How Blockchain Can Reinvigorate The Publishing Industry

Blockchain technology is being used in many of the creative industries to protect royalties and copyright. But now, it could also help book publishers boost their profits using novel innovations.

Australian book publishers are grappling with global disruption. They are also facing huge changes to their industry. Digital technologies are changing the entire paradigm. There is a lot of economic uncertainty in the industry. But there could be a way out. Researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are investigating how blockchain technology can help them not only survive, but thrive.

Associate Professor Mark Ryan from QUT’s Creative Industries Faculty is leading the project. His team have developed a world-first in the book industry. It is a blockchain prototype system for digital rights management and royalty distribution. This will hopefully open the door for small publishers to to new commercial opportunities.

Blockchain protections

The collaboration also had a real-world publisher on board. Brisbane-based micro publisher Tiny Owl Workshop offered up their prose. This was taken on by researchers from QUT’s Creative Industries, Law, and Science and Engineering Faculties.

Professor Ryan said, “There’s a lack of practical research into how publishers may benefit from blockchain, as well as authors, and other creatives, along with other cultural institutions such as libraries and archives. So, we worked with Tiny Owl Workshop to create additional value from the intellectual property publishing houses generate when creating books. A new digital edition of the novella No Point in Stopping is the result.

“Blockchain technology underpins cryptocurrency. It is being used for rights and royalties management for numerous industries. For example, music distribution, and the tracking of products including beef, diamonds and the sale of art. There is a small, but growing volume of research and innovative technological experiments that focus on blockchain for book publishing. But, most of it is focused on enabling authors to self-publish and earn royalties.”

New Revenue Streams

Sue Wright is the Director of Tiny Owl Workshop. She said the project allowed Tiny Owl to create new revenue and royalty streams. In this case, it came from the interactions between the author and the publishing house. This ‘extra’ intellectual property is something all publishers create as they work to bring books to market. And it is this that can go on sale using blockchain tech.

Said Wright, “We took the behind-the-scenes intellectual property. The publishing team created it when developing the novella No Point in Stopping, written by Brisbane author Samuel Maguire. Then three new paratexts were designed as an ‘Education Edition’ for writers and creative writing students. The largest is the ‘Editor’s Bundle.’ It includes the original manuscript, the edits, and correspondence between the editor, Harlan Ambrose, the author and the publisher.”

Books and the blockchain: protecting royalties

The creation of a blockchain prototype system was another outcome of the project. It is for rights management and royalty distribution. It triggers micro-payments via smart contracts to all creative professionals involved in the writing and publishing process.

Said Professor Ryan, “Using open-source blockchain technology, the project managed intellectual property agreements and royalty payments, and tracked purchases with a custom digital ledger.”

The project also resulted in a tracking system that records the sale of physical books. This is made possible by the design of a marketing bellyband that contains a QR code.

“This code gives purchasers of the physical book a free download of one digital bundle from the ‘Education Edition.’ It links physical book purchases in bookstores to online downloads. And, it provides a ledger of where customer transactions originate from.”

“Working with blockchain is still a very technical and complex process. Our project required in-depth knowledge of information technology, information systems and coding, as well as legal expertise and an understanding of the creative aspects of book publishing.”

Dr Michael Adams works in the Science and Engineering Faculty’s School of Information Systems. He developed the prototype open source blockchain-enabled system for the project. “The prototype coordinates complex communications between a browser-based user interface, the YAWL business process management system and the blockchain platform Hyperledger Fabric.”

Books aren’t over just yet. Even the traditional (and even somewhat stuffy) industry of book publishing can benefit from blockchain technology. When old and new meet, surely interesting things can happen.