Gumroad Alternatives: By Selling Additional Benefits instead of Book Content
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June 3rd, 2022

Books: Evolution of What to Sell

Before the Internet, we sell papers. We buy books for its information, true; but we also sell the papers that captures that information we need. When internet became available, books become paperless (at least, for e-books), and we sell only its information. We could have physical guards guarding the shop, preventing people from reading inside the shop without buying. As for e-books, we have lots of locks (expiring PDFs, non-printable contents, format that requires special program to unlock first then read, etc) for gatekeeping its content. Now that information become decentralizes, it’s time to re-think whether we should be selling something else, except for its information.

Even physical books make changes. For example, one get to read books in a book store without buying it. It’s clear that, as long as we don’t damage the book, people are free to read the information and only buy the papers as a collection. Libraries exist to allow people whom can’t afford buying the book, or whom only needs the information (which they can finish reading real quick) for free. Then, internet libraries exist like Archive or OpenLibrary that either store a physical or electronic copies somewhere, bought from a store, and lend it for anyone with an account to borrow. Though with online libraries, to ensure it works like a real libraries, when someone is owning the copy for a period of time, others can’t read. What we want, minimally, is something that all of us could read at once, transparently, but anyone could also buy and support the author as a collection.

Let’s look first at a hybrid solution, solving web2 problem using web3 solution, before moving on to re-think a web3 problem with a web3 solution.

Hybrid Web2-Web3 Book Store

Assuming we want to sell unlockable contents to users. Have you used OpenSea before? If no, try to become an author on NFT and create an NFT; you’d see a field saying “unlockable contents” where its content is accessible only by NFT owners. Ultimately, these contents aren’t store on blockchain; otherwise they would be transparent and viewable on the transaction receipts. NFT acts as a gateway, a key to access information stored on the database, linked via an id (token id). Similarly, you could see this as books sold: only people whom bought the NFT can access the book’s content, perhaps even downloading it. Like Amazon, we might have an open content in the description field of the NFT which contains a link to the sample content stored on some publicly-accessible storage providers (like IPFS).

Though be aware: the reason blockchain is powerful is because of its transparency and immutability. As a hybrid solution to the web2 problem (gatekeeping of its contents), it makes sense to not use blockchain but just the crypto transactions capabilities to replace traditional bank transfers. In any sense, these are like Gumroad or Amazon marketplace. But why crypto transactions? First, author living in certain countries (like mine) cannot accept payment via PayPal and not eligible for direct bank transfer from Gumroad marketplace, so Gumroad is out! Amazon is really dark on its “royalties”, where author only earn 35% of what they sell by default (70% in rare cases), which is just, dark. We want something that anyone could buy and sell anywhere (not just the 200+ countries supported by PayPal or other restrictions) where internet is available (no internet no blockchain sorry); and we want to pay the author more (at least 85% goes to the Author). That encourages a hybrid web2-web3 marketplace.

So, instead of paying via bank transfer (which is annoying), we pay via crypto (one click to a few clicks approving transactions). And we just changed a method of gatekeeping. But we can do more…

What are we trying to solve here?

Ultimately, a book is useful because of its information. From a traditional thinking, if we open up its content, it’s not useful to buy books anymore. Author can’t earn anything for their hard work if everyone could read it for free. But is that really true? Nope. Even in web2 world, there are lots of free information. We already mentioned one -- the library. Another one is pirating books. A piece of information locked behind gates are doomed to be pirated. Unless the book’s information is utterly useless; if it’s something interesting, it certainly would get pirated some day later. The author might have earned enough before that, or even keeps earning; but that doesn’t mean people whom can’t afford it or not willing to pay won’t find a way to access the information. If that’s the case, why not open up the content and try selling something else?

Let’s take an example. This article is written on mirror.xyz, and Mirror offers anyone to write a blog post, an essay, or even a novel, and allow anyone online to read the information for free. Then, it could be minted as a paid resources, where people could collect the information and support the author. This provides a good starting point for how we can shape a book store marketplace with the blockchain: transparent content, with unique, limited collectibles. Similarly, if we take a look at other fields like Music: Music NFT now allows anyone to listen to musics, unrestricted to where you’re located (my country cannot listen to Spotify without VPN); and someone could collect the music NFT to support its creator if they really love the music. Again, free information, paid collectibles.

Though, I’m not sure how you write a long novel here if your browser starts lagging trying to cache lots of information in a single page.

It’s now clear that we want to open up its information, but to sell something else. Let’s see some possibilities of how content creators could earn if they couldn’t earn through information.

How can Authors Earn?

Don’t expect author to be charity. They also have their burdens that needs money.

A No No: Sponsorship System.

Nope, its not sustainable. There’s a reason why money flows in a closed loop: a large closed loop. A sponsorship system is like publish0x: publish0x tips both the author and the readers. It doesn’t make sense, though. Platform needs to pay both author and readers, but receives nothing in return, and they also need to pay for storage, servers, etc. So, this depends on whether people will donate a large sum of money to keep them running. Whenever donation stops, their platform stops running. Its dependent on rich people to donate a portion of their wealth to the users of the platform. Its non sustainable in the long run, too dependent on a few entities.

