Written by Jonathan Ferland and Lisa Ferland (15-min read)
*We tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but may have missed some projects in this fast-moving space
"…well then, what about Read2Earn in Web3?"
We both fell silent at the dinner table, staring back at one another. Our kids had already left the table, sensing they had nothing to contribute but boredom during our nonstop conversation about Web3.
We thought about how Read2Earn could transform how readers and writers interact with one another in the digital space. At the same time, our heads flooded with other questions about feasibility, accessibility, and funding mechanisms.
Can Web3 transform the publishing industry's business model forever, or will the big players of Web2 end up dominating the Web3 space?
We have a unique combination of perspectives with combined expertise in publishing, crowdfunding, and innovation strategy for large multinational companies.
One of us has a healthy dose of skepticism colored by years in publishing and marketing with firsthand knowledge of the challenges both authors and readers face. The other is paid full-time to disrupt well-known industries with seemingly crazy ideas that would likely get anyone else fired immediately.
In this article, we temper and cool one another's perspectives to provide a balanced summary of what is currently happening in the Web3 publishing space (that we know of) with minimal crystal ball prophecies.
We want to better understand how writers and readers can interact together in Web3 to push the publishing world to new places, and this serves as a baseline report.
Note: This article will assume that readers are already familiar with crypto/Web3 terminology. If not, there are some links at the bottom for more background reading - like this piece from Rae Wojcik at Sitka World or Joanna Penn’s podcast series including her episode with J Thorn.
Web3 has already disrupted numerous industries (i.e., art, music, gaming, exercise, etc.) and created new opportunities:
But after following along in the space over the past few months, we haven't seen the same level of disruption in the $112B publishing business for novels, graphic novels, poetry, etc.
Even in Adam Levy’s recent Mint podcast, when talking at NFT LA about creators in Web3, authors and literature weren’t on their radar at all.
But as Rex Woodbury wrote in March 2022 in Digital Native, the book industry is primed for disruption. If so, why hasn’t Web3Lit exploded?
Knowing all of this, we expected to see new publishing business models emerging within the Web3 space, such as:
Based on our experience in the publishing industry (i.e., long creation and consumption time, saturated market, marginal royalties, etc.), we had some preconceived notions about the proposed opportunities and challenges for each of these Web3Lit business models.
We can broadly divide all of the current Web3 publishing projects into three major categories - how stories are MADE, how authors are PAID, and how COMMUNITIES are organized. Some projects overlap these two categories by giving story decision-making power to investors, but we will discuss that later.
Literary content creation projects can be lumped into four different categories:
Description: One of the most significant benefits of Web3 is community alignment and joint collaboration. One clear opportunity here is to use Web3 technology to evolve anthology books to the next level. Books like these potentially allow the community to create, edit, select and publish books using new Web3 tools.
Benefits: Since anthologies are already a group effort, the Web3 collaborative tools provide an easily understandable use case. This could be great if used to create alignment among groups and micro-communities that have not had as many opportunities in the past.
Concerns: At a high level, this use case isn't that different from what is widely found in web2 (and earlier).
Target Audience: Likely best suited for a writer who wants to begin exploring Web3 and/or has already contributed to anthologies in a pre-crypto world.
Examples: On April 20th, 2022, Redlion Studios launched their publication of "txt.art" a "crypto poetry anthology that brings together the incredible talent of 40 poets and 40 visual artists in one NFT book".
Description: These projects start with a high-level story idea, and then all NFT holders can vote on the future direction of the story, with the primary author(s) doing the heavy lifting.
For example, a chapter could end with the main characters faced with the decision to take an ocean route or hike over the mountain ridge. The NFT holders can vote on the character's next move, name characters in the story, or make other plot decisions. Depending on what the NFT holders decide, the heroine could be eaten by a sea monster, or she could fight off a group of wolves in the next chapter.
The chapters aren't written until the votes are in, so these decisions genuinely change the story (unlike in the books where we always flip back to page 21 to explore what might happen if we had chosen differently).
Benefit: It's a fun and different way to engage with readers in a collaborative creation process. Readers get to be part of the writing process more than ever before. While possible with patronage sites like Patreon, this isn't an approach to collaborative storytelling that we've really seen before. It also adds some excellent value and utility to the NFTs.
Challenge: The tricky part here is finding the right balance between providing value to the NFT holder and creating the best story possible. If the author has a clear vision of where the story could go in the long run, a strange decision by the NFT holders could derail the whole story.
