In the wake of changes to Canada’s fair use copyright laws, Access Copyright, the company tasked with collecting fees for content licensing in Canada, has seen revenue from reuse rights decline steadily for several years running. In reaction, Access Copyright has poured resources into Prescient Innovation, an affiliated company that has been working on blockchain solutions for publishing, and Prescient’s first commercial product, Fanship, will be launched in beta before the end of the year.

Fanship is a cross between an e-bookstore and a social network for publishers, authors, and readers. “The idea is to facilitate [peer-to-peer] selling,” says Roanie Levy, CEO of both Access Copyright and of Prescient. “It will be what we call a fan activation platform that uses blockchain to track all transactions. The idea is that creators can upload and sell e-books and have greater transparency and control over their interactions with customers. They might offer a percentage to read for free to build their audience and then have the entire book unlocked for a fee. Then—and here’s where the name comes from—if a fan likes the book, they can recommend it to friends and family and be rewarded in return.”

This is just one of the business models Prescient plans to experiment with. The idea, Levy says, is to try to see what the full potential is for using a blockchain attributed ledger to facilitate transactions. “With Fanship, creators can, for example, divvy up payments to stakeholders,” she notes. “A portion might go to the author, the jacket designer, the copy editor, etc.” Fans who buy or recommend the book might receive additional bonuses, such as credits for more purchases, or a sneak preview of the author’s next work.

“Initially, we see this as appealing to both traditional publishers and indie authors,” says Levy, who believes publishers will find the platform attractive on a number of levels, especially given the security and confidence that blockchain affords.

Levy says blockchain will be transformative for publishing, particularly when it comes to ensuring that those who hold rights to works are given their legal due, whether that means merely respecting territorial rights or ensuring payment. “Right now we are working on a system of blind trust, requiring every digital service to do their own rights attribution,” she adds. “I am determined that the writing and publishing sector be active in the development of Web 3.0, rather than sitting back and waiting for things to evolve. Having a database of rights information connected to the web itself will shift the governance back toward the rights holders and industry players.”

Partying in Milan Promotes Sales

In Milan, Bookabook is another company that is working to recruit readers as marketers. “We hope to turn readers from customers to protagonists who have a role in the in the life of the book, from publication to promotion,” says cofounder Tomaso Greco. Launched in 2014, Bookabook uses crowdfunding to generate preorders for books, and it then publishes any title with 200 or more preorders under its own imprint. “The aim is to create a community around the book first and then sell it,” Greco adds.

The company, which has its books distributed to bookstores through Messaggerie Libri, is picking up momentum. In its first four years, it published 70 titles total, but last year alone it put out 50 titles. More authors were attracted to the platform once it had a demonstrable bestseller: Papà, van Basten e altri supereroi (Dad, van Basten and Other Superheroes) by Eduardo Maturo, a book of stories about the stars of the AC Milan soccer team told as bedtime fairy tales; it sold 10,000 copies. Another of Bookabook’s titles, In attesa degli altri trasmettiamo musica da ballo’ (While We Wait, We Broadcast Dance Music) by Melusa Kosgran, about a young boy who dreams of becoming a bicycle-racing champion, has also proven popular; Greco expects sales to exceed 8,000 copies.

Another important promotional tool has been the Bookabook’s annual party in Milan in June, the Long Night of the Readers, where the company offers food, drink, and music while pitching the service, selling books, and interacting with fans. “This June was the third time we had the party and more than 2,000 people came,” Greco says. “I knew we were getting buzz when Instagram influencers started asking me to pay them to attend. I told them they were welcome to come and have a drink, but they were going to have to pay us by buying some books.”