Book.io’s CEO Josh Stone is a publishing startup veteran, having launched BookShout in 2012 and running it for two years before selling the company to an investor. He went on to build an online learning platform on behalf of two authors. Then, in 2017, Stone began to delve deep into blockchain and cryptocurrencies, leading to this new venture, which he launched in 2022—originally under the name Book Token—with cofounder Ben Illian (who also worked alongside him at BookShout).
Book.io describes itself as “an NFT marketplace for buying, reading, and selling e-books and audiobooks” (though, thus far, it has only published e-books). The blockchain infrastructure enables a broad range of benefits for authors (and by extension publishers), book buyers, and, to a lesser extent, readers. Authors are able to build new revenue streams via limited edition NFTs, and by gaining a percentage of the revenue when their digital work is resold. The blockchain also affords unique ways to build reader communities.
Authors and publishers can take advantage of Book.io’s unique “decentralized encrypted assets,” which create a style of DRM that’s essentially unbreakable. The company is also launching “$BOOK tokens,” a unique cryptocurrency that is earned by readers based solely on the amount read—a way to incentivize readers to become more deeply involved with authors and their work.
Ingram Content Group chairman John Ingram was on the board at BookShout, and that connection eventually led to the company’s investment in this new startup, part of the more than $1.6 million that Book.io has raised. The Ingram investment is tied, in part, to another unique Book.io feature, dubbed Mint & Print—a print-on-demand service for digital books bought on Book.io and delivered via Ingram’s vast international infrastructure. In commenting on the investment, Ingram Content Group president and CEO Shawn Morin said Books.io “naturally aligns with the global reach of our business and our mission to provide the infrastructure and services necessary to help content reach its destination, from content creators to consumers.”
Book.io has already published (or, rather, “minted” in the parlance of the world of NFTs) 12 titles, and all have sold out, some in as few as 11 seconds. First up was a replica of the Gutenberg Bible. It was, Stone explained, “an homage to Gutenberg: something monumental to start with—over 800,000 words—with 70 high-resolution images. Every cover was unique.” It was published in mid-July, at an initial price of 180 ADA (the native currency of the Cardano blockchain, currently trading for about 37¢ each); 1,600 copies have been sold. “On the first day we generated $110,000 in sales within 12 hours,” Stone said, adding that the company is already profitable.
The Gutenberg was followed by what Stone calls the “monster series,” including titles like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (49 ADA) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (39 ADA). After the monsters, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, published October 8, was priced at 100 ADA in an edition of 400 copies. These are now available on Jpg.store—which bills itself as “the largest Cardano NFT marketplace”—at prices ranging from 400 ADA to more than 100,000 ADA. Copy #17 has been resold twice, most recently for 1,200 ADA, upward of $500.
To get a better understanding of how this works, let’s follow an author’s path on Book.io. Gina Azzi has written 27 romance novels in a specialized category, “sports romance.” Her upcoming publication on Book.io is titled Hot Shot’s Mistake: A Workplace Hockey Romance, the first in her Tennessee Thunderbolts Hockey Romance series. The Book.io version of Hot Shot’s Mistake will contain the exact same text as the Kindle edition, but it will feature 10 different AI-generated covers, each one, Azzi pointed out, “illustrating a different point in the book that holds special emotional significance.” The book will be minted on October 24, in an edition of 3,000. The pricing will be about 25 ADA.
Now let’s follow the book buyer’s path on Book.io. To purchase a digital book, a consumer needs to first convert some dollars into Cardano blockchain ADA. Cardano is an alternative to Bitcoin and Ethereum, and like those currencies its value has recently taken a nosedive, dropping by more than 80% in the past year, nearly 25% in the past month. It adds an exciting element to the book buying equation. To buy ADA, a person needs to register on a cryptocurrency exchange platform as well as with a “light” wallet vendor that connects to something called dApps. With that done, users can buy a book on Book.io.
Stone said he is committed to simplifying the process for book buyers until it reaches a point where, as he says, his mother can buy and read a book on the company’s digital platform. While he still has some way to go to get his mom onboard, the company’s technical command inspires confidence that the goal can be reached.
Azzi is excited as she prepares her first book launch. “I do think this is going to become much more mainstream,” she said. “It can sound scary. But Book.io does a great job of bridging where we’re currently at with where things are headed.”
Editor's note: After this story was written, Book.io announced it had received an investment from BDMI, the venture capital arm of Bertelsmann.