. And it's something for fans and creators and for storytellers and out of the perspective of Bookwire, the company that Jens and I founded 10, 11 years ago, the next step of digital publishing.
Jens: 12 years ago when e-books came into the business, I think we all thought about, ‘Wow, this is a technical revolution.' I thought it myself. And in some ways, it was. But in some ways, it wasn't.
It was just like transforming a physical book into a digital book, but it's not really a technical revolution because we are still reading, we're still using the same distribution channels. So you can buy a book on Amazon, you can buy an e-book on Amazon. That's no big difference.
You just need a device for it, but looking at it like the opportunity to create digital originals in a world like John said, where everything digital has become totally available for everybody.
We are in an endless sea of music, pictures, books, so having something that means something to you in your life, a digital version of something that you would've collected maybe as a rare item physically, previously, I think that's a real revolution.
Joanna: What I'm also interested in is the idea of smart contracts and resale, the resale market and the fact that you can put a percentage royalty into the resale. This is completely new, right? We haven't had this.
Obviously, there's been resale of physical books, but we've never been able to figure out the supply chain for money for that kind of thing.
How do you think that royalty potential for the life of copyright on a blockchain might work and might bring more money to rights-holders?
John: It looks like the blockchain is more collaborative in a way. So when you are on the blockchain with your product, as you said, with a smart contract, you are able to participate in the resale of your product.
So it means when I buy an NFT book and I resell it because maybe it's a limited edition from a fantastic author, even from an unknown author, but now a very well-known author, it's possible to resell that NFT, and you can implement in the smart contract that the originator, the author, gains again let's say a percentage of…if it only may be 5%, but if it's sold again and again and again, you have your own distribution system on the blockchain. And that's really a hack of the idea of what book distribution was in the past.
Jens: And thinking about adequate payment for authors and creators, I think this is a really big step forward because you don't have tons of intermediaries in between that get the biggest chunk in the value chain.
You may make sure with this technology that you can participate in the future in your product. I think this is common in art buying sometimes, but I've never heard this about books or music or something that you as an originator can create something, and as long as the product travels commercially to the world, you can still participate.
Joanna: Let's get more specific around what an NFT is. So people know, my audience, a lot of them are independent authors, we know what a MOBI file is, or an EPUB file, or a PDF. So we know these file formats.
I feel like people are confused. Is a NFT book a new format, or what does an NFT contain?
John: An NFT is a carrier of something. And it has at first two ideas.
It's the idea of authenticity and authorization. If you own the token, you say, ‘I am someone and I'm able to do something with it,' and that means that the connected book, or the connected artwork, or the connected cover and extra stuff is only available for you and connected with that NFT. It's the cover of the whole publishing product that's able to be done by a publisher, creator or author.
Jens: Let's give some examples from other industries that make it more tangible. When you look at the U.S. market and sports, you will find a big platform that is called NBA Drop Shots. What you can do there is you can buy great scenes from NBA games, like the biggest super dunk of LeBron James in one of the playoff finals.
You can buy this little piece. So now, you would say, ‘Okay, this is a movie, and everybody can put it on YouTube.' That's theoretically right, but there's only one person owning it.
You can also have the Mona Lisa picture on your calendar in your home, but you probably don't own the Mona Lisa because it's in the Louvre in Paris.
So this is the big difference that you really have ownership. And this token is technically making it possible to connect this ownership to you personally, not to you as a person directly, but to your wallet. And that's something maybe that needs some more explanations, but imagine it like a bank account.
Everybody has a bank account. So I think in some years from now, everybody will have a wallet, where you can collect money, crypto money, and also NFTs. And these NFTs are proof that you own something, and that you may earn money with it in a licensed chain or just own it.
I think talking about consumers, people will maybe just like to own things and they will not trade it every day and try to make money out of it. They will just say, ‘Oh, I got this number 10 from the limited edition of 20 books of a great author. And I own it. I have it in my wallet and maybe I show it on a platform.'
Looking at Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg what he's imagining of what Facebook could be in the future, I'm sure that we will be able to show our NFTs on Facebook and define and maybe give our avatar or real person some identification out there.
Joanna: I'm glad you said that because I feel the same way about book NFTs, in that we are recording this on video and I've got some books behind me and we are book people. And when we go into someone's house, we look at their bookshelf because that's what we do.
