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Understanding Blockchain For Authors: February 2018 IndieVoices AskALLi Salon With Howard Lovy And Dan Holloway

Understanding Blockchain for Authors: February 2018 IndieVoices AskALLi Salon with Howard Lovy and Dan Holloway

askalli-podcast-squares4Welcome to AskALLi, the self-publishing advice broadcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors. This week it’s our monthly IndieVoices’ self-publishing salon with interviews conducted by ALLi Managing Editor Howard Lovy and updates from News Editor Dan Holloway.

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last five years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a “book doctor” to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance business and technology writer. Find Howard on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle

This Month’s IndieVoices

Each month on IndieVoices, I’m going to take a theme of interest to indie authors and talk to experts to help us understand it. Today, I’m going to discuss something that everybody is talking about, but very few people actually understand. Blockchain. My guests will be Josef Marc, CEO of a company called Publica, which is designing a blockchain system for indie authors, Sukhi Jutla, who is researching Blockchain for the Alliance, and Dan Holloway with the news.

Topics discussed this week include:

  • Introducing IndieVoices, a new broadcast from ALLi.
  • Blockchain is something that everybody talks about, but few really understand.
  • Introducing Josef Marc of Publica.
  • What is the problem that Blockchain is solving for writers?
  • You don’t subscribe to a service, you subscribe to an author.
  • Cryptocurrency for authors.
  • What is the five-year plan for Publica?
  • Introducing author Sukhi Jutla, who also has a banking background. She’s writing a white paper on blockchain for authors
  • Blockchain removes the middleman and gives authors more-direct access to readers.
  • Blockchain White Paper will be released in April at the London Book Fair.
  • Introducing Dan Holloway, ALLi’s news editor.
  • Most exciting thing about blockchain is control of rights management.
  • At minute 17, Howard’s cat, Story, contributes a couple of “meows.”
  • People are focusing on payments, but blockchain has the potential to be even more disruptive.
  • Bitcoin and blockchain are not synonymous.
  • Blockchain crosses national boundaries.
  • WordPress has a new podcast plugin that’s exciting to writers.
  • What is Geoblocking?
  • Howard says a bad word and is “bleeped” out by an overzealous podcast producer.
  • Information wants to be free, except when money is to be made.

Listen to the IndieVoices Broadcast

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Watch the IndieVoices Video

Read the IndieVoices Transcript

Howard Lovy: Did you know that there are still old style publishers out there stuck in a 20th century system of, “You just wait by the phone and we decide whether you’re worthy of publishing a book.” And they put out bestseller lists based on their own shrinking, self-congratulatory, closed ecosystem. You may have read about them in Publisher’s Weekly or the New York Times Book Review. They believe that they are the real publishing industry.

Meanwhile, it’s the indie publishers and authors who are innovating and changing the relationships between author and reader. In many cases, they’re cutting out the middleman, and that’s where blockchain for authors comes into play.

Hi. Welcome to IndieVoices. I’m Howard Lovy, managing editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors. Each month on IndieVoices, I’m going to take a theme of interest of indie authors and talk to experts to help us understand it. Today, I’m going to discuss something that everybody is talking about, but very few people actually understand. Blockchain. Our guests will be Josef Marc, CEO of a company called Publica, which is designing a Blockchain system for Indie Authors, Sukhi Jutla, who is researching Blockchain for The Alliance and Dan Holloway with the news.

Josef Marc is CEO of a company called Publica, which is bringing the world of blocks and chains to authors. These are metaphorical chains and if everything goes according to Publica’s dastardly plan, they will free Indie authors from the golden chains of huge corporations. Here to talk about his company is Joseph Mark. Welcome to Indie Voices, Joseph.

Josef Marc: Hi everybody.

Howard Lovy: Well, before we get into what your company does, let’s address one thing that’s been bugging me about the idea of Blockchain for authors, particularly. Does this technology really solve an existing problem? Writers want to write a book and then let somebody else handle everything else, so they can write their next book. Does this make everything a little more complicated?

