I spent last weekend in mental turmoil, agonizing over the following questions: Can authors benefit from publishing ebooks as NFTs? And if so, how do they go about doing it?
Slight exaggeration about being in mental turmoil. The reality is I love these questions about NFTs and authorship. They prompted me to dig further down the blockchain rabbit hole (I’ll take any excuse to do blockchain research).
Unless you’ve been in hiding, you’ve heard the buzz about NFTs for artists. It’s been trending for much of 2021 and so far in 2022. Many are saying NFTs will be the future of art distribution. The jury is still out on whether that will be reality. But what about NFTs for self-published authors? What’s the deal?
If NFTs are so game-changing for artists, are they also game-changing for authors? Do authors need to ‘NFT’ their books?
If the acronym NFT makes your eyes glaze over and you’re not quite sure what an NFT is, hang tight. I’ll be breaking it down for easy understanding (that’s my thing).
If you stick with me, by the end of this article, you’ll know:
What NFTs are (as they relate to book publishing) and if authors should jump on this NFT trend? Why? Or why not?
Caveat: I’m writing this in July, 2022. Blockchain technology changes…rapidly. If you’re reading this, say, in 2023, there may be way more opportunities and developments on the topic than I have now.
We’re going to dive into a few necessary terms and definitions so you understand the technology, how it works, and why it matters.
But before we even get to that…
If you’re an author (or aspire to be one) and you’re wondering if any of this is even relevant to you, the short answer is:
NFTs are relevant to authors because they may mean:
More ownership over your work.
Direct, (almost) instant payment from buyers.
The opportunity to create unique, exclusive ebook files and accessories.
Now, on to a few key terms and definitions – simplified. If you’re already familiar with blockchain technology and NFTs, use the Table of Contents for this article to skip ahead.
You need to grasp the basics of the technology and terminology so you can understand the relevance of NFTs and emerging publishing technology. And if you’re an author, you need to be able to discern if this is something you should do for your own books.
We’ll start with a quick-and-dirty explanation of blockchains because blockchain technology powers NFTs.
What Are Blockchains?
A blockchain is the infrastructure that cryptocurrencies (and NFTs) are built on. A blockchain is a database of a series of blocks (records of digital transactions) chained together.
You’ve probably heard of blockchain technology as it applies to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. But cryptocurrencies are just one application of the technology. Bitcoin, for example, is built on a blockchain. And just as blockchain technology is the framework that allows Bitcoin to function, the same is true of NFTs (hang tight, we’ll get to the NFT explanation coming up).
Five Key Characteristics of Public Blockchain Technology
For the sake of this article and the concept of NFTs for authors, we are discussing open-source, public blockchains. It’s important to mention that because blockchains can also be private.
As I explain these characteristics, I’m using the traditional banking system as a point of comparison to give you context.
When you conduct a transaction with your bank, the bank is the ‘middleman’ between you and the other party in the transaction.
As a result, you have to follow the banking industry’s rules and regulations. Also (and most importantly), your transaction is subject to the bank’s fees and timing delays.
Blockchain is decentralized, meaning there is no middleman. There is no central body regulating transactions, appropriating banking fees, and setting time delays.
That same regulation of transactions mentioned above is what we call a trust system. That’s how banking works. By transacting on the banking system, you’re placing your trust in the bank and the system(s) they use. The bank is a ‘trust agent’.
When a transaction occurs on the blockchain, it goes through steps of verification to confirm validity.
This eliminates total control by a central entity.
Banking transactions are reversible and adjustable after the fact. This is not so with blockchain. Once a block (transaction) has been validated and recorded on the chain, the subsequent blocks are built to form a record that cannot be changed.
This reduces errors and fraud.
Not only is data on the blockchain immutable, but transactions are also viewable to network participants.
This reduces fraud and potential corruption.
You don’t need to gain permission to access and transact on public blockchains.
This eliminates gatekeepers.
To sum it up, the transfer of an asset on a blockchain is permanent, fast, validated, and direct between buyer and seller.
