A Writer Looks at Blockchain

If you are at all paying attention, there has been a lot of chatter about something called Blockchain along with its cryptocurrency cousin, Bitcoin. So, what does it all mean and why do I care as a writer?
Here is why, but let’s get the basics down first.

What is Blockchain?- I’ll try not to get too techy here: The blockchain is what it sounds like in that there are digital blocks linked together by a digital chain. It is called a “distributed ledger” in that each of these blocks holds a listing of transactions from financial, legal, real-estate, and basically any kind of agreement that can be stored in the block. The transaction is not just on one block but distributed between all the existing blocks, which could be a thousand. Each transaction is stored – identical—to every block, thereby making it impossible to change it.

Transparent and incorruptible

“The blockchain network lives in a state of consensus, one that automatically checks in with itself every ten minutes. Transparency data is embedded within the network as a whole, but by definition it is public. It cannot be corrupted altering any transaction data of information on the blockchain. It would take a huge amount of computing power to override the entire network,” Ian Khan, TEDx Speaker | Author | Technology Futurist

What does it mean for authors?

It all started very recently at the 2018 London Book Fair in an afternoon session. Josef Marc, CEO of blockchain publisher Publica, announced that the company had just gone live in the Google Play Store with author Sushi Juta’s Escape the Cubicle: Quit the Job You Hate. Marc created the world’s first #1 title on the “blockchain bestseller” list.

Also at the fair, The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) handed out its just-released white paper “Authors and the Blockchain: Towards a Creator Centered Business Model,” and heard from a panel of experts and early adopters.

What is blockchain for books?

Initially, blockchain has attracted interest as a mechanism that underwrites digital currencies like Bitcoin. However, as the public investigates further, such as the publishing industry, is also likely to underwrite the next disruption in publishing, and likely in a way that will be even more disruptive than the digital revolution.

Copyright and piracy

It would surely be revolutionary if we could thwart plagiarism much better than strictly by happenstance. Possibly Blockchain and other hypertext systems such as software that would allow extensive cross-referencing between related sections of text and associated graphics that supersede copyright protection. Piracy gets a lot more difficult as the blockchain cryptographically time and person-stamps the act of publication and creates all the stages of the process we want. Then ownership becomes indisputable.

Smart contracts

Following on from clear ownership are contract rights and property rights. Automated “smart” contracts will be able to simultaneously represent ownership of an intellectual property and the conditions that come with that ownership. They can automate rules, checking conditions and take actions with a minimum of human involvement and cost.

Pay as you go smart wallets

The ability to pull together every aspect of what went into the making of a book would allow a system where all elements are compiled together in a clean and streamlined fashion.
Author-owned smart wallets will make it easy for readers to make micropayments for a single article, small video or podcast episode. Consider Amazon and other digital platforms and trade publishers, booksellers and wholesalers will also pay into this author-owned smart wallet.

This wallet, however, will be more than just a payment method… It will also serve as a “connective hub” for all the people who were part of making this book. Think of the various service providers, editors, and designers. Even the coffee shop where much of the book was written, or the retreat center that provided a getaway for thinking, the foundation that provided a grant, the rights buyer who turned it into a film, or print edition; the authors’ mentors and role models, their local bookshop. Right now, all this information is scattered.

Privacy enhancement

Using bitcoin users can send cash to somebody through the Internet without an intermediary (bank or financial institution) and with blockchain we can send messages to each other, without Gmail or iMessage, Facebook or Twitter “owning” or having access to what we say.

There is still an enormous field of applications to be mined using Blockchain and the application for writers and books, but this initial application affords some excellent safeguards for the writing community. I suggest we all stay tuned to how it continues to develop.

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