Josef Marc: No. This is simpler. But, why didn’t you ask, “Did the internet solve a problem?”

Howard Lovy: Right.

Josef Marc: It’s much like we’re in the same stage now. I was one of the people that was trying to convince everyone to please buy your books on Amazon. And they said, “Why? We’re standing in a bookstore.” You don’t subscribe to Publica, you subscribe to the author. The mailing list grows for the author, not for Publica. We give you all of the email addresses. The backups to the reader are still in the middle, but they’re coming there to find authors. And then filing the platform is the smallest part, and that’s what Blockchains are great at. They’re decentralized, autonomous, they just work … Extremely resilient. We don’t need an Amazon web services here. We think Publica can run with maybe 20 people forever. All those benefits accrue the other way, to the author.

Howard Lovy: Now tell me a little about your own cryptocurrency called “Pebbles.”

Josef Marc: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Howard Lovy: How does that work?

Josef Marc: All the other cryptocurrencies were designed primarily for banking functions and remittances and things like that … competitors to PayPal and Visa. We realized that’s not really the way books work. Remember I’ve been in books for a few decades now and the way books really work is … You have that village of people that produce the work and some of them, like you said, want to get paid upfront and get by, others want to stay part of the village and work on revenue streams. That way their assertiveness are aligned. The “pebbles” are designed to be a money that just works. The more you bring in a village, and we live in a global world today. Remember that if you publish on Publica, the Blockchain doesn’t know what country it’s in. So if you publish, you’re automatically publishing to planet Earth. 96% of the residents here have never logged in to Amazon. If you’re looking for a market, there’s one. The Blockchain will record the transactions and it will … It’s very easy to exchange dollars, Euros, Yen, whatever your readers have. Many of them … Don’t underestimate how many of them have bitcoin and Ether as well. Another market for you there.

It’s pretty easy for them to exchange all of those. For Pebbles, we make it automatic anyway. And then, the author … You don’t buy a pizza every time you sell a book. You let the money accumulate, then you pay your taxes. So when you withdraw the pebbles, you withdraw them to the currency or currencies that you want, all of which could eventually be achieved with a CPA and a bunch of bank accounts.

Howard Lovy: If everything goes 100% to the author, which is great, wonderful for authors. How do you stay in business?

Josef Marc: Actually, not all of the transactions go 100%. It’s much like Visa cards charge transaction fees.

Howard Lovy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josef Marc: Blockchains are the same. They’re just much smaller. Blockchains are autonomous. They’re running themselves. But the people who run the computers that run them, they charge small fees. So we aggregate those fees and we do charge a small fee. We’re thinking right now it’ll be about ten percent of a transaction. Bear in mind, it’s the person who’s selling … It’s the merchant. In Visa, the merchant pays those fees anyway, they just pass it on to you in their retail price. This follows that same model, but because we’re not imitating Amazon. We’ve turned it upside down. That means the business model is up to you. The classic example … The one the people seem to like the most is, suppose your book is really useful for a University class. Well, you’re going to sell hundreds of them at the start of the class. At the end of the class, who is your sales force? Because you’ve moved on to your next book. It’s those students. They’re gonna sell them to the students coming behind them. And then the author can have a percentage of that. We take ten percent or less of those transactions, when they occur. That’s enough to keep the business going.

Howard Lovy: What if, God forbid, Publica doesn’t make it? Goes out of business? What happens to all those Pebbles? Is it just, “Oh well. All that money’s gone?”

Josef Marc: Oh no. Absolutely not. The Pebbles go directly from the buyer’s wallet to the seller’s wallet. So they’re not residing with Publica at all. When the transaction occurs, the money goes straight to the author in minutes. We don’t have the Pebbles. Also, books are a long game. I like to think of them as an infinite game. They get better the longer you play. I’m not going to live forever, but your books will, because you put them on the Blockchain.