I feel like in the future, in a metaverse situation, we might have our NFT bookshelf behind us and it will display something about our character that we own NFTs of those books. And somehow, I know the technology might not be there right now, but the cover will be shown on the shelf.
There will be apps where we can view each other's virtual bookshelf in that way. So that's kind of how I see it too.
Jens: And it's already happening. Look at the gaming industry, look at what kids are doing. They are building avatars. One of the things that my daughter tried first in an educational app was she was trying out the avatar function because she was like, ‘I want to give myself in this community of little kids learning stuff some identity. I want to make sure that people somehow understand me in a different shade from others.'
That's what we naturally want, don't we? To have some authenticity and some identification to make sure we are not just an army of robots, we are individuals, and we want to express ourselves.
NFTs, even though they're digital and it seems unusual to say, ‘Okay, digital and identification,' but yes, I think with this token, it's going to be possible.
John: Maybe one more thing on that point, to give you a sneak peek about Creatokia is when you, the user on Creatokia, or a fan, or buyer, you will have the possibility to have a social wallet, it's called My Own. And in the My Own, you can show your NFTs. And so you bind your identity and your character together with NFTs. It belongs together in a way.
Joanna: To come back on what is an NFT, I think about it as a box, you said a carrier. And in that box, there can be an EPUB, there can be an image.
For example, I'm going to do my hand edit, my manuscript so I'm going to have a picture that is each NFT book will contain an original picture of my hand edits, which will only be in that book. And then there might also be a video. There might be a character art there.
All these things that we already use in our author world and our publishing world will go into these digital original boxes.
One last question on NFT book, are we going to use different language? Because I feel like people are still discussing how to spell ebook — is it e-book? Is it Ebook?'
Are we going to be talking about a N-book or an NFT book, or are we going to come up with some other language?
John: It's not decided, I think.
I own an NFT of this author. I think this will be the first sentence that we will use because the NFT, in itself, will be a passport to something because you can do even more.
You can use the NFT for a certain chat room at Discord and you are only able to enter that chat room with the author where he answers you questions once a month or something like that. I think NFT will stand as a publication form in itself. Maybe it will get another name. But our guess is that publishers, authors, creators will release NFTs.
Jens: But you're hitting a good point. You're just asking, ‘Will this stay a nerd thing forever? And will we call it NFT or something?' I don't think so. Think back a couple of years, not much more than a decade when the first smartphones came out, we all thought like, ‘Okay, this is something for nerds and you weren't going to have to write on the glass screen.'
It felt really strange and odd. Today, smartphones are totally normal and we don't talk about any technology under it anymore. So I think personally that today we are still in a phase of establishing this technology and finding out what we can do as creative people with a technology. But once technology has become a commodity, and this is always happening, we will not talk about NFTs anymore.
I personally think there will be new ways of saying it, like exclusive first issue, exclusive first edition, or things like that, digital original, or even more like words that we don't imagine at this point because it's not going to be a tech thing in the future.
It's going to be a thing about owning something that means something to you. And it doesn't matter if it's a physical item or if it's a digital item. And it's not the token, it's just the technology behind it. That's just my guess.
But it's an early stage. We don't know really, but I think this is going to disappear under the real thing. And the real thing for me is owning something that I want to have.
Joanna: I like the ‘digital original' because people already say special editions and a special edition of a print book could mean a leather-bound hardback, or it could be some eco-friendly paper, or whatever. And so it contains all kinds of possibilities.
Talking about language again, you used the word wallets earlier and cryptocurrency and tokens and all these words can be very confusing for people. And as you said, it's early days.
Do you think people will transact on Creatokia and other platforms with fiat currency, like they'll be able to buy NFTs with U.S. dollars? Or are we looking at only using cryptocurrencies like Ether or other tokens?
John: It's a very good and interesting question. On Creatokia, we decided to give hunters and gatherers for interesting book stuff, the possibility to pay in fiats or in normal currency, or in Ethereum. So this should be an easy gate to cross for the people.
Another mission of Creatokia is to entertain and teach the rules of the blockchain to the people. So there are lots of pages to explain how you can make a wallet, what is a wallet, what is a cryptocurrency, and it's our mission to bring that technology into the mainstream in a way.
It will take maybe some time until we reach that goal, but it is part of the deal of the whole platform.
Jens: It's a central question that we've been discussing since day one. We have two groups that we address with Creatokia. I think that's not because we decided so, it's just because it's natural that the crypto community that is really a community of creators of tech nerds, like a really interesting group of people that are creating NFT projects at the moment, they are, of course, one of the first target groups.
