Blockchain and the Future of Publishing

In the last six months, the term “blockchain” has been cropping up in publishing conversations — at the London Book Fair, as well as this year’s STM Conference and Book Industry Study Group annual meeting. As these conversations occur, it is becoming clear that to many publishers the term is as foreign as “metadata” once was, with publishers unclear as to if and how this technology will impact their business. In our series on blockchain, we thought it might be helpful to start by taking a step back and defining what blockchain is, before sharing how it can change publishing for the better.

Blockchain is a decentralized, digitized series of information blocks shared in a peer-to-peer network. Each block includes information from the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data, all providing a unique and unalterable chain of information. Blockchain is the technology behind the popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin, and, for the publishing industry, it could change the way business is transacted by helping solve many of the issues currently plaguing publishers, from rights management to piracy.

This is true not only for the scholarly publishing community, but independent, trade, journal, magazine, and any other kind of content publishing. Because blockchain technology is decentralized and secure, the most practical, long-term impact of its use in publishing will be to allow researchers, members of a publishing house, writers and publishers to work on the same platform at the same time, providing their individual input and ensuring universal access and secure collaboration. Blockchain allows all parties to work at the same time, see what changes have been made, and have those changes attributed to the appropriate party.

One of the key ways that it can become immediately useful is through digital rights management. A time-consuming and difficult job for the licensor is tracking down ownership, permissions costs, and locating an appropriate person to speak to about licensing content and photos. For the licensee, it is often a challenge to accurately track usage of content once access has been granted, meaning potential lost financial opportunity.

Through blockchain management of rights, content can be embedded with rights information, and smart contracts can be created that allow for easy sharing, licensing, and usage. For publishers, this will increase revenue not only through automating the rights information and freeing up staff to do other high-level work, but also by helping keep track of important contractual components including monies due and rights availability. As demand for more granular rights increase, this type of technology will be even more vital for proficiency with sales transactions, tracking, and reporting, and ultimately to the publisher’s bottom line.

Because of these advances and their opportunities for publishers, we are currently implementing blockchain into the next version of our workflow management system, PageMajik, to continue to improve the free flow of information into the marketplace by easing the workflow constraints and reducing many time-consuming tasks in the publishing value chain. To users of PageMajik, their workflow will not be impacted but their work will be much more secure. By improving these systems and giving writers and publishers the ability to easily write and publish their work, we hope to help change the future of publishing.

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