The smart contract of the program and the Blockchain will continue to transact your book’s transactions to your wallet until electricity runs out.

Howard Lovy: What can people do right now? What are your plans 5 years from now?

Josef Marc: What you can and should do right now is register for The Author’s Journey. It’s not … We’re not trying to be exclusive. We’re just trying to say, “If this is something you want to do…” There’s a little bit of a learning curve where you have questions. Just like you, asked several questions. You can register right now and get the newsletters and see who else is doing it, you know, in case … If you don’t want to be the first. You want to know, “Well, what more famous person that me did it before me? How much did they make?” Register for that. And then, five years from now, as I told the Publica staff, if you start something like publishing books, you have to finish it. You can’t just dabble here. And that means derivative rights. Books becomes movies, become merchandise, become games, become theme park attractions, on and on. Forever. Those are derivative rights.

By the end of this year, we should have enough activity on the platform to introduce the rights smart contracts. Often we talk about independent authors, but Sukhi Jutla was the one who helped me think of it better as creative entrepreneurs. You don’t have to stay in your lane, by the way. You can be an editor one week and a writer the next week and an entertainer the week after that. IT’s perfectly allowed. But, the rights do have to work. For every thing you do, you need a creative entrepreneur platform. For every thing you do, especially when there’s money involved. In five years, I want to see that Publica has effectively two goals. One is, a billion storefronts with a common linkage. That’s “billion” with a “B”, because, why aren’t you selling books right now? In this podcast? Why can’t I click and buy eBooks to all of the people you’ve ever interviewed, or ever will interview? Right? That makes you a store. There should be a billion of those. Every place you go should be selling the books that make sense to their context. I want that to be completely done in five years.

Howard Lovy: Great. Well, hopefully we’ll all be rolling in Pebbles by then. Thank you very much Josef. Is there anything that I didn’t ask that you wish I could have asked?

Josef Marc: No actually, you covered it really well. Oh, I do want to encourage you to talk to Sukhi Jutla, because she’s an author going through it right now. It’s one thing to talk to me, and I love talking to authors. It’s one of my favorite things. Everywhere I go, “Look, I get to buy a book and read it! Look at my job!”

Howard Lovy: That’ll be a great segue into my next interview, which will be Sukhi. Wonderful. Great! Thank you very much Josef. I appreciate your time and good luck with everything.

Josef Marc: I’m sure we’ll see you again, Howard. Thanks.

Howard Lovy: Okay, thank you. Bye.

Welcome to IndieVoices, Sukhi. First of all, tell us what you do and why you’re interested in this.

Sukhi Jutla: Hi, Howard!

Howard Lovy: Hi.

Sukhi Jutla: It’s really good to be here. I’m very excited to chat to you about Blockchain. Who am I? I’m Sukhi. I’m an author and why am I interested in Blockchain? Very quick intro… I have a banking background. I was in banking for about 12 years.Banking is actually a few steps ahead in terms of using Blockchain and identifying how it can be used.

When I was asked to contribute to the White Paper and put it together, I was really interested to actually see how Blockchain can be used for books and more widely, how it can actually be useful for creative entrepreneurs. What I basically discovered is, Blockchain is just another way that we can actually get our products out to the market. For most authors, I think the problem is not in creating a product or creating a book, because I think we probably got those processes pretty well established now. The problem that we’re having is visibility. How do you get your book out to the widest possible market, or how do you find your readers? When I was doing the research into Blockchain, the main conclusions I was coming across was, Blockchain can be a really great tool and it can be a great addition to whatever you’re also doing.

Howard Lovy: What’s wrong with just saying, “Here. I’ve written my book. Amazon, take it away.” Why should we worry about Blockchains and everything else? Why can’t we just get paid by Amazon? Does this somehow avoid the middleman?