So, of course, we also address the crypto people, but the question whether it will at any point become mainstream is super crucial.
We are not making Creatokia for just the crypto community, we are making it to make creative stuff from the publishing industry where we've been working in for a very long time available to everybody. And that's something that we have to develop as John said, that's why we are explaining the crypto stuff.
I personally believe in five years, we won't need to explain it anymore because there will be probably Apple, Facebook, and all the big platforms managing this for you and you don't need to really take care.
Whether you want to pay with Euro, Ether, you have your wallet and you just pay something and you own something and you can resell it. Let's put it this way, it's very simple.
Joanna: I agree with you. I don't know if 1998 is too early, but the dotcom boom, and all the news about NFTs is “69 million for an art piece,” or “You are all ruining the environment”. It's all so hyper-inflated, and yet a decade or so later, the economy online was big. And now, it is a lot of our economy. So I agree with you.
On the environmental concern, I feel like this is one of the biggest issues that we are hearing. And I feel like, again, people are stuck in the old way of blockchain a few years ago.
Could you address the environmental concerns about blockchain and NFTs?
John: Yes, that's something what was an issue right from the first thoughts about Creatokia when we decided in the early year 2021 that it might be the right time to do something with NFTs and book publishing.
We said that we cannot start that project without thinking about environmental problems that we might cause with that. And from any business that is done on Creatokia, we will compensate the environmental problem with a partner that we chose. The partner is My Climate, and it's a certified partner for being CO.
Joanna: It's a carbon offset.
John: That stuff that will be compensated fully by anything that we do on Creatokia. And it's explained on the pages. Right now, you can type in creatokia.com and NFTs and environmental issues, there's a certain page for it where we explain how we do with this.
Jens: And maybe some more explanation why is it the case that it is an environmental issue, it is because the blockchain is consuming so much energy at the moment, what is kind of absurd. I think this is one of the kind of, well, strange things we have to deal with.
On the one hand, we have a very interesting technology that can make things possible that haven't been possible before. On the other hand, the technology itself is still an early stage.
There will be changes made on the Ethereum blockchain that a lot more transactions will be possible to execute on the blockchain, and that a lot, lot, lot less energy will be needed for that, because I think nowadays nobody can really justify why we are consuming so much energy for this.
I'm very confident as far as I understood. Maybe even in less than a year, Ethereum will change the technology and change the proof of stake concept, and that will change the game. I hope then the energy discussion will be a different topic then.
[Here's the vision for Ethereum 2.]
Joanna: Me too. I feel like it's the thing that's stopping people.
There are also lots of different blockchains. I know you are building on Ethereum, which I think is one of the more stable ones. And obviously, there are lots of potentials where it could go and there are some even carbon negative blockchains, which I think are interesting.
I appreciate that you are using Ethereum because I feel a bit like Amazon, old companies now that are going to be around. I feel like Ethereum's an old blockchain, so we can maybe be more confident that it will be around in the future because I guess that's the other thing I've been thinking about is, what if a new blockchain arrives that maybe we put an NFT on and then that disappears in the future? That could also be a worry for people.
Jens: Yes, absolutely. I think Ethereum won't go away. That was one of the reasons why we decided. But also, I would say that we are blockchain agnostic in a way. So if there is a better way to execute what we want to do, why not change?
For the moment, the Ethereum blockchain is very stable, it's established, and it comes with a lot of opportunities to create these smart contracts in a way that we want to do it.
If there's another possibility in the future, certainly we would go for the best way, and, of course, make sure that people can keep their stuff. And the point you mentioned is a very important point.
It's about trust. It's about trust that these transactions that you're making that will have a meaning in the future and not just go away. And I think that's something that we have to take care of.
John: It's a decentralization thing because Ethereum is so open, you will be able to trade books that you sourced on Creatokia on OpenSea and stuff. And it would somehow jeopardize the whole blockchain thing when you build another world garden. That's not the idea.
The idea of Creatokia is to build a gateway for authors, creators, and collectors, and publishers
And, of course, we will offset 100% the carbon footprint that we do now. We can really guarantee that.
Joanna: I have an interesting question about intellectual property rights, which, of course, underpin the whole publishing industry.