However, giving NFT holders minimal decisions doesn't keep readers engaged in the participation feedback loop. Another challenge is that this approach requires a lot of community management and a quick turnaround on updates. Writing a chapter on a deadline might keep the author(s) on schedule, but it can also result in increased pressure, burnout, and/or lower quality creativity.
Target Audience: If you loved the CYA books when you were in school or had a lot of opinions on how to improve the ending to Game of Thrones, then a project like this might be perfect for you.
Example: Full disclosure, we minted into Grail NFT on the first day, and we really enjoy the concept (even if we've missed a vote or two). Check it out!
Background: These stories start with characters from already successful NFT projects and retrospectively create stories around them. At a basic level, it's not very different from traditional IP expansion (like when video games get turned into movies).
This approach makes a lot of business sense to capitalize on already successful characters.
Benefit: These projects have an existing invested community in Web3 and are now looking to capitalize on that by putting their characters into other literary, visual, and audio mediums. If they do it right, they can continue to add to their universe in new and exciting ways.
Concerns: The risk is that the stories and books are secondary creative products. If it becomes a situation where the valuable characters are just dropped into random books without much thought, there is no added value, and it can hurt the brand overall.
Target Audience: For creators who have already launched a multi-million dollar NFT campaign and want to expand into books. (PLEASE, get in touch if this is you!)
Examples: Spinning off from the well-known Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT community, the "Jenkins the Valet" project is exciting. We didn't expect much, but they created an interesting literature project around the Bored Ape collection. We will be conducting a deep dive on this project later, so stay tuned.
Description: Story-led NFTs can change the way any illustrated work is created. Graphic novels, comic books, children's books, and potentially non-illustrated books with strong characters can enter this space.
Story-led NFTs are when projects launch artwork for each character with the specific intention of using the characters to create unique worlds and stories.
Imagine owning a first-edition Frodo NFT!
Benefit: The reasons these NFTs are so interesting were highlighted recently in a podcast by StoryPrima DAO (strongly recommended) when they talked about this potentially being the future of intellectual property. This is only possible if the story itself is the primary focus.
Indulge us for a minute as we explain this using a gaming analogy. Some of the biggest criticisms for Play2Earn Web3 games or metaverse worlds are that the games/worlds just aren't FUN. People play to get paid, but it's not a fun game to play.
Newer games are trying to solve this, and I think that some of these story-led NFTs are already there. Everyone loves a good story.
Write a solid story first, and the delivery of the story becomes secondary.
The other reason that this approach is interesting is that it provides "community-vetted feedback."
For example, if a story is published chapter by chapter and the community is wholly engaged while NFT prices are rising, that is an excellent sign that the story connects with the intended audience.
If sales prices of the NFT are dropping quickly, and there isn't engagement in the Discord channels, etc., then perhaps the story isn't resonating, and other creative decisions need to be made to the story itself.
This can potentially prevent a story from being published that won't sell well on Web2. By "vetting" the story first in Web3 with an engaged community, writers and publishers can run a trial balloon for new stories and identify best-sellers before hitting the physical markets.
Concern: Because these stories are developed over time, it will be interesting to see how patient the audience is with these "slow-burn" projects. Some readers will be patient and can wait for each chapter release, whereas others might want more of a Netflix-binge approach.
Target Audience: This is probably best if an author is working on a graphic novel or has a fascinating/unique world (so that an illustrator could make something unforgettable).
Examples: There are too many to dig into here, but a handful that looks really awesome include:
Legends of Cypher: "a blockchain and community-powered storytelling experience about control vs. freedom."
Tales of Elatora: an "NFT story and RPG launching in April 2022. Featuring 22 different animals, each part of Faction carrying unique traits and a specific role. Which side are you on?"
Metazens – "This Story-driven NFT Project will be turned into a Graphic Novel that you can be a part of! Join us!"
Vessels: A "green NFT driven world-building project" with a graphic novel at its core.
Sitka World: This is a well-thought-out, detailed crypto roadmap and tokenomics project. The story and art seem really cool as well.
So now looking at the other side of the map – less on content "creation" and more on content "monetization," i.e., how writers (and potentially readers) are PAID.
Description: NFTs can be characters or serve as access cards to a closed community. In this manner, creators sell their content directly as NFTs. This seems common for poetry NFTs, but is definitely not limited to the poetry genre.
