The Rebirth of Digital Books through Blockchain
Before books could be published on the internet as an elaborate series of zeroes and ones, almighty paper ruled the publishing world. It wasn’t until 1971, the year that Project Gutenberg was founded, that the digital and written worlds finally collided. Since that time, we have been trying very hard to distinguish the two: books versus ebooks. But why are we trying to distinguish them by referring to digital books as ebooks? A digital movie isn’t an “emovie” and digital music isn’t “emusic.” It doesn’t make much sense to do so. A book is a book whatever the format, just like a movie is a movie and a song is a song.
I think we are trying to distinguish the two formats partly because we are purists and we like to think paper books are nobler. Also, because the industry is fighting very hard to keep the paper format alive. And finally, because the process to publish, distribute, sell, and read a digital book is not perfect, far from it.
I am not being a pessimist here; I love to read books in their digital format. I am sure that they will continue to evolve and that we will see an increase in their use in the future even if the adoption rate has been flat for the last couple of years.
Being a tech guy, it was only natural for me to jump onto the bandwagon to try to save the day for the so-called ebook. Looking for what could be the best options, I quickly came to realize that blockchain technology had great potential for the book industry. After four years of studying, prototyping, and developing solutions with blockchain, I have become a firm believer that blockchain is perfectly suited for the book industry. I am also convinced that it will help the book industry to evolve, and not by creating yet another type of ebook.
This is the main reason I founded Scenarex, an organization that aims to provide publishers and content creators with innovative and effective tools based on blockchain that allow them to manage their digital files and protect their content against piracy and theft, and all without compromising their accessibility or impeding their impact on the public. Our flag product, Bookchain®, is the first worldwide online platform to publish, sell, and read ebooks using blockchain technology and allowing for local currency for purchases and rights holders’ royalty distribution.
A blockchain is a digital ledger that keeps track of exchanges that involve information, much like contracts. Everything else you need to know about blockchain is in its name: little packets of information are stored as individual blocks that make up a larger chain, like an ever-expanding data necklace. A hash, or unique digital fingerprint, is assigned to each block to identify it within the chain.
The purpose of this structure is to act as a public record of all approved transactions, stored in full on a peer-to-peer computer network to verify its accuracy on an ongoing basis. The blockchain also cannot be changed or modified, making it an indisputable and immutable reference point.
To illustrate how a blockchain works, here’s a step-by-step explanation of how each new block is added:
Step 1: Someone initiates a transaction.
Step 2: The transaction is sent off to a peer-to-peer (P2P) computer network. Each computer is called a “node.”
Step 3: The P2P network verifies the transaction based on the existing information that everyone shares. The verification is completed using an algorithm.
Step 4: Once all of the nodes are in agreement and the transaction is approved, a new block of information is created.
Step 5: The block is added to the record and is now an unalterable part of the existing blockchain.
Although I am in favor of blockchain for the book industry, I don’t necessarily feel the same way about the use of digital currency (also called cryptocurrency) for payments. There are certainly some tech-savvy readers out there that can jump through the hoops involved, but regular book buyers are not likely to be ready for the plunge.
It’s important to understand that, while the two are often mentioned in the same breath, cryptocurrency and blockchain are not one and the same. Cryptocurrency is one type of data that can be added to the blockchain, and blockchain technology is the storage system that contains said information. What inherently links them together is the fact that there was a time when Bitcoin, the initial crypto, was by far the most popular blockchain use case in the world. This application was ideal for recording any and all transactions being completed using digital currency, something that had never been done before. Plus, its hash system was the perfect way to maintain a degree of anonymity while still attributing each block to an individual transaction and owner.
Getting back to blockchain, its usage in the digital book industry can benefit everyone, from publishers to readers.
For publishers, blockchain can:
- help to secure digital files in an open environment, replacing the old ways of DRM;
- ensure the attribution and verification of the content rights holder, just like a fingerprint;
- perform automatic royalty distribution using smart contracts to all the contributors of a book; and
- use the blockchain as the general ledger for real-time traceability of their content or supply chain.
For retailers, blockchain can:
- provide a new way of processing payments;
- facilitate the loan of a digital file, which is perfectly suited for libraries, ensuring automatic management of the duration of the loan; and
- enable the creation of new secondary markets for digital files, such as the reselling of digital books between two readers or creating collectible digital books, while controlling who receives the royalties.
For readers, blockchain can:
- facilitate portability of books to multiple platforms;
- verify the ownership of the book purchased reducing the dependency on closed ecosystems; and
- allow loaning or reselling a book, much as we do with good old paper books.
Although we still do not know what the future holds for the book industry, it’s important to take time to better understand what blockchain technology is, especially if you are part of decision-making in your organization. You should not see this technology as a threat but as potential for creating new revenue streams and reducing operational costs.
This article is brought to you through a partnership with Amnet, a technology-led provider of services and solutions, catering to the needs of businesses for content transformation, design, and accessibility. The points of view expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of Amnet or of BISG.
CEO and founder, but most importantly a geek at heart, Simon-Pierre Marion launched Scenarex in 2015 with the goal of building new solutions with a lasting impact on the digital publishing industry. With over 20 years of experience in supervising IT application development, budgeting, and project management, he also holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science (B.Sc.) and an Executive Master of Business Administration (eMBA), with a specialization in technology management. Simon-Pierre manages the overall operations and resources of the company while ensuring its continued development and growth.