As an independent author, I own and control my rights. So I can jump on the first NFT potential option, but many authors signed a contract or an addendum years ago and signed contracts that might include ‘digital rights,' or ‘e-book rights,' or ‘digital audio.'
There are these phrases in most people's contracts now that I think would stop authors being able to do their own NFTs, because essentially, it is a digital format.
What do you think about digital IP rights? Will we see a split in contracts into special edition digital rights?
How will authors manage if publishers don't want to do NFTs? What do you see coming in that area?
Jens: Generally there are lots of different aspects here and contracts and different types of relationships between authors, agents, and publishers. I personally think the world is a free world. So, today, you can really decide as an author.
If you want to go yourself as a self-publisher, you can do that, you can be perfectly well-successful. If you decide to ‘marry' a publisher in a way and go into a strong partnership, then I would think … I'm not a lawyer from my perspective. Now, I would say, ‘This might be included in what you've probably signed, and you should, in good faith and in a good partnership, discuss with your publisher whether you think this is right for your career, for your products, or not.' So I wouldn't say there's a general answer to that point.
Legally, I would tend to follow your opinion saying, ‘This might be included in some contracts, but again, this is something new.' So the rules are not 100% applicable, the rules from the past to this now.
My guess would be let's not get stuck in legal stuff. Our approach is really to find people who believe in this and make great stuff with those. And who don't believe, that's okay. You don't need to do this. It's a free world.
I wouldn't say that you necessarily lose the game or your reputation or whatever if you don't do it at the very beginning. There will be, that's what I know for sure. And that what we've seen talking to a lot of publishers and agents and publishers and authors.
There are a lot of people who are interested. And I think we focus on those and the legal side will be sorted out easily, I think, from our perspective.
Joanna: Great. Well, that is good to hear. I like to say it because, of course, a lot of authors listening take part in rights negotiation and contracts. I want people to start bringing this up because, of course, a lot of people sign contracts, some people for the life of copyright.
You are making decisions potentially that could affect your future earnings, even down to the percentage split of resale, which I presume currently is not in digital contracts, right? So I do think there's a lot of stuff that will need to be worked out.
You mentioned focusing on the people who believe, and I'm one of those, to be sure.
For people listening who are now enthusiastic, what is the timeline for Creatokia? When can we start NFTs?
John: We now have our first drop in November. It's called the Creatoken. And that's for the first believers. The landing page is already there. Maybe you want to implement the link in the show notes of this podcast. And of course, if you go on creatokia.com, you will see that Creatoken. It's the key to Creatokia.
For the first believers, this key opens the door to the platform that will go live by winter, autumn this year. You will get a free drop if you'll go with that token so you understand how Creatokia functions. And that's the best answer to your question that I can give today.
Jens: And you can read from that that John is a storytelling guy, a storytelling person. He loves stories. And he's got stuck in doing business with me in our core business in Bookwire. That's why he's now thinking about stories for Creatokia.
And of course, I'm kidding a little bit, but you can see that storytelling is a big aspect here. It's not only about creating a platform. And the first story we tell ourselves, if you go to the website, you will see that there is an idea behind this. It's not just technology.
We say, ‘You can do something here. Come on, start.' It's really about making the first move ourselves with a story. And so there will be a mix of projects going live on Creatokia, where with this key to Creatokia, you may have some advantages, for example, and there will be publisher-centric drops that focus more on the author of a certain book, more like classic creative stuff from authors. So there will be all kinds of things.
But what is really important is that it should be fun, it should be entertaining, it should be creative, and it should be really an experience for people to do that. It's not just another channel to sell something to make money or whatever.
Of course, it's about making money because people want to make a living from what they do. But it's really about storytelling. That's for us as a company. It's also exciting because we are managing so much digital business of so many publishers around the world.
That is great and that will not go away. That will stay very important for us. But entering this new business with a story that people have really fun and feel entertained and have an experience, that's the motivation for us to do it.
Joanna: Me too. I kind of feel like if this is going to be all normalized in the next 5 to 10 years, I want to be involved as I was with e-books, like you guys very early on and digital audio and AI audio and all these different things.
Coming back to the practicality. Say I'm in, I've got my Creatoken, I go on there, I want to do my NFT.
So I can put in an EPUB and an image and a video into my first NFT. And of course, this is the problem right now I see OpenSea. They don't allow an EPUB or any kind of digital e-book format, they allow video images, etc. You mentioned you could be reselling it on OpenSea, for example.
