Publishing in the Age of Blockchain


Lost in the often exuberant hyperbole surrounding the potential of blockchain is the fact that blockchain is a ‘foundational’ technology similar to the internet protocol (TCP/IP) which governs all our web activities today.  Thus, blockchain is still in its infancy with respect to the applications which will eventually be built on top of it.  Setting your bitcoins aside, it is useful to think of block chain today as TCP/IP, circa 1980, and to moderate expectations accordingly. And while bitcoin gets much of the attention, there is more to the story as The Economist ( recently pointed out:

“Bitcoin itself may never be more than a curiosity. However blockchains have a host of other uses because they meet the need for a trustworthy record, something vital for transactions of every sort. Dozens of startups now hope to capitalise on the blockchain technology, either by doing clever things with the bitcoin blockchain or by creating new blockchains of their own.”

One of those ‘clever’ applications has been the development of browser-based ‘e-wallets’ which are beginning to show promise in alleviating one of the content industry’s most intractable problems.  Micro payments for content remains problematic in today’s web environment; however, use cases now exist in several content verticals which solve this ‘problem’ and enable profitable transactions even when the cost for an individual content item is very low.  Applications like Brave ( show the e-commerce potential of the trading, selling or licensing of any type of content with very small transaction values, all using blockchain technology.

In my 2016 predictions post (, I suggested we would see the adoption of blockchain solutions in the publishing industry.  I specifically noted how blockchain could be used to identify copyright information and form the basis for a new way to buy, sell or license content. As I said then,

“Blockchain can be used to facilitate the transfer of intellectual property from one owner to another.  Bitcoins are ‘tokens’ that represent money and are exchanged on the blockchain network.  But there is no reason why a ‘token’ couldn’t represent some other specific item of value, such as a book or an article or a business case.  Once a transaction occurs, the user is supplied with a unique key for accessing the content.  If the user subsequently wants to sell or lend the item, they pass their unique key to the next person for their use.  This process eliminates the ‘residual’ copy issue which arises when someone tries to sell a second-hand e-file.

Ultimately, a network of “bitRights” ™ could represent a universal content repository or bazaar/market where rights and content could be exchanged or bought, traded and sold.  In addition, this aggregation would also generate significant user data and analytics to inform future pricing, content/topic areas, distribution models and a host of other benefits which currently get lost in the very inefficient rights and copyright clearance process we have today. Recently, Ascribe received $2mm in seed capital to establish a blockchain product for artwork.”

Applications and use cases of blockchain in publishing are gaining momentum.  I see four primary areas where solutions based on blockchain technology are developing – together with some current examples:

Peer review & authoritative journal copy process:

ARTiFacts (  has deployed a collaborative platform that allows researchers to register their discoveries and provide and receive attribution on an immutable blockchain ledger ( is a blockchain protocol where written content can be timestamped using the Bitcoin blockchain and be discoverable along with important metadata

Mediachain ( is a peer-to-peer, decentralized database for sharing information across applications and organizations (company was recently acquired by Spotify)

Licensing, contracts & royalty accounting: 

Publica ( uses blockchain technology to enable direct transactions between authors and readers and enables any author, publisher, bookstore, book reader, institution, individual or business to use its own private digital keys to sell, buy, trade, lend or give digital books, or print them locally as paper books

DE Decent ( is a content distribution platform that is open-source and utilizes blockchain to ensure trust and security

Katalysis ( develops software based on smart contract blockchain technology aimed to help the publishing industry with the transition from offline to online

LBRY ( is building the ultimate content distribution protocol. This protocol combines blockchain, P2P data distribution and good old fashioned applications, to provide the first direct-to-audience distribution pipeline without middlemen

SoundCloud ( is the world’s leading social sound platform where anyone can create sounds and share them easily everywhere, either privately with their friends or publicly

BandCamp ( is a thriving, global community where fans discover new music and directly support the artists who make it

Micro transaction payments:

Blendle ( all articles from major newspapers and magazines in one place, behind one paywall, where users only pay for the articles they read

Brave ( developed Brave Payments solution to enable profitable small dollar value payments to publishers

Coinetize ( enables instant payments down to fractions of a cent ( is a blockchain-based rewards platform for publishers to monetize content and grow community

Database, catalog & information publishing:

Everipedia ( just received $30mm to create a rival to Wikipedia based on the blockchain

GemOS ( companies to discover and share disparate data tied to unique identifiers

This space is changing rapidly and new companies and initiatives are launched frequently.  As I noted in my post two years ago, I believe the most interesting application of blockchain will be in the management of intellectual property.  I’ve long believed that ‘transaction’ criteria should be passed along with the content item and coupled with a capacity to manage micro-transactions, and process/application based on blockchain achieves this.  Blockchain will revolutionize the ownership and distribution of content across all industries and will have a profound impact on collecting agencies, software providers, publishers and content aggregators.  That said, it is important to recognize that blockchain is still in its infancy: The impact of this technology may seem incremental at first, until it isn’t.  Stay tuned.


Note; NFAIS held a recent conference on blockchain in scholarly publishing – more info here. (


Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at for project work or executive roles.