March 27, 2019

How the publishing business could integrate blockchain technology


Bitcoin, baby

Let’s face it, book publishers are not always the first to adapt to new technologies. I mean, how many of our entry level jobs involved taking dictation? Imagine an analogous technophobia at every stop along the supply chain and you have a pretty good understanding of publishing’s relationship with The New.

But as Bill Rosenblatt, president of the consulting firm GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies, writes in Publishers Weekly, we should not fear the inevitable arrival of blockchain technology in publishing.

First, though, he provides an explanation of the technology, which can feel abstract. Rosenblatt writes:

A blockchain is simply a type of distributed database—a ledger of transactions that isn’t owned by any single entity. Instead, every entity that participates in a blockchain has a copy of it that is guaranteed to be complete and up to date at any given time. When someone wants to add a piece of data to a blockchain, other participating entities perform complex mathematical calculations to validate the data; once a sufficient number of entities have agreed on its validity, the data is added to everyone’s copy of the blockchain.

So really, it is just a series of individual records called “blocks” useful in the transparent tracking of transactions (because it is unable to be modified without modifying the whole chain). That’s why it is used most literally as a ledger for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

According to Rosenblatt, publishers have their own types of unique transactions that could benefit from this technology. His first example is rights and royalties, for which the blockchain could create a sort of shared marketplace where “those who want to get paid or grant permission simply need to look on the blockchain for transactions to process.” This would have the benefit of allowing agents and publishers to scrap their old and cumbersome individual databases.

The second application of blockchain could be ebook distribution, which would allow readers to “own” their ebook purchases in a way they don’t really now. Authors could even sell to consumers directly without the intervention of ebook retailers.

Last is piracy prevention. Rosenblatt explains that “this involves embedding unique identifiers into legitimate products, entering those identifiers into a database, and scanning products of that type to ensure that they have legitimate identifiers.”

And who knows, perhaps the publishing industry will soon become the site of many a promising tech career.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.