Is the format going to include all of those things on Creatokia that makes it different to the other places?
John: Yes, that makes it different. So you are able with the Creatokia token to access the extras that you mentioned only with the Creatokia token. On Creatokia, you are able to get your stuff to your, let's say, safe wallet of all that you bought with the NFT.
The technology will be, of course, developed more and more, and maybe it will stick even closer together. But the token itself is the binding element to the author content that you created.
And of course, the possibilities that you will have on Creatokia is how you offer your NFT books. So it can be a limited edition, it can be a one-off digital original, it can be a timed sale.
Maybe you are J. K. Rowling, and you decide to make the eighth episode of Harry Potter, and you do a center stage video stream and you sell a limited edition only for an hour at midnight a week before the release of the book. This is what you can do in Creatokia.
And maybe if you are the token buyer, you are the only one who is able to print the book for you and your friends. Imagine that there are only 100 tokens of a book and the token owners only able to print it. That's interesting out of my perspective.
The creative things should be limitless, but we cannot code as fast as we can think, as our ideas arise in our minds on what we can do. So it's really a limitless story. It's an odyssey.
Joanna: Then the question comes from the reader perspective. I know how excited I am as an author and a creator, but I'm also a reader, and the people who are going to buy these things are readers.
I feel that by launching now and by getting on there, it might then be tumbleweed in terms of no one comes to buy anything because no one knows about this stuff, or it's very hard to educate people at the moment into how this all works.
Are you expecting readers to come to Creatokia? Is it going to be a marketplace for readers and NFT buyers like OpenSea? Or will I have links on my author website and drive people to get the NFT?
What's the experience for the reader?
John: It's both. If you are a reader, you go to Creatokia to find that special stuff, or even to get into contact with your favorite author. And on the other side, it's the connection opposite.
It's the author who decides to use Creatokia to mint books to outline what his creativity is about in the way he uses NFT technology. It's bringing people together. And then it's only a gateway. It's a gateway to the wide, wide world out there.
When you bought the NFT, you are able to resell it, you're able to use it, any stuff like that. It's for both. It should bring people together. That's what the blockchain technology is about.
Jens: But maybe technically speaking, at least today, I would say that in the future, this cannot be different, but today, Creatokia will not be an ecosystem for consumption of all kinds of assets because you are consuming books in your preferred ecosystem, whether it's Kindle, Kobo, or you're reading on whatever device, on your mobile phone.
The asset that is connected to the token, that asset that comes with that token, that is not necessarily, like it's in an asset repository, so it can be accessed from anywhere and that you can use it in your ecosystem, in your preferred ecosystem.
When we talk about an EPUB, for example, there will not be an EPUB ecosystem on Creatokia. You will be able to preview it. But of course, if you want to download your special version of your book, you will download it and consume it in your own ecosystem.
Joanna: Okay, so you might download the EPUB and send it to your device as you would normally if you buy that kind of thing. And many of us use a company like BookFunnel, for example, that's what I use, which will send it to whichever device somebody is listening to, or reading on because that becomes the thing. It's like, ‘Well, how do I read my NFT?'
We all also have to include instructions at the beginning, at least, so that people know, ‘All right, this is the journey as the customer.'
I've been on Creatokia a lot over the last couple of weeks and I see you've been building out the website. For people listening, you've got a podcast that's currently in German. Obviously, my audience are mainly English-speaking.
Where can people learn more? And tell us about the podcast because I think there are some changes coming.
Jens: We have received so many requests as to why we are doing the podcast in German. That's actually because John talked me into this and said, ‘Come on.' Because he has done several podcasts, he said like, ‘Come on, let's do this podcast in German together as a warmup and a kickoff because it needs so much explanation, and you can't just write it everywhere. People won't read it. It's too complex. Let's just tell stories and have great guests and explain our audience and our industry how this functions.' And so we have decided to now switch into English.
So, actually, you are now the first English podcast that we are doing this episode with you. And we will switch the ‘Creatokia Podcast‘ to English. And we will have our hosts, our Videl Bar-Kar, he's the Head of Audio in Bookwire. And he will help us because he's really fluent.
He's native, of course. He's a British man. And so he will help us into this and we will continue the ‘Creatokia Podcast' in English for probably another 10 episodes. People will be able to follow us there and we will catch up a little bit on things that we've discussed in the German version, but, of course, keep people updated about what's coming up in Creatokia because that's certainly not a German project. It was just that we both started this podcast in German to experiment a little bit with the two of us doing a podcast together.