As mentioned above, a blockchain can be the infrastructure (the backbone) for so much more than just cryptocurrency and many of the same advantages of the technology to crypto also apply to publishing ebooks with NFTs.
What Are NFTs?
An NFT is a type of token. NFTs serve different purposes. But, for the purpose of this article, you solely need to understand that a token represents either assets or access rights.
In the blockchain world, a token can be fungible or non-fungible.
Fungible tokens can be exchanged for each other. They are interchangeable. They represent the same amount of value (think: a dollar bill can be exchanged for another dollar bill). Fungible tokens are not unique.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are unique and cannot be exchanged for each other. Think of a Rembrandt painting. You cannot exchange a Rembrandt for a Picasso. They are not interchangeable. They each have a unique value.
An NFT is a store of ownership (remember earlier we defined a token as either assets or access rights). In the case of ebooks, we are talking about access rights. You aren’t actually turning your ebook into an NFT. The NFT represents ownership of an asset, in this case, the ebook.
You need to know you’re not turning your book into an NFT. This concept seems to be getting misconstrued on the interwebs. The NFT is not the actual ebook. The NFT is simply a token (as the name implies) representing the ebook.
Think of the token as the deed to the book. It’s like a digital signature that proves ownership. Attached to the NFT (written into the programming) is access to your book and any supplemental material you’ve chosen to go along with the ebook.
NFTs for Artists vs. NFTs for Authors
We must make some distinctions here between art and ebooks. Earlier, I mentioned a Rembrandt painting and its uniqueness. An ebook, in the traditional sense, isn’t unique.
If I buy an ebook and someone else buys the same ebook, both books are the same. Neither is unique.
So how can the concept of NFTs be applied to ebooks?
This is where authors who jump on this emerging technology can help forge the way. There are many possibilities and authors can get creative with their offerings.
The release of a limited number of ‘first buyer’ editions, which have exclusive supplement material (such as audio files, illustrations, etc.)
Collections of writing (for example, bundling stories or a series)
Combining ebooks with physical books or supplements to the book (think: a limited edition lightsaber that comes with a Star Wars ebook).
Other creative book supplementation ideas (such as world-building maps, cover illustrations, character illustrations, etc.)
We’re in the early times of the world of books and NFTs so there’s room for creativity and innovation.
Advantages of NFTs for Authors
Here are some of the advantages of publishing books on the blockchain as opposed to, say, self-publishing on Amazon or going with a traditional publishing house:
Direct payment of royalties from the buyer to the author.
Authenticity and verifiability of the author’s work. Unfortunately, it’s easy for a piece of artwork (including writing) to be duplicated and sold as if original. This isn’t so with NFTs. Because they are sitting on blockchain technology, the very ledger that is the blockchain, stores a unique ‘key’ for each piece of work. There is only one key for each piece. This means there’s less chance of illegal duplication.
This is game-changing in a world where even with copyright laws, authors are still victims of plagiarism, cloning, and stolen copies of their work.
Higher royalties. Putting your book on a blockchain eliminates the mega middle man that is the publisher or distribution house. This means much higher earnings. Even with the costs of creating the NFT and any transaction fees, the royalties would still be higher than non-blockchain publishing.
Full ownership along every step of the way. As mentioned above, this benefits the author in that there are fewer opportunities for plagiarism, book cloning, or other copyright infringement issues, all of which are issues in both the traditional and self-publishing worlds.
Because the book is on the blockchain, authenticity, and ownership are transparent.
When someone purchases a book on Amazon, for example, you’re purchasing a copy (hopefully from the true, legal copyright owner). You have to trust that the book hasn’t been copied/cloned, etc.
A buyer doesn’t need to ‘hope’ when purchasing on the blockchain because each NFT is verified as authentic.
Possible long-term royalties. Imagine you write and self-publish a book on a blockchain. Jennifer reads and purchases and decides to resell it to her colleague Jonathon (also on the blockchain). Jonathon reads the beginning, doesn’t love it (don’t take it personally), and resells it to a random buyer (also on the blockchain).