Sukhi Jutla: I think that it really comes down to what type of an author you are and what type of business model you are running. But I do think that if you’re an author and you want to make some money from your book, then you are essentially running some type of business. In some businesses, there are middlemen who basically curate the marketplace for you and they sort of take most of the work out of it. So you just present yourself to them in the marketplace, and then that marketplace will bring the shoppers to you. That’s what Amazon does.

You can even think of your big supermarkets. Like here in London are some of the biggest ones. When you go to the marketplace and you’ve got all the products and you can just choose whatever you want, that’s what Amazon does for authors. But what Blockchain does is, it removes the middlemen. If you don’t have a middleman, that now means the author has more direct access to the readers, and if you have more direct access to, essentially, your customer or your consumer, then you’re going to have greater control. I think that’s what is very exciting about Blockchain.

Now instead of you waiting for Amazon to pay you, and it would … Even in that process, you are actually relying on Amazon to be honest and truthful in sharing those data and numbers with you. If you sold five books, you just take it at face value that you did sell five books because they sent you that invoice of that bill.

Howard Lovy: Tell us more about the White Paper you’re working on and how and when we’ll be able to get more information through the Alliance.

Sukhi Jutla: Sure. The White paper is an exciting, sort of like a research report that’s coming out in a few months. We are in February 2018 right now and we are aiming to launch it officially at the London Book Fair, which is happening in April 2018. I would talk to Orna Ross, who is director of the Alliance of Independent Authors. And I’ll also be joined by a representative from Reedsy, and I know a lot of authors love Readsy. And Josef Marc from Publica will also be there. He’s the CEO of Publica, which is a publishing protocol. They’re basically looking to see how Blockchain can be used in the publishing industry.

I think what we will basically be talking about is, what are our main findings from the White paper, and again, it’s probably going to focus more about what exactly is the technology and why authors should pay attention to it. We’ll also be talking about the strengths of it and also the limitations of it. The key takeaway from the White paper is that Blockchain is not the silver bullet solution to selling millions of books. Potentially it could be, but we’re saying it’s not the ultimate solution to solve every author’s problems.

However, in my opinion and in the opinion of the White paper, I think Blockchain is a very credible distribution outlet for your books. And I think it’s an additional way to distribute your book. For some authors, it could potentially be a big money spinner. It could bring home a lot of money, but some people have more success on Covo than on Amazon. Again, it all depends on who are your readers and where are they and how are they consuming their books.

I do think that this is an exciting time for authors to look into how it is technology can be useful. Basically, look at how you can exploit it for your business and how can you basically get your book that you spent ages writing and you’re so proud to show and share with the world … How can you actually use Blockchain as an additional way to distribute your book to a larger market?

Howard Lovy: Wonderful. We’re looking forward to following the technology and taking a look at your work when it’s released in London. I’m sure we’ll devote more shows to it. Thank you very much, Sukhi. I appreciate you being on with us.

Sukhi Jutla: Thank you so much, Howard. It’s been a lot of fun.

Howard Lovy: Okay. Bye.

And now for the news. I enjoy saying that because I come from a journalism background. Every IndieVoices podcast is going to include a news update from Dan Holloway, the Alliance of Independent Authors news editor. Welcome to Indie Voices, Dan.

Dan Holloway: Thank you very much indeed.

Howard Lovy: We’ve devoted this show to Blockchain and I think we’ve had a couple of people who, as they say, have drunk the Kool-Aid on it, when it comes to Blockchain and the technology and its possibilities for authors. You’ve looked at it a little bit also. Do you have any cautions for us?

Dan Holloway: Well, I’ve completely drunk the Kool-Aid, but I’ve drunk a completely different Kool-Aid Honestly I haven’t heard what Sukhi and Josef have said to you, but I have a pretty good idea what they’ve said, because I’ve spoken to both of them quite a lot. Blockchain is a really exciting developing for Indie writers, but my sense of what the excitement is about is slightly different from what people should be excited about. For me, what’s really exciting is the possibility of what we can do with rights and rights management. And that’s something I know we’re going to talk about later because we’re going to be talking about Geoblocking, which is exactly the same kind of issue.

