“The inmates are taking over the asylum.”

-Richard Rowland, head of Metro Pictures, upon hearing about the plan to form United Artists in 1919

Originally posted to GitHub on Aug 13, 2015

Nearly 100 years ago, Charlie Chaplin and a number of other independent artists decided to harness their combined star power and form a new distribution company so that they could better control their own futures. They understood that as long as others controlled the distribution of their motion pictures, they would not be truly free as artists.

Today, as technology has driven down the cost of making powerful works of art, from music to feature films, to be within reach of more people than ever before, we are reminded of the importance of controlling one’s own distribution. iTunes and YouTube allow more artists to share their work with the world than one could have possibly dreamed just a generation ago, but do their artists have any control over their own content?

In order for a content creator to try to earn a living from the work they publish on YouTube, they must force their audience to watch ads, creating a less than satisfying experience for their audience, and they must split their revenue 55/45 with YouTube. iTunes pays out 70% to artists, but applies “one-size fits all” pricing to purchases. Spotify and Apple Music attempt to add convenience for end users by providing unlimited streaming subscriptions, but again, they use “one size fits all” pricing, and do nothing to reward independent artists for encouraging their audience to listen to their music on one particular platform or another, as their pay-outs are based on the platforms total subscription income and each artist’s relative popularity to all other artists on the platform. In other words, if an independent artist announces during a live show that their music can be found on Spotify, and 10 people in the crowd sign up for the service, listening exclusively to that band 50 times each month, $99.90 in revenue is generated for Spotify per month; $29.97 goes to Spotify, the band receives about $3.50 (at $0.007 per song, Spotify’s average payout), and the remaining $66.43 goes to the most popular artists on the platform, even though these 10 new Spotify users listened only to their favorite independent bands.

Introducing the Decentralized Library of Alexandria, or how artists can do business directly with their audience over the internet.

By harnessing some extremely powerful decentralized networking technologies, Alexandria will be able to offer artists an incredible new level of control over how their work is distributed and how it is monetized. Alexandria’s primary library index is stored in a decentralized, permissionless and uncensorable database called a blockchain, which means there is no corporation or government that maintains control over it — it is controlled by (the collective will of) everyone and no one (individually) at the same time. Alexandria provides peer-to-peer micropayments between audiences and content creators using another blockchain, Bitcoin, which means that an artist can set the price of their content however they see fit, and they must be beholden to no one else in order to receive payments from their fans. Alexandria’s file storage and distribution relies on a third decentralized network, IPFS (the Interplanetary File System). Based on hyper efficient peer to peer technology similar to Bittorrent, which allows pirated content to be distributed at no cost, IPFS allows artists to control exactly how available their content is, at dramatically lower cost than Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) that rely on significantly less efficient distribution technology.

The final result of bringing these technologies together is a platform that allows artists an incredible level of control of the business relationship they have with their audience and their own individual vendors. For example, a band may chose to let end users stream their songs at $0.01 each play, purchase super high quality FLAC versions for $1.25 each, and even discount purchase prices by previous paid-for plays. Or a filmmaker may chose to let end users watch their trailers for free and charge $8 per play of their film for the first month of it’s release, and then reduce the price to $3 per play thereafter, while also allowing their biggest fans to buy it once and watch it as many times as they wish for $20.

Those users who are actively playing a piece of content, or who have purchased it, can then share the file itself with other users who have purchased a play or download of the file. For a particularly popular piece of media, like a top of the charts pop album, a newly released feature film, or the most recent full season of a Netflix-release style tv series, this hyper efficient file sharing technology means that the publisher will bear no cost at all for distribution. For other pieces of media which don’t quite reach this threshold, artists can offer cryptocurrency payments to other users who are offering to provide file redundancy and distribution of their content. End users can be paid a few cents per gigabyte of hard drive space per year, and content creators pay a few dollars per gigabyte of content per year, a balance that results in end-users earning idle income from their computers’ available storage space that offsets their content consumption costs; with incredibly affordable pricing for artists (we estimate that an HD feature film will cost ~$0.75 per year, and a lossless quality music album will cost about $.30 a year).

Some artists are already popular enough that simply announcing a new album or film will drive audiences to check it out, others may need some extra help from others. Alexandria allows content creators to opt-in to a “promoters” program and decide exactly how much they wish to pay out for promotions. For example, a filmmaker may chose to give 15% of their sales to those that help them widen their audience with their social media graphs. The program works similarly to Amazon’s affiliates system; promoters use a custom link to spread the piece of content via social media, blogs, their website, even their own custom applications, and any time a payment is made through that link, 15% goes to the promoter, and 85% goes to the artist. Because artists can chose any percent to award, or even opt out of the program entirely, they can chose exactly how much financial reward they wish to offer to best suit their particular level of need.

End users of Alexandria get a platform very similar to those they are already accustomed to, but better, faster and cheaper. For those who wish to stay in complete control of their money, the application allows them to deposit Bitcoin into their local wallet, which is then metered out by their use. For those who wish to have the convenience of credit and debit cards, Alexandria will offer a number of traditional payment processing methods for weekly or monthly prepaid amounts, which is then converted into Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies in the background as needed by their content consumption and publishing habits. End users chose exactly how much to have their credit or debit cards charged each month, scaling the amount up or down according to how much content is available in Alexandria and how much they individually consume, and have complete control over any left over balances at the end of each period; they may chose to roll their balance over to the next period, or tip it out to all of the artists whose work they enjoyed that period, including those who did not put a price on their content but are happy to receive tips (cat videos that give us a good chuckle and podcasts that enrich our brains are a great example of this kind of media).

Alexandria does away with “one size fits all” pricing schemes for both artists and end users, dramatically lowers content creators’ costs, allows them to ask for more reasonable prices than they’re currently stuck with and let their market be their guide, and lets them share their content through any medium they chose; in Alexandria’s desktop and mobile applications, on its web gateway at alexandria.io, on their own blogs, over social media platforms or even through their own custom applications. And by relying on end users to provide promotions, file distribution, payment processing and the security of it’s “central” database, Alexandria also allows end users to earn idle income in exchange for supporting their favorite artists. Truly a win-win for all involved.

And like the artists that formed UA nearly 100 years ago, Alexandria will be partially owned by the artists that use it for distribution — we are awarding 15% of its ownership, control and profits to the artists who publish over the next 18 months, helping to solve the chicken and egg problem in which audiences go where their favorite artists can be found, but artists lack incentive to publish on platforms where audiences don’t yet exist. Together, we can change how media is published, paid for and distributed over the internet and offer artists more empowerment than ever before possible.