Yet another perennial use case for blockchain is publishing, i.e., delivering content from author to consumer. The main potential contributions of a blockchain are rights management and payments, especially micro payments. Variations of this concept have been mooted for “art works” and “journalism”.
Blockchain technology is, of course, peer-to-peer at heart. It is designed to let a writer sell a story directly to a reader. No publisher needed, at least for this transaction.
So the question is, what, if anything, do we need a publisher/newspaper/journal/etc for?
In the conventional, legacy world, “publishers” perform a number of roles beyond the distribution of cash. One of the important functions is quality control and the concomitant reputation and trust. And reputation is translated into visibility and sales. In short, there has been a role for a gatekeeper, or rather, many gatekeepers.
Blockchain is specifically designed to eliminate gatekeepers. So, what should we do?
But I was interested by the headline, “Blockchain to the rescue of small publishers” .
At first glance, it wasn’t clear how relevant this project is to the overall question. Mostly, it’s about rights management and micropayments. I understand why a publishing company would like to get a slice of the action, but why do creators or consumers need a publishing organization to do either of those things?
A closer look shows that this group has thought quite a bit about ways that a third party publisher can add value and harvest revenue from that value . They use the blockchain as part of an overall system that implements novel services, beyond the catalog of finished products.
First, they capture artifacts that are not published in conventional systems, such as “drafting and editing process”. These are made available for monetization, perhaps as training materials.
“[The project] seeks to make visible and make valuable these processes of drafting, editing, and illustrating” (, p. 2)
Second, they provide a micropayment system to deliver royalties to “all creative professionals involved in the publishing process–namely, the author, editor, publisher and illustrator.” This “disrupts” the for-fee model, and, they hope, “values co-creation”.
In short, this project doesn’t necessarily rethink what a publisher does, but looks at how to squeeze money out of everything a publisher does. They also are leaning toward a bit more equitable (and efficient) distribution of the revenue.
Naturally, the system also reaps the benefits of digital rights management as well, enabling finer grained distribution and integration with digital media. You don’t necessarily need blockchain for this, but blockchains are well suited for DRM.
This all looks good, if not completely novel. In this world, a publishing house is expert at, and provides infrastructure for, things like:
“1. Readership and Audience Engagement
3. Rights Management
4. Royalty Tracking and Payments
5. Authorship Verification and Co-creation” (, p.14)
The traditional gatekeeping (tagged “readership and audience engagement”) is built on top of rights and revenue and, importantly, management of the co-creation process.
So, yeah, I kind of get it.
Is this enough to “rescue” anyone? I’m not sure.
In my own experience, if a product doesn’t sell a lot, then there isn’t any “value” to distribute no matter how you do it. Any percentage of nothing is nothing, you need a lot of micropayments to make a living wage. This project slices the pie in a lot more ways, but that doesn’t make the pie any bigger.
What it does do, though, is maybe make possible ways to try to drive up interest and sales. So, to the degree that a “publisher” gets good at that, then there is a potential win for everyone.
Which, IMO, is the one thing that a publisher really is needed for.
One thing that this project seems to do is put the tools in the hands of the workers: this technology has the potential to be very cheap and easy to use. If this can improve the game (and revenue) for small publishers, that could have the beneficial effect of keeping publishing diverse.
We’ll have to see how this works.
- Mark Ryan, Phoebe Macrossan, Michael Adams, and Cameron Cliff, No point in stopping white paper: A publisher-centred blockchain model for the book publishing industry. 2020, QUT Digital Media Research Centre: Australia. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/199865/
- Amanda Weaver, Blockchain to the rescue of small publishers in Queensland University of Technology – News, June 2, 2020. https://www.qut.edu.au/news?id=164218