In december I wrote an article about the future of ebooks under the title “Bitbooks, Should ebooks be a bit more like Bitcoin?”
So somehow we need an open standard and open platforms and an open system of rights management. Not the rights management we know, but a simple user-friendly system to transfer ownership to someone else. And then it hit me, even though I don’t know a lot about Bitcoin, I must admit that, I know enough to wonder if ebooks shouldn’t be more like Bitcoins? Bitbooks? Ebooks that you own, that are unique and can safely be transferred peer-to-peer to someone else. Is that a crazy idea? I’m not sure.
This week the always worth while reading e-book-news.de had an interesting interview with Alexander Weinmann of Lyrx Books. Lynx Books is exploring just this idea. A peer-to-peer, blockchain-based ebook trade. This to me is proof of the fact that ebook technology is indeed only starting and not already over the hill. We can expect some very interesting developments in the coming years.
But then again, after reading the interview and taking a look at the website of Lyrx Books, I am under the impression that this idea of combining blockchain technology with ebooks still has a long way to go. The major two issues to me seem to be complexity and adoption.
Anybody who has taken a look at blockchain technology knows that it isn’t simple and my personal feeling is that it is too complicated for most people. It may be my lack of knowledge of this field of technology, but I am a bit of a nerd and I did take a serious look at blockchain technology. I found it quite hard to understand it all. That alone made me think. I know I’m not the smartest person in the world, but also not one of the dumbest. If I feel intimidated by blockchain technology, won’t others feel the same? Which took me to the conclusion that an ebook blockchain technology will probably only succeed if it is simple. If the interface is so obvious that anybody can join without feeling perplexed.
The other issue seems to me adoption. You can invent this cool ebook blockchain technology, but if you have no books to sell it will go nowhere. Right now ebook licenses are very restrictive and one major problem seems to me the fact that you don’t own ebooks at all. You are only granted the right to read the ebook you purchased. So, a new ebook blockchain peer-to-peer platform will have to deal with licenses. If publishers come onboard the ebook blockchaintrain and change their licenses to accommodate this new technology, then it could become a success. But will they? One could argue that making it legal to transfer reading rights is enough, but even then, I guess it would need major changes to ebook licenses.
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see such a change, but I think that it would need broad adoption from publishers to succeed. In this sense it is more that just a technological problem. It also is an economic and a legal problem. How is a startup from Switzerland going to succeed? How is it going to convince publishers to join this exciting new development? What incentive is there for publishers to join? I can think of one. Price. If a customer is enabled to legally resell an ebook I could live with the fact that I would pay a higher price for a bitbook than I would for a “normal” ebook. A normal ebook has no economic value after you’ve bought it. You can read the book and be entertained or become wiser than before, but you can’t legally resell it. With bitbooks you can and to me that justifies a higher selling price. Will that be enough for publishers to join? I don’t know. I’m too much of a novice in the publishing industry to be able to judge this. I guess it also depends on the technology and my first point. If the interface is so obvious that everybody gets it, I guess that would make it a lot easier.
Another elephant in the room is the fact that the current ebook platforms are quite closed. Why would Amazon want to join this effort? My guess is they won’t. We would need an open ebook platform to start with to make all this legally possible. I feel that I’m not qualified to make an educated guess how plausible this all is. On the other hand, it’s not forbidden to think about this. However this works out, these are exciting times for sure.