This idea that was really disruptive about Blockchain for Indie authors is the way that we can have this truly digital space, which doesn’t try and mimic what’s going on in the physical space. I think this is something that’s happened for far too long and we’ve seen with eBooks try to do what print books do, publishers trying to do what traditional publishers do, all the time we have in our minds this paradigm of what writing should be and what the publishing industry should be.

Every new advance that comes along we say, “Isn’t this exciting?” Now how can we make it do what we’re familiar with?

Howard Lovy: Right.

Dan Holloway: I think this is sort of what’s happening with Blockchain. People aren’t really realizing how disruptive it can be. Everything is focused on payments. Publica’s website seems to focus too much on cryptocurrency.

Howard Lovy: That’s one thing we need to be cautious of. People have read a lot about cryptocurrency and Bitcoin and there’s been a lot of negative news about it these days. Suddenly it’s losing all value. There’s a big difference between cryptocurrency and Blockchain. Blockchain is sort of the enabling technology but we shouldn’t get the two mixed up, right?

Dan Holloway: Yeah, Blockchain is sort of equivalent to www. It’s the architecture.

Howard Lovy: It’s a tool that can be used for good or evil. It’s just a tool, right?

Dan Holloway: You can build all sorts of things on top of it. It’s a skeleton. Cryptocurrency is something you can build on top of it, but the problem is that people are treating it like a commodity.

Howard Lovy: Right.

Dan Holloway: Something to be used. That’s why you get this bubble because people want to invest in it.

Howard Lovy: So for you, the exciting part is rights management and the ability to track who owes what through time and space and through different countries. Also, through different developers and different contributors to a certain book.

Dan Holloway: Yeah. Who own what and not think about different countries and boundaries.

Howard Lovy: Right.

Dan Holloway: It’s a completely disintermediated system. It doesn’t work in the way that … It’s enabled eBooks to work in the way that they should be able to work, which is completely not like physical products. The idea of electrons crossing national boundaries is just ridiculous, and yet we’re still somehow wedded to this with the concept of international rights. But because we have publishing industry, we have government, we have all sorts of legislation telling us what to do and how we should be setting things up, we’re still forced into this model, which doesn’t really work in a digital age. And what’s disruptive about Blockchain is that it enables you to do everything without there being a trust agent, is the phrase people use. You don’t need anyone other than the people using it.

Howard Lovy: I think about other countries that aren’t necessarily democracies who might have a problem with one book or another. It’s going to be extremely difficult to ban books this way, isn’t it?

Dan Holloway: Yeah. That’s something that’s really good about it.

Howard Lovy: At the same time, it’s really difficult to write anything anonymously because it has your signature on it.

Dan Holloway: Um, one of the things about Blockchain, and this is a trick question I’m guessing…

Howard Lovy: No, no trick about it!

Dan Holloway: The whole thing with Blockchain is that you have three identities. You have you, and you needn’t ever enter into the picture. You have a public internet identity, which is the identity you write under. It’s the identity in cryptocurrency. It’s the identity of your public wallet. Then you have your private Internet identity, which is the things that go on behind the system, that’s the thing that leads you to that public identity, but no one ever knows about it.

Howard Lovy: Oh, I see.

Dan Holloway: And you can write, you can be paid for it, and you can be absolutely sure that it’s you who has done it, while staying completely anonymous.

Howard Lovy: Oh, that’s interesting.

Dan Holloway: That’s one of the things that Blockchain allows you to do that’s really exciting. It can even get privacy, but you can also get distribution.

Howard Lovy: Right. Well, that’s a little more exciting to me. When you put it that way, it sounds like some of the original intent of the Internet was to break down some of these borders. Let’s move on to other news.

Now, as podcasters, are we going to be replaced by computers? Amazon has launched a WordPress plug-in, that will turn your blog into a podcast. So should we be looking for a new line of work now?