John: From episode 11 on, it will be two German dudes and an Englishman discussing blockchain stuff for publishers, authors, and creators. And of course, you can address that podcast on any podcast platform you want. It's called the ‘Creatokia Podcast.'
Another very important thing of the Creatokia community that we want to build is our Discord server. So when you use Discord, it's possible to get in direct contact with the Creatokia team there, and lots of stuff will happen there, and, of course, creatokia.com where you can address all our social media profiles, well, 21st century stuff.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, both of you. And your company motto is, ‘The best is yet to come', and I'm with you on that. So exciting times ahead. Thank you for your time.
John: Thank you very much for inviting us, Joanna. Thank you very much.
Jens: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
My thoughts after the interview
I hope you enjoyed the interview with Jens and John —and I am positive about Creatokia in part because of who they are. They co-founded Bookwire, a German company that is already part of the publishing ecosystem, providing digital solutions for ebooks and audio.
They are embedded in the publishing industry. They know the players, they have the relationships, and they have a proven track record of delivering technical solutions. In fact, I have reported on their online events and talks at London and Frankfurt Book Fairs over the years. They already have the trust of the publishing industry so they are well positioned to make this work.
Here are my thoughts on some key points from the interview.
We currently have a problem with digital. In a time of limitless supply in the digital world, NFTs allow digital scarcity — and scarcity makes something valuable.
A few years ago, as the subscription model really began taking off for ebooks and digital audiobooks, I could see the decline of our current business model in the years ahead and it worried me.
If digital is limitless, then the value of digital tends towards zero. You can see this in the music industry, with musicians being paid a pittance per Spotify stream and we are heading that way with ebooks and digital audio with the unlimited subscription models. It is inevitable, because it’s great for consumers.
But this change in business models is also inevitable. As the old begins to fade, new opportunities arise.
I recently read Undisruptible, A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention for Individuals, Organizations and Life, by Aidan McCullen, which explains how this works and how we need to embrace the change. It talks about the series of S-curves that we go through at different points in our lives, individually, as a company and as a society.
There is growth and then there is change, and if you don’t adapt to the new thing, there is decline. McCullen gives the example of Kodak, Blackberry, and Nokia, companies that dominated and then lost almost all market share as digital technology changed the game. He says,
“We become so preoccupied with optimising, enjoying and defending the competitive advantage that made us successful today that we neglect to prepare for tomorrow.”
He also talks about the different stages of a business model. Phase five is the final one:
“They compete on marketing spend rather than product innovation. They compete on price rather than demand. They facilitate price cuts through job automation, optimisation and ‘me-too’ propositions, where their products become generic.”
This sounds very much like the digital publishing space right now, and the pandemic has driven traditional publishing into the online marketing space, too, so the business model will be squeezed even more.
As a customer, I love Netflix and Spotify and Amazon Prime. As a reader and listener, I am in Kindle Unlimited and Audible, which is basically now unlimited.
But I also support creators on Patreon and buy special editions and buy books direct — and that’s the model we need to embrace. It's hard to make a living in the unlimited digital model. We need to embrace digital scarcity and resale of digital assets, as well as the possibilities of smart contracts on blockchain.
Musicians have started to embrace NFTs with enthusiasm and many of them are doing NFT drops for digital originals and are now making decent money again. It’s the beginning of a new business model build on blockchain and fuelled by NFTs. In fact, if you are a music fan, then keep your ears open for drops by your favourite musicians as you can then understand this from a customer perspective.
What is an NFT book in practical terms? Is it a mobi or ePub file?
John described an NFT as a ‘carrier,’ and I talked about it as like a ‘digital box.’ You can put what you like in the box (dependent on the platform). It could be an ePub file for an ebook or an MP3 file for audio, or a video, or a ticket to an event, or it might allow access to a community. Plus, many other things we haven’t thought of yet.
You can find some examples of authors doing NFTs on this article on the ALLi blog where Laurence O’Bryan from BooksGoSocial talks about various book NFT projects on the Wax blockchain, which is carbon neutral.
I am intending to do an NFT ‘drop’ in the coming months — which means I will release several NFT originals of Tomb of Relics. I will generate individual ePub files, where each one will include a numbered image of a page of my hand edits. [You can do this with Vellum or any of the other formatting options.]