There’s nothing new about this chain of sales. This happens with physical books on Amazon every day. But, with Amazon, or any other retailer, the author gets paid when Jennifer buys the book. End of story. One payment. With the blockchain, an author can earn royalties along the chain of sales. So that when Jonathon purchased and the next random buyer purchased, the author also earned royalties with every sale.
But…there’s always a but.
Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and cupcakes at the moment. Before we drop everything and pay homage to the magical world of books on the blockchain, there are things to consider that may throw a few wrenches in the game.
Currently, most NFTs are minted (created) on the Ethereum blockchain. Like anything, the Ethereum blockchain has its advantages and disadvantages. Cost, is one of the disadvantages. When you create (or ‘mint’, as it’s called) an NFT there are typically fees associated. The fees depend on the blockchain and the marketplace or publishing platform (if you’re using one).
I have no doubt that corporations will swoon in on the publishing on the blockchain world offering all manner of apps and services for authors to publish through them onto the blockchain.
The Alliance for Independent Authors News Editor Dan Holloway points out: “Just as the internet threw up Amazon to take away its peer-to-peer marketplace focus without us really noticing, so blockchain will likely throw up really useful enabling platforms that will take a large cut in return for their service.”
This is inevitable. I believe this is one of the reasons authors need to explore NFTs sooner than later. Explore this landscape, do research, get educated on the subject, and take advantage of the possibilities if it matches their brand, community, and vision.
In effect, be ready, so that when the massive conglomerates jump into this space, there’ll already be self-published authors blazing the trail and showing others how it can be done if they choose to not use a ‘middleman’.
You still need community and need to figure out if this is right for your readers.
Because NFTs are new, the marketplaces cannot be compared with mega-platforms like Amazon with millions of patrons.
If you’re an author: How will potential readers find your book NFTs? Do you already have a community interested in the NFT concept or are you willing to build one? This isn’t a matter of ‘build it and they will come.’
How & Where to Create Your Book NFT
To create an NFT, you must ‘mint’ it. Minting is the term for creating an NFT on a blockchain.
So how do you mint an NFT for an ebook?
I’ve been down the rabbit hole of research to find the simplest ways to publish writing onto the blockchain. And you guess it, there’s no one way.
Here are the main options I found so far:
Three NFT book publishing platforms
Publica – Platform for buying and selling ebooks on the blockchain. It also has a crowdfunding tool for authors to pre-sell their books.
Bookchain – Allows you to publish ebooks to their catalog.
Books Go Social – Authors can publish and promote book NFTs.
Five NFT Marketplaces for books
NFT marketplaces are all the trend for artists. The problem for authors is most of them do not allow pdf or other text-based formats.
BookCoin – NFT marketplace specifically for books.
Creatokia – text and audio.
Mintable – audiobooks if they fit the file size limitations.
Rarible – audiobooks if they fit the file size limitations.
OpenSea – audiobooks if they fit the file size limitations.
Notice the mention of file size limitations above. Each of these marketplaces has file size restrictions.
Another option would be to code your own smart contract (the programming behind an NFT). Of course, this would be more complicated than using a publishing platform or marketplace, but it is an option if you know how to program smart contracts or would like to hire a smart contract developer to do it for you.
Upcoming Options for NFTs for Writers and Authors
The biggest NFT marketplaces, like OpenSea and Rarible, currently do not offer pdf or other text format options. This means you cannot publish an ebook to these marketplaces, but I’d guess that is set to change.
I reached out to OpenSea and asked about this and await their response. I’ll update this article as appropriate when I receive a response.
I also came across a few book NFT platforms that seem to be in either a ‘beta’ testing stage or a ‘coming soon’ stage, where you sign up to be notified when the services are fully functional.
It’s early days still.
I’m minting my own NFT for one of my books because I’ve been just behind most emerging technology for the past 20 years and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that being just behind isn’t good enough. Ahead of the curve is the place to be.
Maybe I’ll be ahead of a curve that never goes anywhere. Perhaps new, better technology will come along and this whole NFTs for books concept will be left behind in the digital dust.
Like all emerging technologies, there is no way to know for sure. But I’d rather have some fun and see where my writing can go.
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