The basic premise is that writers can publish their content, that content can be freely enjoyed by the general public, but if someone wants to officially "collect" the content, they can purchase it as an NFT.
This approach turns accessibility on its head by making all content free to read prior to purchase.
Benefit: This is the most straightforward "entry" into publishing content in the Web3 world. There are a lot of tools that make the creation of NFTs from existing content very quick and easy.
Concern: The "upside" for the NFT collectors/readers is less clear because of the simplicity.
Target Audience: Someone who has easily digestible content ready to share/publish (i.e., poetry, personal essay, etc., rather than a 700-page novel) or who wants to explore the Web3 space a bit. While minting NFTs for purchase is "easy," it's also a practical introduction to the world of Web3.
Examples: This article is an example of a content NFT. The general public can read this article for free, but readers can reward us by minting it as an NFT on this very platform.
The Bella Donna is one of the best examples we've found. Not a book or story like other examples, but it is a "new Web3 publication" filled with "anonymous writing by astonishing women."
Description: NFTs are able to be used as “access tickets” to interact more directly with authors. If a particular NFT is in a users “wallet”, then they will be able to unlock chats, events and more.
Benefits: This allows readers to get more personal access to authors they support while allowing authors to connect with their most passionate and supportive fans.
Concern: This can raise the barrier for “casual” fans who are still exploring an authors work but are not willing to spend money on NFTs for that deeper connection - YET.
Target Audience: Authors that have large audiences and know that they will be able to deliver value during live events or in more exclusive chat forums.
Examples: Laura Shin is offering a “series of 90-minute virtual book clubs” to discuss with her and “21 other readers about the crypto book that has shed a lot of light on the early years of ethereum”
Description: Crowdfunding has been a multibillion-dollar venture for creatives for the past decade. Out of Kickstarter's $6.5B raised, literary projects comprise $442M.
In December 2021, Kickstarter announced plans to transition to blockchain, and creators reacted with a swift and decisive, "Not over my dead body," prompting the company to create an advisory board with creators to provide input on the company's future direction in this space. (Ironically, this type of collaborative input and co-creation is at the heart of what Web3 is all about...)
One implementation of this approach is to sell "shares" (tokens) of the book before it is finalized to pay the creator or help with the book’s production expenses. Then, once the book is finished, they can sell them as NFTs. Any proceeds from the original sale or from secondhand sales will be distributed proportionally to all "token" holders.
For example, imagine if Andy Weir wrote his first draft of The Martian on Web3 instead of a subreddit. Then, his earliest readers would have been able to mint NFTs or get tokens before he became the commercial success he is today. This allows readers to support the storytellers they love and earn a financial benefit for themselves as early adopters.
If you are participating in a story-led NFTs or are part of a writer's DAO/community and you've seen the quality of their work and believe they will be a commercial success, getting in on the ground floor of their brand is a huge asset.
The "I knew her before she was famous" brag won't just be a humble brag over beers, but something that can be reflected in your bank account.
Benefits: Obviously, raising money gives the author significant cash flow to write and publish the book. But the most exciting part of this model is that it allows fans to have a financial incentive for the author's success. There is true value to being an early adopter and someone who reads smaller indie authors who don't have (yet) millions of followers.
Turning every reader into a talent scout for new authors and unique voices can be a massive driver for the democratization of literature.
While this has massive implications for the publishing industry, we need to explore that topic on another day.
Concern: This democratization of talent-scouting up-and-coming writers sounds great, but can quickly turn into a "rich get richer" situation with existing bestselling authors launching their books simultaneously on Web2 and Web3 to make millions of dollars. Newer authors may still struggle to get noticed and paid for their creative works.
At the end of the day, every author HAS to do their own audience building and engagement. There's no shortcut for that, and the authors who did the work in Web2 can massively benefit from that same audience in Web3.
Another concern is the pollution of book reviews by token/NFT holders.
Book reviews are intended to provide an unbiased evaluation of the quality of the literature, story, and content.
If token holders are financially incentivized in the book's success, what stops them from writing glowing book reviews to promote more sales? Platforms like Amazon have algorithms to detect biased or incentivized reviews, but currently, there are no rules in Web3 to prevent that from happening.
Did this book get a 5-star review because the story is fantastic or because the reviewer has 7% of the tokens for the book NFTs? Will Web3 kill book reviews? We simply don't know.
