The Rise of NFT Books

The Web3 version of ebooks offers exciting possibilities and potential for authors everywhere…and not good news for traditional publishers who fail to adapt - again.

Over the last few months, a rising star of the Web3 world, has been making some very interesting moves within the publishing space. Launching earlier this year, Book’s first foray into minting NFT books was to release works in the public domain with AI artwork created by artist Billy R. to produce variations and rarities for the books themselves. While the text was the same, the covers offered a more recognizable facet that NFT enthusiasts could get behind: artwork.

The results of these mints, which have happened weekly on average, have been to sell out - sometimes in as little as 2 minutes. Granted, these are not huge numbers (at least not in terms of either traditional publishing figures or even PFP art NFT projects themselves, which can number 10,000 or more). But as a proof-of-concept, the mints have worked to establish Book as a powerful player in the Web3 publishing space. So much so that the company has secured investments from both Ingram and the Bertelsmann Group. They have also been immediately profitable as a company, something that is certainly worthy of respect.

But the biggest mint for Book so far was last night’s mint of The Heretic, the first book in Joseph Nassise’s bestselling Templar Chronicles.

It sold out of its entire run of 2764 NFT books in 45 seconds.

45 seconds.

What would have once taken weeks - if not months to accomplish (something unlikely given the 6-week life expectancy of most books on a shelf in a store) - happened in under one single minute. This happened for several reasons: first, Joe is a damned good storyteller and the book is great. Also, the team at Book are all industry professionals who know how to run a company and have a very smooth minting process in place. And third, the technology of the Web3 space itself is creating a whole new audience for books. (In full disclosure, I am also partnering with Book and The Fixer, the first book in my bestselling Lawson Vampire series, will mint as an NFT book on November 4th.)

So what is it about NFT books that should make other authors sit up and take notice? After all, the news is rife with accounts of crypto fraud and NFT projects that are “rug pulls” or worse. How can an author trust this environment and why should they?

To be honest, it wasn’t all that long ago that ebooks were the topic du jour. Traditional publishing, which can reasonably be argued to move at the pace of a catatonic snail who overdosed on fentanyl, rejected the emergence of ebooks as viable and in doing so, gifted Amazon with a dominant market share.

Further, there were some publishers who branded ebooks as a threat and had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future. Once there, they further proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot by pricing ebooks at outrageous levels.

By that point, it was largely too late. No one could reasonably offer up any sort of resistance to Amazon - even Barnes & Noble’s Nook went down in flames and Kobo has only ever had a very small market share - and the behemoth continued scooping up both new indie authors and former traditional authors who were exhausted by bi-annual royalty checks and meager advances that no one could ever be expected to survive on without an additional job or three.

But Amazon knew what they were doing. They gave authors 70% royalty rates and paid net-60 which was far, far superior to anything that the dinosaurs in NYC publishing tossed out. And as Amazon continued its conquest, the midlist authors of old - those who ground out books with decent sell-through but never quite hit it big for one reason or another - started to see the giant meteor hurtling toward them at an alarming rate.

Adapt or die.

Amazon was ready to welcome these midlisters with open arms. I should know: I was one of them. By the time that ebooks started making waves, I’d been published by most of the largest houses in NYC. I had a decent fan base but never got anything near what could be called “support” from the houses that published my books - awful cover art for the most part, no marketing, scant reviews, and no push from the boardroom since they were busy pimping the manifesto of another reality TV star who had successfully managed to pick their nose without making their brain bleed and had been paid six-figures to tell the rest of us all about it.

So instead of accepting the fate of being a starving author (because it’s really not sexy), I got my rights back and went indie. When the first book in my middle-grade adventure series The Ninja Apprentice (which my awesome agent and I labored over for nearly eighteen months until it was fairly perfect) was rejected by every house because (and I shit you not), “boys don’t read,” I took it over to Amazon and proceeded to sell 100,000 copies of it…as an ebook.

Since then Amazon has offered up a platform for indie and hybrid authors to make a decent living. I say decent because it’s not a bed of roses by any means. Yes, you can go exclusive with Amazon and get enrolled into Kindle Unlimited, which pays you fractions of pennies per page when people read your books, you can offer up freebies, and special promotions, and you can advertise. But it’s a lot harder than most people think it is.

