Rowena Wiseman

Written by

Rowena Wiseman

21 January 2022

Publishing

NFTs for Writers: New Options to Publish in a Digital World

NFTs for Writers - Photo by Ales Nesetril on Unsplash

NFTs are a relatively new concept in the world of cryptocurrency, but they have potential for independent authors. NFTs are unique, cannot be replicated, and exist only in the digital sphere. Writers can use them to sell books or poetry directly to readers without going through the process of traditional publishing. They can experiment with form, publish, and earn money instantly, making NFTs an exciting prospect for writers who value their creative freedom.

What is an NFT?

An NFT tracks the provenance of an item. It is a unique digital asset, with ownership recorded on a blockchain, like a ledger of transactions. Each time an NFT sells, it is recorded on the ledger (blockchain), tracking ownership.

NFT stands for non-fungible token.  Knowing that doesn’t exactly help in explaining what they are, but the concept is quite simple.  Essentially, non-fungible means that it’s unique and can’t be replaced by something identical. 

So what does this mean for writers? Stripped down to its essentials, an NFT is a receipt that proves you bought a digital product. The person who buys an NFT of a book, for instance, is the sole, official owner of that book.  It’s a unique, crypto-generated receipt that can’t be replicated. Despite a digital item like an eBook being easily reproducible, where the NFT comes in is that its verifiable public proof of ownership. Lots of people can read your book. They can even buy copies, but only one person can prove that they “own” it.

A benefit to an author wanting to sell their digital work as an NFT is that they have an inbuilt royalty system for secondary sales. This doesn’t exist in the book market yet.  In the current system, when you buy a book you can trade and sell it multiple times. The original author won’t see a single penny.  With NFTs however, authors can get up to 10% of the profits on the resale.

Literary NFTs and the metaverse

Facebook is the most recent in a long line of tech companies to show an interest in the concept of the metaverse.  The term actually has its origins in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash. It’s essentially a reimagining of the internet as a single, virtual universe (not dissimilar to OASIS from Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One).

With Facebook’s recent rebrand as Meta, and their push to bring the metaverse into people’s homes like never before, there is huge potential for NFTs in this space. NFT owners can have avatars wear unique Nike sneakers or have original CryptoPunks artwork on their walls. They could also have a completely unique book on their virtual bookshelves or an NFT poem on display.

Because it’s completely digital, it opens up the idea of ownership even further. In the metaverse, a user could “own” soirees with spoken word poets. Imagine a digital performance by Kate Tempest or the ability to collect a 10-second snippet of one of her songs or poems that belongs completely to you.

The metaverse is emerging technology, and it will take a lot of creatives a long time to reimagine literature in this space,  but there’s lots of potential for tech-minded writers out there looking for ideas outside the box.

Let’s take a look at some of the exciting literary NFT projects that are already happening:

Poetry NFTs

Technelegy p. 46: Glitch
A digital broadside of “Glitch” by Sasha Stiles (@sashastiles), a poem first published by Always Crashing in 2019 and subsequently nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. This piece was created from a manuscript page proof; a still appears in the physical edition of Stiles’ book, Technelegy. Minted Oct. 2021 in an edition of 10 and offered jointly by Stiles and the Black Spring Press Group
Source: NFT listing on Objkt.com

While the metaverse may feel further off as a reality, there are already lots of exciting NFT projects happening right now.  Poetry is one of the most successful genres for NFT sales. Some inspiring writers are working in the space where art and poetry converge, selling a single NFT for thousands of dollars. They’d be lucky to get anywhere near that for a print run of a traditionally published poetry book. As far as book sales go, it’s still considered somewhat of a niche market.

Sasha Stiles is a critically acclaimed poet and artist exploring the intersection between text and technology. She fuses art, poetry, the digital world, and the future in her NFTs and is a successful example of what is possible in this digital-first space.

Stiles is part of TheVERSEverse collective, where poems become works of art published on the blockchain. With Kalen Iwamoto and Ana Maria Caballero as co-founders, TheVERSEvers is about creating poetry as art. It focuses on exploring poetry in all its forms, especially those in the metaverse space of new and emerging technologies. A lot of what they do is challenge the stereotypes around the financial value of poetry and help poets sell their best work in the form of cryptopoetry. 

Stiles’ TheVERSEverse co-founder, Kalen Iwamoto, runs a crypto writers Discord channel. For anyone wanting to learn more about NFTs, or discuss the concept of literature in the digital space it’s well worth joining. It’s a good way to connect with other NFT writers and to join the discussion. Because of her pioneering work in this space, she is a great resource for those interested in the subject.

Platforms available for cryptowriters

As it’s still an emerging technology, there aren’t many literary-specific platforms available for cryptowriters. There are, however, companies who are exploring the space, getting ready to offer writers a platform from which to sell their NFTs.

Creatokia

Creatokia - NFTs for writers

Creatokia, built by Bookwire, is a German company that help publishers around the globe publish and distribute books, ebooks, and audiobooks. They have already led the way with digital publishing. Now, they are one of the first to create an NFT platform for books.

On Creatokia you can buy, trade, and collect NFT books as digital originals. At the moment, their offerings are curated, but they will be opening up the platform for author submission soon. Authors will be able to publish their works and receive a share of the sales revenue. Readers will be able to support and collect works from their favourite authors, and publishers can publish limited special editions.

Creatokia is one of the first platforms to think about the idea of smart contracts and resale, giving writers more control over their income. There is a huge resale market for NFTs, and through a platform created for literary works, authors can put a percentage royalty into the resale of any of their work.  If it’s sold multiple times, writers essentially have their very own distribution chain from which they will continue to earn money.

BookVolts

BookVolts

BookVolts are a UK-based company. A lot of their business revolves around fair value for authors. They offer a high revenue share for all creators (80% on all sales), with a 10% commission for all resales of NFTs sold through the platform.

Authors can digitally sign and authenticate their work and set their own prices.  NFT books can even be put up for auction in order to maximise earning potential.  BookVolts even make the claim that they have minted the very first NFT novel – Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. Minted entirely on the blockchain, it will only be accessible to the contracted owner, making it unique in the NFT space which often relies on conferring ownership on easily replicated digital material.

The environmental impact of NFTs

A lot of the environmental impact of NFTs comes from the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is energy inefficient by design. The theory is that using huge amounts of electricity makes it more secure and less profitable for someone looking to mess with the blockchain ledger.

Because of Ethereum’s poor environmental performance, other blockchains are developing more environmentally conscious networks. Large NFT platforms like Opensea, Rarible, and Foundation are looking at ways to lower their gas fees and offer more options for their users.  Artists are the ones driving the push for change.  Hopefully, future blockchain technology won’t depend on huge computing power to keep their ledgers secure, or at least run on machines that rely on clean energy rather than fossil fuels if they do.

The secondary benefit of new NFT platforms developing on varied blockchain technologies is that there is more choice for consumers, artists, and writers.  With different fee structures and royalty rates, there will potentially be a lot more choice in the coming years as the technology continues to develop.  For writers interested in digital publishing, it’s worth keeping an eye on this space and doing research into what fee and royalty structures are available.

Literary NFTs are still in their infancy, but evolving quickly. If you’re a writer and are interested in opportunities outside of traditional publishing, this is definitely an interesting area to watch. 

What are your thoughts on NFTs? Do you think there’s a future for books in this digital space? Let us know in the comments!