(This speech was presented by Giacomo D’Angelo at the IPA Annual Seminar in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 14, 2019)
I’m Giacomo D’Angelo, CEO at StreetLib.com.
First, I want to thank you the International Publishers Association and the Kenyan Publishers Association for the invitation. I am really honored to be here today, thanks for having me.
I grew up in Italy, lucky enough to be surrounded by books, and got my first computer when I was 12. My career as a software developer was set in motion as I discovered the internet.
The Internet was a beautiful place at the beginning: it was made by a set of open technologies and protocols that anybody can use, reuse, and mix together without constraints and limitations.
The HTTP, SMTP, FTP, all these open protocols were made available to build better communication tools for everybody. For instance, you could have chosen the SMTP open protocol to start building a new email service for everybody to use over the Internet.
No constraints. No borders. No control. No limits. The Internet was born to be open, borderless and democratic.
But along the way something changed.
Decentralization gave way to centralization. Some very smart companies started to arise with their own proprietary technology stack and they were able to amass an incredible amount of power in just a few years.
FAANG is an acronym for the market’s five most popular and best-performing tech stocks, namely Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet’s Google.
Our society leverages the Internet to fulfill most of its basic needs, and these companies control it. They control how we buy stuff, how we socialize, what are we interested in, what we eat, what we watch, what we listen and what we read.
Somehow these companies deserved their success because they have changed the way we live, the way we work and the way we enjoy our free time. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes Not.
Centralization was also a predictable phase, and one StreetLib was created to help counter.
StreetLib is a publishing facilitator and global gateway distributor of ebooks, audiobooks, and pod-books for publishers big and small. From 2006.
From the beginning we advocated to our publishers and authors a policy of “going wide”, getting the benefits of the big corporations but avoiding being dependent on them.
With StreetLib, publishers can upload all their books and send them out to hundreds of retailers and subscription services and tens of thousands of libraries around the globe. StreetLib does all the heavy lifting of managing the books catalog and metadata, of dealing with the retail partners, and of paying out revenues to publishers at the end of each month.
Then the question is: Doesn’t StreetLib represent another level of centralization? Yes, it does!
So, why should authors and publishers trust StreetLib?
Trust is the keyword of our times.
Trust is the new emerging property in the open blockchain networks.
Blockchain networks are new types of networks where the unique capability is trust between users, developers, and the platform itself. This trust emerges from the mathematical and game-theoretic properties of the system, without depending on the trustworthiness of individual network participants.
In an era in which the internet is increasingly controlled by a handful of large tech incumbents, it’s more important than ever to create the right economic conditions for developers, creators, and entrepreneurs.
Trust also enables new kinds of governance where communities collectively make important decisions about how networks evolve, what behaviors are permitted, and how economic benefits are distributed.
Today, any organizations in the world need to be able to operate on the Internet to be competitive and relevant in their marketplace. Likewise, in the near future any organizations need to operate as an open blockchain network if they want to stay in business.
You won’t trust “StreetLib the company” anymore in 10 years. You’ll trust “StreetLib the network”.
Looking at what’s happening today, the first example of this is money. Nowadays we use banks and other financial institutions to manage money.
StreetLib, like any other organizations in the world, works on top of the traditional financial system to operate with their customers.
If, for instance, a Kenyan publisher uses StreetLib to publish his digital book on Amazon, then StreetLib receives the proceeds from the book sales from Amazon, and then StreetLib pays royalties to the publisher via bank transfer, Paypal, Western Union or Payoneer, according to his will.
These payment methods involve high fees and delays because there are many legacy layers involved in the payment process.
While the rise of a financial crisis in 2008 highlighted some of the risks associated with the traditional banking system, 2008 was also the birth year of Bitcoin — the first cryptocurrency to be created.
In contrast to fiat currencies, such as the US dollar or British pound, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are decentralized, which means they are not controlled by a national government or central bank. Instead, the creation of new coins is determined by a predefined set of rules — by the protocol.
Bitcoin is open, public, borderless, neutral and censorship resistant.
Bitcoin is The Internet of Money.
Suddenly, money becomes information and can be exchanged across borders in a peer to peer fashion, quickly and inexpensively, with no central control and no renter fees.
Another great example of this technology (even if not as good as Bitcoin, imho) is the Stellar technology, which has been built to create very efficient borderless digital payment railways, and on top of which a group of very smart people in Nigeria built a blockchain company called SureRemit.
In March, StreetLib partnered with SureRemit to offer to authors and publishers an alternative to those expensive traditional payment transfer options.
SureRemit uses the blockchain and the Remit token (RMT) to facilitate global payments, allowing StreetLib authors and publishers worldwide to be paid instantly with negligible fees, even if they have no bank account and no access to Paypal.
In a world where almost 50% of the adult population does not have bank accounts, SureRemit enfranchises more people to participate in the global digital economy!
Users of the SureRemit app receive the RMT token in their in-app wallet and the RMT can then be spent on leading brand vouchers/gift cards to purchase groceries, clothing, medicines, school fees, mobile top-ups, pay bills and more.
And from today, they can use the RMT tokens to buy books and audiobooks in the StreetLib Store!
But let’s try to open up a bit our vision now, in order to understand how this technology can impact the Book Industry at different levels.
Most blockchains function as a distributed ledger that records and protects digital data through the use of cryptography.
The decentralized network can be configured as a transparent database, visible by all participants, and this provides the ability to create a distributed and immutable registries.
As such, authors and publishers can leverage them to produce a trail of records for all their publishing activities. They can create timestamped proofs of existence and ownership for any books, and they can register the cryptographic fingerprint of the book in a publicly verifiable and immutable ledger.
Availability and affordable local pricing: these are the two keywords to help solving the piracy problem in the book industry.. And this technology will play a key role on books copyrights protection and piracy issues.
Furthermore, blockchain technology can be used to create a platform where authors and publishers have an immutable and transparent record of who is buying, reading or listening to their content. Such a platform can also facilitate payments through smart contracts — which are basically self-executing digital contracts.
Right now we have to accept on trust that the number of digital books a retailer tells us have been sold is correct. Or there’s the number of pages read or hours listened to in a subscription service. Not to question the integrity of any service, of course, but how can we know for sure what happens to our digital products?
Blockchain ledger accounting can solve these problems by simultaneously offering transparency and security.
Thanks to this technology, both the content provider and the dispenser can simultaneously see how much of what has been consumed, and payments can be collected from consumers to content providers the same day.
Isn’t this revolutionary? It is, and we’ll see it happens in the foreseeable future.
It’s never easy to predict the future. And it’s not easy to predict how and when the technologies I talked about today will be rolled out in our beloved book market.
But there’s no IF: this technology is coming up.
What StreetLib is doing with SureRemit is still very little. This technology will allow us to make the Book Market more open, more democratic, more accessible, more secure, and more efficient. So, we’re still scratching the surface here.
It’s really important that we’re talking about these topics here in Nairobi, because I believe emerging countries — like Kenya — are the ones that will benefit the most from this technology. Thanks to open blockchain networks we can create systems to enable any author or publisher, truly anywhere in the world, to have their work available, to any reader and listener truly anywhere in the world.
An impossible dream in the pre-digital books era.
An impossible dream even today, in this corporations-driven digital books era, where they have not enough economic interests in most of the emerging countries. But digital books will eventually become unstoppable.
I see a future where Africa’s publishers and authors have a friction-free ride.
With 474 million Africans online today, rising to 800 million in the next decade, the digital opportunity in the African Publishing World has never been more exciting.