I’ll also include a video clip of me writing, so you will see the words appear on the screen and you can watch my face as I type. Yes, it’s a bit weird! But it’s the first time I have used Sudowrite, the AI tool built on GPT-3, as part of my creative process, so it truly is a digital original.
It marks a specific point in my journey as a creator and a specific point in the evolution of writers working with AI tools.
[For more on Sudowrite, see episode 558: Writing Fiction with AI, an interview with Amit Gupta.]
It all sounds a bit technical, but as Jens said, ‘Will this remain a nerd thing forever?’ No, it won’t!
Ebooks were super nerdy in 2008 when I started self-publishing and now they are entirely mainstream.
New indie authors coming into this space might be confused about the terminology we use, but after a book or two, it becomes second nature. NFTs and blockchain will be the same way.
And of course, Creatokia intends to educate authors and the publishing community, as well as readers and digital collectors about how this all works. I hope you will check out their podcast when it switches into English in the coming weeks.
Head over to creatokia.com and read their help pages for more info and subscribe to the podcast.
Is the author and reader community ready? What about the failure of YA NFT project, Realms of Ruin?
A few weeks ago, six YA authors announced the upcoming launch of Realms of Ruin, a collaborative fantasy epic filled with dark magic, intrigue, and unique characters — as reported by TechCrunch.
The authors intended to post 12 initial origin stories about their fictional universe, to which they owned the copyright. The fans could then write their own stories, and mint them as NFTs on the Solana blockchain.
But the authors were ripped apart on social media.
The community just didn’t get it, so the authors decided to pull the project. I saw some of the tweets and articles about it, and basically, people just did not understand the concept. They saw authors trying to rip off fans in some kind of Ponzi scheme, while simultaneously destroying the environment. I even saw some tweets from an agent who lamented ever having to deal with NFT licensing — which is very short-sighted given the potential of resale.
I think these YA authors were probably a year too early with their project — and I really hope they try again once the community is more educated about blockchain and NFTs. Realms of Ruin sounds similar to what Jessica Artemisia talked about in our interview on episode 581, so it’s really a new type of business model.
I believe the authors want the best for their community and they could see the potential for the writers of fanfic to finally make money within their world, a bit like Kindle Worlds did and how some authors now create collaborative worlds and allow co-writers inside. The YA authors also chose the Solana blockchain as it is one of the more environmentally friendly blockchains.
But they were just too early.
Clearly, as I write this in early November 2021, the author and reader community is not ready for NFTs.
It is quite likely that I will mint my own NFTs with Creatokia in the coming months and no one will buy them — or maybe someone who believes that I am in this for the long-term will take a chance on me.
Perhaps the value of my digital original assets will go up over time and whoever joins me at the beginning of this new adventure will make a good investment — or at least have a digital collectible on their virtual shelf!
But regardless of initial success, I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the feeling I get when the penny drops and I see the future of how something will work.
“I would like to see the opening of the Amazon Kindle Publishing platform to non-US authors.” Joanna Penn, Oct, 2009.
On 26 October 2009, 12 years ago, I reviewed the international Kindle on YouTube. My excitement as an author and as a reader is obvious as I talk about how brilliant it is.
“Hi, I'm Joanna Penn from The Creative Penn and today I just want to share with you my excitement about the international Kindle, which I've just got. It arrived on Saturday and I've been reading books on it and it's just absolutely fantastic.
I wanted to tell you a bit about it and why I'm so enthusiastic, I guess, because for Americans, you've had the Kindle for a couple of years now, but for the rest of the world, this is basically the first time I've even seen the Kindle, let alone held it and used it for reading. It's just beautiful. I really love it.
I’m also thrilled because my own books are on the Kindle, which I publish through a friend in America. So one improvement I would like to see is the opening of the Amazon Kindle Publishing platform to non-US authors. So that would be a real improvement, but generally, I think it's fantastic.
People criticize it for being just black and white and being just really for books. I mean, it's not multimedia, it's not multicolored, but most books are black and white and it's just very relaxing and lovely to use. So I highly recommend the international Kindle from Amazon. It’s just a brilliant tool.”
How times have changed!
Amazon did open up KDP to international authors and then Apple, Kobo and other platforms emerged.
I left my job two years later in Sept 2011, and I’ve built a multi-six figure business off the back of digital publishing. I sensed change was coming because of that device and the new ebook format, and I feel that excitement again now.
