Most writers are still getting used to the idea that almost anybody can get a copy of almost anything on the internet, including the book that took the writer months or years of effort to create. Understandably, many writers get very angry about this, while others think constructively about how copying can help writers and creators build new business models.
Books are actually much less affected by piracy / file sharing / copying than other media. Reading audiences are smaller in size and generally more loyal. The general wisdom today is that copying brings more upsides than downsides, and that even if it doesn’t, there is nothing that can be done to prevent it. But even as authors are adapting to the 15 year old reality of file-sharing, technology is disrupting the digital paradigm in what might be exactly the opposite direction.
You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin as a new kind of money that fluctuates wildly in value, leading to multiple suicides and suspicious deaths. It’s a cryptocurrency, each “bitcoin” the outcome of a complex calculation. Bitcoin in turn is built on a technology called Blockchain. And it’s highly likely that Blockchain, or a technology similar to it, are about to effectively end digital file sharing.
All you need to know to understand why is that Blockchain allows people to track online transactions with a very high degree of accuracy. The how isn’t profoundly complicated, you can read about that elsewhere. Imagine that every time a digital music film, film or book was copied, the creator could see the exact details of that transaction. That’s the promise of Blockchain.
A number of startups are currently attempting to lever Blockchain type technologies as a way to limit, control or stop file sharing. Currently these are music centric, but there’s every reason to think this will be applied across all digital media types. It’s early days, but here are a few Blockchain based models you can easily imagine emerging.
Limited Editions – writers might choose to limit the number of copies of a book to create artificial scarcity. This is impossible with ebooks currently, but an ebook integrated into a block chain can be tracked to limit its distribution.
Trust Systems – writers give readers access to a book, perhaps for a set fee, but if it’s then discovered that user has made or passed on copies they are knocked out of the trust system and don’t get future access.
Collectables – the Blockchain system could make all kinds of digital assets collectable, in the same way they were in the print era. Signed editions, first editions, variant cover and all kinds of merchandising, all become possible for artists to make income from.
The implications of Blockchain for creators are staggering. To get a deeper insight pick up a copy of Blockchain : Blueprint for a New Economy by Melanie Swann.