Money derives its value from people’s needs and wants. A sponsorship system is either created by people to attract users to use its platform; or its created by people whom get confused by what blockchain tries to do. Blockchain tries to reward users for some of their actions that we see their effort in. They keyword is effort. Let’s take a few yes and no. An author writing a blog takes effort. A content creator posting on web3 social media (like noise.cash or Myriad Social), and reward those that post with coins. But users whom don’t contribute anything except for their time? No, they don’t get rewarded. Instead, they are reading someone else’s information, it makes sense for them to tip the content creators for whatever information they receives that may help them to make money somewhere else; or perhaps that makes them enjoy themselves when they see a funny cat picture. Thinking of rewarding readers for their time is, in my opinion, a deviated view of what blockchain tries to achieve. A user choose to (their own choice) read the blog or look through their social media because they wish to relax or learn some information that they don’t know before that. Since they receive something useful (information/emotional enhancement), they pay via token for those whom make their lives better in exchange. They need/want something, so they paid for what they need/what.

My fellow readers, you don’t have to agree with me to continue reading. :)

Pre-Sale Benefits

Let’s start with something easy. Those whom own NFTs via pre-sale could read the books 1 month before it’s published to the general audience. Sounds good? Those whom bought the NFT can access a special page where they can watch videos/read books/listen to audiobooks. Or, if these are open (which most probably are, stored on IPFS), we could allow early birds to download the files and watch/read it offline. (Remember, it’s gonna get pirated anyways, so downloading PDF doesn’t need to be encrypted PDF or something). After early access, those people can still buy the NFT after general announcement, for other kinds of benefits. Then, people can read the content (and download the book) for free. What, you live on barely 5 dollars per day? It’s okay, forget about the 50+ USD textbooks that are non-affordable, we are free!

Additional Benefits

Owners of NFT also owns other benefits, depending on what author provides. For example, taken from learning platform EdX and Pluralsight, you can learn the content for free, but you pay to earn a certificate. Similarly, the certificate could be an NFT, and only owners whom subscribe for an NFT are eligible to take the exam. Or perhaps like language learning platforms, you could learn for free, but access to 1:1 teachings from professionals require payment. Here, owner of NFTs are eligible for 1:1 teachings. Whether or not to have tiers of NFT (like Common, Rare, Legendary) are optional depending on what the author provides. As information get unlocked, people earn by paying for others’ time and effort.

Extra Time for 1 on 1 (1:1)

Maybe still in a locking sense, people get access to the general book; but to access to author’s experiences on specific problems, whether by asking them 1:1 or author creates another handbook for that, requires an NFT. It’s what you noticed (“experience” or “extra information”) that makes you stand out of the crowd. While people more willingly share basic information, these stuffs that makes you stand out are more closed; and it makes sense for NFT holders to buy these experiences so author are more willing to share their expertise on specific problems. Basic information are free, while problem-specific experiences are what makes the differences.

Experiences can mean what you deliberately noticed. Read smartcuts Chapter 5 “Waves” for more information.

https://openlibrary.org/works/OL17900734W/Smartcuts_how_hackers_innovators_and_icons_accelerate_success?edition=ia%3Asmartcutshowhack0000snow

Access to Discussion/Club/DAO

Or perhaps people get access to discussions. For example, some people doesn’t agree with what the book said, and they have their own saying. If the book have a “discussion” tab, NFT holders could commit their ideas. Together, they could update the book (with or without the author) to include stuffs the author missed, not aware of, or perhaps other discussions viewpoints. These could be open or closed, and NFT holders might, together with the author, release a v2 edition of the book after some issues not previously aware of in v1 edition are solved. Then, after v2 edition releases, those holding NFTs can get a split of what’s earned based on their contributions. NFT holders are like DAO members, where the DAO is that specific book rather than a general guild/group/community.

Though, whether or not this will “inflict some damage” to the author is worth discussing. As in, does the author wants people to make change to their content? Or author have other concerns?

These are just a few. Who knows if you discover the next innovative solution?

Conclusion

In conclusion, as information goes public, as gatekeepers fail to keep information behind gates, it’s time to re-think what we sell. Instead of selling information, one could sell benefits that only book collectors have access to. Ultimately, we aim at provide access to correct, trustworthy information to the general public without worrying about money. We are both a library and a bookseller. People can choose to “borrow” it from the library (read it for free), or they can “buy” a book that they read and goes into their shelf (collect an NFT) (with more benefits than just collecting, perhaps).

So, it’s time to re-think.


Extra: Why a Bookseller on Web3?

You may have noticed the hints one wrote while reading. First, one tries to sell book on Gumroad, unsuccessfully, because one cannot be paid by PayPal. Then, one tries to sell book on Amazon, and how dark is one’s face when one saw one could only earn 35% out of one’s book! Given the difficulty of being paid, it’s time to move to cryptocurrency.

Initially, web3 comes as a side-product of these motivations. After starting one’s own development, one discovered lots of potential and drawbacks that, either we head butt through them, slicing through all the obstacles that’s on the way to get what we want from the beginning; or we re-think what we want. Honestly, one don’t have the grit to head butt through, nor is one sure that head butt is the right solution; rethinking them seems to fare better, and perhaps provide a brighter future solution.

(this article may be updated in the future).

(pictures taken from Unsplash or Pexels).

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