“A golden period for creative people.” Chris Dixon on the Tim Ferriss Podcast, Oct 2021
I’ve been listening to a lot of podcast episodes on NFTs and I recommend episode 542 of the Tim Ferriss Podcast with Naval Ravikant and Chris Dixon that went out on Oct 28, 2021.
Tim talks about a visceral excitement that wakes him up at 3 am, thinking about what could be possible with NFTs and blockchain, which is exactly how I feel. I’m actually writing these notes before 4 am as I wake up in the early hours thinking about it too. It’s an excellent episode and they talk about how these changes might impact creators, authors, and artists in terms of a business model for the future.
Here’s a short clip where Chris Dixon explains his vision. It’s at around 2 hours and 15 mins, near the end of the interview, and it is well worth listening to the whole thing. They refer to generative art and music but the same applies for authors or any other kind of creators.
“I think that's one of the cool things here is when you create a better business model for art, let's say, or for music. Step one will be you take the existing artists and they get more money.
Step two is you're going to incentivize a whole new generation to go do these cool things with a generative art. Now you have a way to make money on it. And so there's just going to be all these smart people attracted to creative things. But I think it's a great thing.
I think we were just dramatically underpaying creative people in my view, and we've now figured out a way to pay them properly.
And that's going to lead to a huge new wave of creative activities, and not just paying existing musicians. Maybe we enter a world where there's instead of 8 million musicians on Spotify, there’s a billion. Maybe there's a billion musicians. There's a billion artists. There's millions of generative artists.
I think this is the right kind of evolution of the internet. This should be a golden period for creative people. There are 8 billion people and 6 billion or whatever are internet connected. And you only need a thousand to make a living.
This should be the greatest time in history for creative people. And I think we might've finally figured it out.”
As Jens from Creatokia said in the interview, “In 5 years, we won’t have to explain this anymore.” The technology will just be part of your life.
You don’t need to know how to code an ePub file to sell an ebook online. You don’t need to know how podcasting works technically to listen to this. You don’t need to know how internet works to receive money into your PayPal account and download it to your bank account. It will be the same for blockchain and NFTs and wallets.
In Undisruptible, Aidan McCullen quotes a Chinese proverb, “When the wind of change blows, some build walls, while others build windmills.”
Creatokia is a windmill, an attempt to harness the technological change ahead with blockchain and NFTs. I am excited to jump on Creatokia when it launches, which hopefully will be in the next few months, and of course, there will be many more possibilities emerging. Remember what I said in that video from October 2009, basically suggesting that Amazon open up to international authors! How things have changed since then.
As ever, you don’t have to do anything right now. I’m usually a few years early on these things, so you’ve got time to watch what happens before you take action.
All I ask is that you stay curious and open to what might unfold. In the meantime, keep writing, keep creating intellectual property assets and don’t sign contracts that might stop you from taking advantage of these technologies.
Exciting times ahead, creatives! I hope you’ll continue to join me on the journey.
Thanks to my patrons whose support of the podcast give me the extra time needed to research and do these extra interviews. If you found this useful, you can support the show at patreon.com/thecreativepenn and you’ll get the extra monthly Q&A audio session as well as money off my ebooks, audiobooks and courses, or you can buy me a coffee to fuel my early morning excitement at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/thecreativepenn
Back to the usual format on Monday, when I’m talking about something many of us want to achieve: From Book To Netflix Show With Chrissy Metge, all about which projects are worth pitching and how the process works.
So happy writing, and I’ll see you next time.
You promise to explain what NFTs are, but at no stage do you spell out the acronym. Key rule of journalism – never assume people know what an acronym means. Since I have no clue what an NFT is, the rest of the article made little sense…
Joanna Penn says
Hi Abbs, It’s in John’s first reply:
John: I think the interesting things about NFTs are — it’s the short version of nonfungible tokens
NFTs = Non Fungible Tokens
Klaus Moller says
I find this so exciting and I too remember getting my first Kindle. So glad you mention the Tim Ferriss podcast episode, which gave so much information too.
I’m ready to buy your first NFT 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Klaus! I’m so glad you’re finding the info useful and it’s good to know someone is interested in my NFT — hopefully by the end of the year! Exciting times!
Helen Parker-Drabble says
So appreciate your scouting out all the new possibilities and communicating them in such a brilliant, clear way to your listeners, Jo. Exciting times, indeed.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Helen 🙂