Target Audience: Authors who would have normally explored crowdfunding and wants to go deeper down the Web3 rabbit hole. Readers who always wanted to be book agents.
Emily Segal's novel from last April, which raised 24 ETH (now ~ $75K)
Elle Griffin's novel that she released as individual chapters (i.e., only writing/releasing each chapter after it was funded).
Description: While other emerging business models above focused primarily on individual projects, we want to look at groups trying to "disrupt the billion-dollar publishing industry."
They want to create Web3 native publishing houses that allow writers to engage with their community, drive NFT sales, and retain control over royalty payments.
They also appeal to readers by highlighting some of the financial and creative use cases we've already mentioned.
Benefits: These platforms have made it easy and created an "all-in-one" Web3 literature experience. Investing upfront in the tech and user experience allows writers to focus on writing and community engagement. Readers interested in this space have an easier way of discovering relevant authors.
Concern: The biggest problem is that these platforms might be overpromising what is possible. When some of the most-hyped benefits highlight compensation for resales and better management of royalties, it raises questions for those experienced in the publishing business.
These aren't "bad" things to highlight – they are clear benefits of Web3 literature, but how much financial help can writers (or readers) expect from these use cases?
Target Audience: Authors who have stories ready to go and want to experiment and be early adopters in the space. These platforms allow the author to utilize all aspects of Web3 business models – community building, NFTs, crowdfunding, etc. The author should be passionate about thoroughly exploring everything.
Readl is a place "where content creators and readers can connect, collaborate, trade and enjoy digital stories with full ownership and control over royalties."
Bookverse "is an application that allows users to buy, sell, and trade licensed digital books. With Bookverse, users can obtain common, limited, rare, and autographed editions of their favorite books."
Alexandria Labs – "Bringing Books into the Metaverse"
WIP Publishing – "Crypto-first publishing house helping authors, bring books to the blockchain."
Soltype – "First #Web3 marketplace enabling the creation and trading of literary NFTs. Inspiring the next generation of writing leaders."
CryptoVersal Publishing & NFT Bookstore – "Providing carbon-neutral publishing solutions that empower authors to create Forever Books" and "a literary NFT marketplace for authors, readers, and collectors of Forever Books and Forever Poems to buy, sell, and discover their new favorite reads."
The Platform – "a co-operative publishing platform harnessing Web3 blockchain technology."
Creatokia - “is an NFT platform that makes it possible to buy, trade and collect NFT books, audio books and other literary works as digital originals.”
This area is a bit more crypto-advanced than NFTs, but basically, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations are crypto equivalents of communities that work together for specific purposes.
Some DAOs popped up in our research and could be an interesting next step for interested authors/readers to get more involved in the space.
Page DAO has a "mission to fuel creative literary pursuits in blockchain, the metaverse and beyond" and includes a Writers Guild, a unique Token, and a "self-governing" framework that "works collectively to further our vision to bring Web3 literature to life."
StoryPrima DAO is focused on "harnessing the power of NFTs to create the blockbuster stories of tomorrow" and "help make the journey of other individuals and teams seeking to harness NFTs to drive powerful and enduring storytelling easier. Our goal is to give them tools, resources, and funding to help them develop "built to last" rich, story-oriented NFT projects." Their podcast is also a pioneer in the space.
Advants is a “collective of authors using Web3 tools”
Obviously, there are a lot of really great people who are building and/or thinking in this space. We've probably only scratched the surface, so let us know if there is anyone we've missed. We've mentioned a number of them already, but some that we have found so far (in no particular order) that we can recommend are:
This isn't technically "Web3 literature", but Yoko Fomo NFTs are Web3, and they do feature books. So good enough for us. This is "an open collection of digital illustrations of readers inspired by famous literary characters" who are "spreading the joy of reading through NFTs."
And that's all we have for now. We didn't expect this to end up at around 4,000 words, but that's what going down the Web3 rabbit hole can do to you.
If you read through this entire piece, you win all of the Web3 karma points.
If you have any thoughts on this analysis or have suggestions for future deep dives, say hi to Jon on Twitter @Jonny_Stockholm or give us permission to chat via email and get our future analyses of Web3 and literature in your inbox here.
Lisa Ferland is a crowdfunding consultant, a children's book author, and is formerly known as an infectious disease epidemiologist. You can find her work at:
Jonathan Ferland works in an innovation hub and thinks about how emerging business models and technologies will affect legacy industries. He looks into Web3Lit in his spare time.