Dan Holloway: It’s still us who is writing it. It’s not replacing us, it’s making it easier for us. It’s making it even easier for people who don’t have access to technology or might not feel comfortable talking.

Howard Lovy: So, this is a WordPress account that anybody can turn into a podcast? Or you, as the WordPress developer, can choose to turn it into a podcast?

Dan Holloway: It is … You can only do it on your site.

Howard Lovy: Oh I see. Right, right. Well, I’m thinking about … I spend a lot of time in my car driving my kids here and there. I don’t have a lot of time to read, so can I have my favorite websites read to me?

Dan Holloway: No. My understanding is this is something that you, as the creator of the website, enable. It’s not like text-to-speech.

Howard Lovy: Right. But you can make yourself sound like anything you want, if you wanted an Australian accent, if you wanted, God-forbid, an American accent, you can … It doesn’t necessarily have to be you speaking, right? It’s computer generated?

Dan Holloway: I think they put in about forty different accents to choose from. You can pretty much who you want.

Howard Lovy: Okay, well it sounds like it’d be a decent tool for writers who want to get their work out in a different format and also an increasingly popular format. A lot of people are listening to books, they’re listening to other content online. Which is one reason why we’re doing this today!

You also wrote about something called Geoblocking. Now let me see if I understand this correctly. My wife and I had a frustrating time trying to find the Olympic opening ceremonies. We live in an area where we couldn’t just get NBC off the air, so I was looking for a streaming site. No such luck. Couldn’t do it. NBC had paywalled everything. So I thought, okay, I’ll just go to the BBC. I went to the BBC and I clicked on a link and it says, “This content is not available in your country.” In Europe, as I understand it, this is a big problem. You’ve written a bit about Geoblocking. Can you explain how this impacts authors, too?

Dan Holloway: What the European Union was talking about doing and have been planning to do for a long time is to say, “If it’s available in one place in the European Union, you have to make it available everywhere.”

Howard Lovy: How come this has not been successful? Is this a result of this increasingly protectionist, nationalistic fervor that’s going through the country? Or, going through the world, actually?

Dan Holloway: I’m really, really surprised it hasn’t gone through. I think everyone’s very surprised it hasn’t gone through. It almost certainly has something to do with lobbying. That’s probably more what it’s down to because its in companies’ interests to divvy things up.

Howard Lovy: Right. To create their own proprietary system.

Dan Holloway: This goes back to what we were saying about the publishing industry. It’s built on rights. The big publishers make all their money because you can package your book up and sell it to multiple customers. They can sell anything over and over again. You might not be selling it to any more people than you would be if you could sell it across the whole world. But there is extra value to being able to trunk it up and sell it at different rates in different places, for example.

Howard Lovy: Information needs to be free, as they say, except when money is to be made.

Dan Holloway: Certainly with the publishing industry. If they can carve more money out of it, they will.

Howard Lovy: Right.

Dan Holloway: Not necessarily to the author’s gain.

Howard Lovy: Right. Okay, good. Well I’m glad you’re here and I’m glad you’re going to be a monthly feature with Indie Voices and tell us what’s of interest.

Dan Holloway: Look forward to talking to you again next month. Thank you very much, indeed.

Howard Lovy: Thank you, Dan.

Dan Holloway: Take care.

Howard Lovy: Bye.

Dan Holloway: Bye.

Howard Lovy: You’ve been listening to Indie Voices with me, Howard Lovy, managing editor of The Alliance of Independent Authors. Thank you to our guests Josef Marc, Sukhi Jutla, and Dan Holloway. Find more author advice and tools at our self-publishing advice center, Selfpublishingadvice.org. And if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing author. You can do that at allianceindependentauthors.org. Now, what are you waiting for? Go write and publish.

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Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in journalism, from newspapers to magazines specializing in business, science, and technology. He has spent the past few years guiding coverage of independent publishing, amplifying voices of the marginalized. Howard is also a book doctor who enjoys working with authors to get their work ready for publication.

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