A half-baked idea: NFT for writers

NFTs are for artists. They should be for writers, too. Here's what needs to happen first:

A half-baked idea: NFT for writers

It's an exciting time to make things on the internet.

Writers, long subject to the whims of social media algorithms and shriveling media companies, have never had more opportunities to be fairly compensated for their work. And maybe, just maybe, there is yet another opportunity on the horizon: NFTs.

NFTs, or "Non Fungible Tokens" allow digital items to be “owned” and tracked via blockchain. People are mostly using this to make, buy, and trade digital artwork. See this “painting” for auction, as an example. The New York Times recently covered a more notable NFT purchase here. For the first time, we can prove who owns something digitally, and transfer that ownership in a traceable way.

As exciting as NFT art is to artists, a similar opportunity may await writers, editors, and publishers. But, the infrastructure and tools are not quite there.

This is a post that is really a wishlist of sorts. These are the kinds of things that would need to happen before NFTs can gain a foothold with writers, editors, and media companies.

Note: I'm new to this whole NFT thing. Please let me know if there are any errors in this post!

A better way to collaborate with other writers, on any marketplace

As I write this, there is no way of collaborating on an NFT and ensuring that royalties are split in perpetuity. Cargo offers split royalties, but only if the NFT is sold on its marketplace. Part of the promise of NFTs is it can untether the dependence creators have on platforms and marketplaces. I’ve seen some evidence on Github that this is on the mind of others, though there is no way of splitting royalties on any marketplace, present or future.

This mechanism won’t only allow for multiple authors, it will allow for publications. As my buddy Tom Critchlow wrote in Tokenized Essays, there is an entirely new opportunity for bundling.

Ten writers could release regular “issues” for a price, and as people collect those issues the writers would continue to receive a small piece of every purchase and repurchase. The shared interest of the writers would enable some fascinating marketing strategies where what benefits the individual benefits the whole publication and vice versa. Writers would continue to “own” their work long after publication — something only afforded to the highest profile writers in the current media environment.

Much like there are loose confederations of people in “creator” houses, the NFT publication could be a short-term collaboration or the start of a lasting brand — like Every.

Your wallet needs to be your “bookshelf”

There is a public and private aspect to collecting NFTs. Let’s start with the public. Much like there are nascent efforts for collectors to showcase their NFT art via 3d "galleries," we need similar efforts for the written word.

A cool part about crypto wallets is you can look up anything about any wallet via a service like Etherscan. Look, this one has more than $1,000,000 USD In Ether!

I should be able to query any wallet and also see some sort of representation of all of the books, magazines, essays, and blog posts that they own — either as an author or as a collector.  

Part of the fun of owning a home is finally getting space to curate your personal library. Browsing someone’s bookshelf is a window into their character. There hasn’t been an online equivalent since the days of del.icio.us. Imagine a “blogroll” for 2021 where you can peep what your favorite people are collecting and reading. Curating your media diet can become a status symbol of sorts.

Your wallet needs to also be your “reader”

A difference between art and the written word: the written word is meant to be consumed. It’s no good “owning” five blog posts from some of your favorite writers if you have to port them to some other service to read them.

Imagine your wallet as a “headless” reader and various wallet UIs will offer different approaches at interfaces. It’s the RSS reader reborn, but with revenue going to the writers you love.

A way to "gate" premium content

I graduated from college with a journalism degree in 2008. And since then there has been an elusive dream of "micropayments" helping fund journalism. The idea was that you'd kick a dollar or two to every article you read and everyone would be happy.

History didn't work out that way, but with crypto wallets, frictionless paywalls and micropayments become more possible than ever before. There needs to be a way to create an NFT where a reader can pay a small amount to access, thus "owning" a copy of the content.

This doesn't have to just be small, ahem, token amounts for news articles. Writers could also work for much more premium NFT essays, novels, comic books, and collector's editions with limited edition runs. A writer could even team up with an artist and offer limited edition covers — but then again, there's that collaboration problem again.

John Palmer did a version of this using the Mirror platform as crowdfunding play. However, access remained open to all readers.

A way to post anonymously

Part of the fun of crypto is the removal of real-world identity from your wallet ID. NFT could enable whistleblowers, journalists, dissidents, and others to receive compensation for their work and be totally outside the reach of any nationstate or corporation. It would be like Wikileaks but with a direct financial incentive.

Lower "gas" prices

Every transition on the Ethereum blockchain costs "gas." At the time of this writing, gas prices are $400 for a single transition.

Cool cool cool

That's untenable for a solo writer to pay every time they publish. However, if gas prices remain high, publications could cover this fee for writers as an "advance." But given that spinning up a WordPress site is free, that seems unlikely.

I write this not only as a wishlist but, hopefully, as a flag in the ground. If you are thinking about these concepts (or maybe have solved them already) please let me know.

The economics of the web only change once a decade or so, and with any luck, this next version of the internet will finally, mercifully, empower the individual writers.