There are some author holdouts even to doing this. They’re stuck in the traditional mentality that has reigned supreme for hundreds of years. There is a certain romance about being a traditional author. My first novel came out right before my first son was born and I was in awe of the mystique of editorial lunches, book launches, and more. It’s very nice being able to tell someone they can find your book “in any store.” And the pleasure of holding an author copy delivered by the UPS driver is really cool.

But those days are mostly gone unless you happen to command rarefied status among authors. And most working writers do not. Some do, for sure. But most? No way.

NFT books are a game-changer. And traditional publishing is not going to be happy unless they adapt - again.

First off, NFT books offer readers actual ownership of the ebook. All of those ebooks that people read, movies they stream, and music they download aren’t actually owned by them: they’re licensed. Those files can be wiped out on a whim or removed from your library if Amazon or another retailer finds an arbitrary reason to disable your account.

But an NFT book is yours forever. The transaction is stored on the blockchain and the file itself is accessed through an anonymous e-reader app. It’s safe, secure, and accessible anywhere at anytime.

Then there’s the sales data that you have access to. The blockchain stores all transactions based on which “wallet” purchased which NFT book. That wallet address is a sales information goldmine. Having a list of people (via their wallet address) who purchased your NFT book means you can reach out and airdrop them a special freebie for doing so. Or maybe it’s the latest issue of your newsletter. Or maybe it’s a birthday bonus or news of an upcoming mint. Never before have authors had this level of data. Traditional publishers literally have no clue who buys their books; Amazon does have that data but never shares it with authors.

And the result of authors not having data like this is that we throw money into advertising hoping to seduce Facebook’s algorithm into more than a one-night stand; we pay for monthly newsletter services and weep over poor open rates because issues end up in spam or junk folders; and we try to imitate viral dances on TikTok hoping people might pick up our book (er…well, one of us did). It’s a ridiculous amount of spend to try to find and keep readers.

NFT books give every author what we’ve always wanted: access to the people who bought our book. This alone should spur every author to check out Web3 publishing.

Let’s talk money.

Traditional publishing offers an advance against royalties upon signing a deal - and those advances have largely shrunken over the years to the point they’re laughably pitiful - and further royalties if you earn that advance out. But that’s it. As long as your book is in retail stores or your ebook is available (and if you’re a traditional author who signed away your ebook rights, good luck getting them back) you’ll continue to earn money. Indie authors who sell their own books on Amazon and elsewhere don’t necessarily get advances but do command better royalties as long as they keep their books in circulation.

But NFT books offer something neither of those avenues do: continued royalties on the secondary market. Because the NFT book is sold on the blockchain, minters can set a secondary market royalty rate. This means if the person who minted your NFT book decides to sell it at some point to someone else on the secondary, you get that royalty delivered right into your wallet the second the transaction goes through. And if that second person sells it again, you get that same royalty again. And again. In perpetuity.

This is the passive income generator that most authors dream of (all right, maybe I’m the only one who’s been dreaming of this, I dunno). Your books at long last have the ability to earn for the rest of time. Never before have authors had this secondary sales royalty and it’s finally here. It might be small - say .30 cents per sale - but that .30 cents isn’t that far off the royalty I was making when my first mass market paperback came out twenty years ago. And multiplied exponentially across different books and buyers, it’s truly revolutionary stuff.

“But Jonnnnnnnnnn, people still want to read an actual book in their handsssssss…”

Can you tell I’ve heard that before? They whined the same thing when ebooks hit the scene. And yes, I get it. I love the feel of a book in my hands. The smell of the ink. The allure of a bookstore (and I love me some bookstores, lemme tell ya.)

NFT books are coming for that also. Book has partnered with Ingram and are pioneering a “mint and print” process for NFT books. So in the near future it will be possible to have that printed book you crave. Certainly that’s not a week away, but the tech is heading in that direction. Just as print-on-demand rapidly improved as more indie authors craved a means of producing print books, so too will NFT books have their day in the printing press, so to speak.

Look, I get it: being an indie author is hard. We wear a lot of hats. And some of the authors I’ve spoken to are already fatigued at the prospect of another tech advancement when all they want to do is write. And that’s fine. But the changes that NFT books represent will have a truly beneficial impact on the lives of those authors who choose to get involved with them.

Ownership of the asset for readers, sales data, secondary market royalties, initial massive payout at mint, and much more…NFT books are the sort of things authors dream of.

Well, at least this author anyway. I’ve been dreaming of this ever since I started writing.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure my buddy Joe had a great night sleep last night, too.

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