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Kerrching! How blockchain re-invents book publishing
Let's make controversy, censorship, and collectibility work for authors
I was thinking of calling this article “How to f*ck Amazon over (and have fun doing it)”, but that should be a whole series, not a single essay! So let me instead concisely deliver on the promise, and at the same time illustrate it by selling you something “reassuringly expensive”. The central issue is simple: how can we turn censorship from a bug that harms authors into a feature that rewards them?
Longstanding readers of this newsletter will have seen a stream of announcements from me over time as I have been banned by various platforms. My book Open Your Mind to Change has been censored by Amazon (in paperback), and Bandcamp, Libro.fm, and Kobo (as an audiobook). Two weeks ago I announced the 11:11 Make Censorship History “Million Buck Book” challenge — in collaboration with graphic artist Matthew Lawler — to turn this censorship-induced scarcity on its head.
The traditional publishing model has authors deferentially approach publishers seeking an advance on a sales contract so that they don’t starve or become homeless while they create their literary masterpiece. This attracts uncontroversial bland content that satisfies the needs of a culturally homogenised audience. The future demand is used to incentivise and fund current content supply activities.
A “controversial” book that faces being ignored or censored cannot get insurance for this risk as there is adverse selection. The dull-but-popular books don’t want to carry the cost of those titles that might upset those in power and draw the ire of the establishment. That today’s “difficult” niche title may be tomorrow’s paradigm-busting classic is of no comfort to any impoverished author in the interim.
The blockchain does for content what anchors do for boats: holds one end fixed to the planet, and the other end to the property of the anchor owner. Whereas a boat anchor fixes an asset in space, the blockchain fixes assets in time. By buying and selling blockchain-based contracts we can time-shift supply and demand in novel ways, just as boats space-shift physical goods between ports.
Instead of an advance from a publisher we can now do things like pre-sell a new title using NFTs (i.e. blockchain “anchors” to a pieces of digital content). Each NFT is a “smart contract”, and these could entitle the owner to also receive a copy from a “limited edition” initial print run. That would spell the end of the need for author advances.
If the book turns out to be collectible, then you have both the (scarce) physical object and a digital certificate of authenticity. The initial run could also get a share of resale of future NFT resales (for all editions including “rare” censored items), a bit like futures and derivatives contracts for possibly scarce content. Why not make financial engineering and fintech work for the ordinary person, too?
With a bit of creative mischief we can turn the adverse selection of censorship-prone books on its head. Censorship creates artificial scarcity of what ought to be a commodity. In my case I am cheekily using an exponential pricing scheme to exploit it to the maximum as I sell off the tiny remaining stock of the banned first imprint on Amazon.
Buyers are betting that the remaining copies will sell and the value of their copy will rise rapidly. If my book turns out to be an iconic classic sought by museums, then you’ll have made a smarter purchase than holding Amazon stock. (It’s a commercial contract for tradable items we are selling, not a security, so that’s not investment advice!)
Pulling this off for my first title means I could also pre-sell the initial run of, say, my future “On Q” book and share out the (possible future) rewards from any “rare collectible” copies held in reserve in case of deplatforming. The intention is to successfully pioneer a new publishing model so that others copy and improve it.
The controversial nature of my work means my books are worth investing in specifically because they are liable to be censored! Sudden rarity becomes an advantage, rather than an impediment to success. So, err, fook Amazon; authors no longer need to suffer loss of income when they can least afford it. Make their bad behaviour work for the good of all and have it all boomerang!
For economists out there, another way of framing this is to say that censorship makes the supply curve infinitely inelastic, and this creates a price premium for existing copies, since censored books are more likely to become in-demand by collectors. The software-defined nature of the blockchain “ownership anchor” model can overcome the constraints of physical book wholesaling and retailing, and opens up a whole new time-shifted world of possibility to fund “challenging” content.
The cultural meaning of content artefacts can be represented, packaged, and traded in ways that were unthinkable beforehand. But that’s enough theory. At the end of the day, money talks, and people will believe what I say when I and my collaborators have made an impressive income by doing what we advocate.
I am pleased to announce the availability of the next NFT in our “rare collectible” series, which also entitles you to a signed copy of the (now banned and unavailable) first imprint of my book (which has a different ISBN to the second imprint on Barnes & Noble).
There are eleven physical “banned by Amazon” first imprint copies that I have for sale. I already sold the first two books for £100 and £200 respectively (around $135 and $270). Today I posted off the third one, which we sold together with a “rare collectible” NFT. This was bought for 4 SOL (around $750 or £550).
Sales use crypto as ordinary bank accounts and payment processors are too easily deplatformed. For technical reasons we have switched from the Solana blockchain network to Algorand (which is why this has also delayed the project a bit). The price of this next NFT plus book is 700 ALGO — that’s around $1300. It keeps doubling every time there’s a buyer, and it’s one unit at each price point… Amazon’s censorship created the scarcity, not me!
If you think I/we can pull off marketing these remaining censored books with an exponential pricing scheme, and the last one goes for the best part of $1m, then you’re betting that you will have one of the fastest-appreciating hard assets on the planet. Again, not investment advice, just a statement of mathematical fact. Will a collector or museum pay $1m for a book that “made censorship history”?
These look like stiff prices for an 84-page paperback non-fiction book, but they are cheap if you’re buying a super-rare cultural icon of the Great Awakening. It would only take a few “habbenings” in the world to shift mass consciousness and create immense demand. I have never done a public book signing, and have only given signed copies to friends and supporters. You decide what they are worth!
If you are game to buy it, and are literate in paying with cryptocurrency, then you can buy direct here. If you are game, but the crypto part is a struggle, then get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org and we will talk you through the process. If this is all outside of your play budget, then we’re cooking something up for you to give this NFT stuff a go for a more affordable cost.
Let’s make censorship history!