Going further than ‘blockchain for books’!
I attended the London Book Fair this week, largely, I will admit, for the free wine, but it turned out there were many books, authors, editors, publishers there as well, so at least some interesting conversations over the free wine.
And, one of the most interesting ideas I heard about was from Alli (Alli: the alliance of independent authors), an association I am a newly minted member of (and I got a badge and everything –> ). And that idea was blockchain for books.
Essentially, if the concept takes off, it is nothing less than a way to democratize the monetization of the internet!
The idea is to use blockchain technology to keep track of who owns a piece of content (it could be a book, blog post, photograph, anything), and to slice any payment associated with that content and partition it between the content creator(s), hosters, rebloggers and so on. For selling books, if the public get engaged, this is a way to directly sell your books, or parts of books (or blog posts), safely, un-piratably (or rather, piracy can be traced), and get paid immediately (I assume some at Alli are annoyed that Amazon sits on their royalties for a three months before they get paid). It means, that, as a reader, you can start reading someone’s ebook for fractions of pennies, rather than having to pay out $1.99 for the whole lot, and feel warm and glowy that your support is going to the actual writer.
But let’s extrapolate this idea to where it could go. I log on to somewhere, say, Facebook or similar, and I find my friend has posted some fun gifs of kittens. By viewing that content, I would automatically give them a micro- or nano-payment of say, 0.001p, OK. That payment is then split between them, the reblogger/influencer (my friend, in this case), the original artist(s) and the platform (Facebook, in this instance). What does this mean? Well, it means that consuming content on the internet is no longer free at point of source (it’s not free now, we just think we don’t pay, but we do, with computer hardware, electricity bills, phone bills, our personal data and so on). OK. But now the money made by content provision is split so that the people that made it actually get some of the money, rather than it all going to Facebook, as is the case now. And where will this money come from? Either, you pay to browse, or you pay the platform for you to browse, and here you can pay to browse by selling your data and/or enduring advertisements. Or you pay to browse by creating content yourself. But it means if I click on my friend’s photos, they get paid for creating that content, rather than Zuckerberg getting paid for them creating that content (although, in fairness, Facebook would take a cut).
There’s a parallel here with open-source software I think. Why don’t we declare the internet to be a type of commons (I’ll confess, I cannot remember whether it currently is, or not), and share out the money that commons makes? Why are there giant corporations making an absolute killing from data and content that we create for free? And what is this idea, I am torn between it being rather left-wing, with the workers, having already claimed the tools of production, now claiming the rewards of production, or rather right-wing and extreme capitalisation where everyone is a producer and well as a consumer. Still, if I spend time writing a blog-post, say, that entertains or informs someone, has that not created value? I am sure I read somewhere (I think it was Postcapitalsm: A guide to our future but it could have been The Economist) that the GDP of modern societies was undervalued due to the work we give away for free.
Of course, there would have to be some regulation, some way to making sure that this payment remains cheap, and ideally free to the poorest. I don’t like the idea of poor university students having to slave away creating cat gifs to fund access to wikipedia for their (well-researched) essays.
Anyway, I think all Alli was suggesting was using this for books and novellas, not the whole internet. I think there is a link to their white paper here: Block-chain for books!