At the end of last year, I swore that I would not start any new projects this year, but only fill the gaps. I really didn’t intend to deceive you, but I deceived myself. No sooner had I spoken than I started a publishing house and plunged into a deep pit.
However, to say that starting a publishing house is filling a gap is not wrong, as it fills the bottomless pit of publishing freedom.
Decentralized Publishing: From Experiment to Practice
As my friends know, last year I experimented with decentralized publishing by launching the NFT book “Moneyverse: How money works in the multiverse”. I sold 1,024 copies in a month and successfully reaching the goal, with earnings comparable to those from the two years of traditional publishing of “The Sociology of Blockchain”.
I am too modest to brag about being a best-selling author, but the objective reality is that selling 1,000 books in Taiwan and Hong Kong qualifies as a best-seller. This shows it’s not that I’m great, but rather the book market is terrible. Moreover, while the market shrinks, Taiwan faces heavily discounted sales channels, and the situation in Hong Kong is even more severe, with a smaller market and censorship.
The success of the decentralized publishing experiment led some to say that it was only possible due to my unique conditions, but that is an overstatement on me. I consider myself a diligent and persistent writer, but there are many better writers with more fans. The current publishing ecosystem constrains them from selling more books or even publishing at all. I am confident that as decentralized publishing becomes an ecosystem and other authors and works are published as NFT books, they will be even more successful than my works.
After much thought, a single successful case is just an experiment. Why not start a publishing house to collaborate with outstanding authors and important works to create more success stories? For someone as culturally ignorant as myself, this path is bound to be difficult. Fortunately, I found the strongest partner Annie Zhang, the founder of Matters and Nowhere Bookstore, who make up for my shortcomings and put decentralized publishing into practice with NFT books, achieving digital ownership and content immutability.
Implementing Digital Ownership with NFT Books
Compared to physical books, e-books have many advantages such as low cost, no space requirements, and searchability. However, many people overlook the downside of e-books which are supposed to be “advanced”. With physical books, once you buy them, you own them and can keep them as long as they aren’t damaged. But when you buy a “traditional” e-book, you only have the right to read it, and in many ways, you don’t really own it. In other words, readers buy the “right to use” the e-book, not the “right to own” it.
This concept is similar to depositing money in a bank. Depositing money in a bank is a custodial relationship where the asset is not in our hands on a daily basis, but the bank promises that we can withdraw it when needed. Similarly, our e-books are “on custody” on a platform, but we often don’t realize it and don’t worry about losing our large book portfolio over the years because the possibility of the platform going bankrupt seems low. It is like we don’t worry about losing our deposits either because bank failures are rare, and even if they occur, the government will step in to help (the publishing industry doesn’t have that luxury).
However, money as an asset and books as data are implented differently in digital form. Deposits can be transferred from one bank to another, but e-books cannot be transferred from one platform to another, purely for commercial considerations rather than technical limitations. Furthermore, when money is withdrawn, it can be used freely as paper money, but e-books cannot be printed out and turned into physical books. Under the “all rights reserved” copyright model, readers don’t even have the right to print the e-books they purchase. All of these are strange phenomena that arise from the fact that traditional e-books are not truly owned by readers.
Using NFT as a book carrier will make “digital ownership” possible. Readers can purchase NFT books and download the text without being limited by digital rights management (DRM). Depending on personal habits, the text can be opened on a computer, phone, or tablet using unlocked PDF and ePub formats that can be read with standard reading software.
If you are an old user of e-books and already own e-readers such as Kindle, mooInk, Kobo, Hyread, Boox, etc., you can simply upload the ePub file to the corresponding platform to maintain your reading habits and enjoy the effect of e-ink that is closest to black and white paper without hurting your eyes. If that’s still not enough for you, you can even print out the text and read it while feeling the texture of the paper. Although we encourage environmental protection, the decision is ultimately up to you, and that’s what true ownership means.
In addition to the text, the cover is also a major feature of NFT books. Each work in our publishing house plan is limited to a release of 1000 copies, each marked with an edition number (#000 to #999), and accompanied by a unique cover designed by an artist, greatly increasing its collectible value and allowing owners to showcase it on their personal web3 bookshelves.
Digital ownership and cover collection together create a unique ownership and reading experience that neither physical books nor traditional e-books have ever had.
Content circulation and sustainable preservation
As information technology advances, the concept of publishing becomes increasingly vague. After all, clicking the like button on Facebook already meets the broad definition of publishing from the past. If we narrow down the definition of publishing to make it more meaningful, it needs to meet two major conditions: content circulation and sustainable preservation.
Content circulation and sustainable preservation are two dimensions. The former is the horizontal space, and the latter is the vertical time. The former helps the latter because the wider the circulation, the higher the chance of preservation. However, the former can also destroy the latter because circulation can easily cause unintentional or intentional misinterpretation, and even if it continues to the next generation, what is preserved is not the original version. Take the classic novel “Dream of the Red Chamber” as an example. Due to its wide circulation, it can still be easily found today. However, extensive circulation has also led to different versions of the novel. It is said that the last forty chapters were not written by the original author, Cao Xueqin. Despite extensive research by later scholars, there is still no consensus on this matter.
NFT books use blockchain and decentralized storage to balance content circulation and sustainable preservation. Firstly, all the metadata of each NFT book, such as the title, author, publication date, license agreement, and content fingerprint, along with a unique system-generated ID, are stored in the blockchain. This metadata is similar to the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and is called the International Standard Content Number (ISCN), which serves as the publication proof of the NFT book, like a birth certificate for a person. Unlike a government-issued birth certificate, the nature of the blockchain ensures that the publication proof of each NFT book cannot be tampered with and comes with a timestamp witnessed by multiple parties.
Secondly, the text of NFT books is stored in decentralized storage such as IPFS, using multi-node, peer-to-peer technology to make review and comprehensive takedown extremely difficult, thus helping to preserve the content. In addition, a content fingerprint is calculated for each text and recorded on the publication proof of ISCN. The so-called content fingerprint is a mathematical hash value. Even if only one punctuation mark is changed, the fingerprint will change completely. Therefore, as long as the content fingerprint matches the one listed on the publication proof, it can be proven that the text has remained unchanged during circulation. If Cao Xueqin had used blockchain to publish “Dream of the Red Chamber” more than 200 years ago, future generations could have traced the authenticity of the text based on mathematical evidence.
Using blockchain in the Qing Dynasty may seem like a fantasy drama, but it has become commonplace today. In my experiment last year, in addition to preserving the original text, NFT books can also be updated, developed, and recreated, and the blockchain records can help trace the source and differentiate between the original, updated by the author, and adapted by others. With the advent of the era of AI-generated text, the source and basis of content will be more scrutinized, and the publication proof that helps with copyright management and text tracing will become more important than ever before.
Blockchain and decentralized storage technology enable critical news and great works to circulate in modern times and be preserved for future generations.
The publishing house will release the first NFT book in the short term, which is a work that I personally love. Don’t miss it.