As publishing ambitions go, they don’t come much loftier than those held by Rana DiOrio. In 2009, DiOrio—a lawyer, investment banker, and private equity investor—founded Little Pickle Press, a cutting edge children’s book publisher dedicated to “helping parents and educators cultivate conscious, responsible children through media, technologies, and techniques.” Her latest venture, Creative Mint, is arguably her most cutting edge yet: it seeks to leverage the power of blockchain technology to “democratize and decentralize” rights transactions.
The platform that underlines bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, blockchain is already taking a transformative role in supply chain management, music licensing, and even health care recordkeeping. And the publishing world is intrigued, as evidenced by a packed session at last year’s London Book Fair that detailed both the technology’s significant promise—and its myriad challenges—for authors and publishers. But blockchain enthusiasts like DiOrio are convinced that the technology will have a transformative impact on publishing—and DiOrio’s track record suggests she enjoys good odds for success with Creative Mint.
“As Brian O’Leary (executive director of the New York-based Book Industry Study Group) brilliantly stated when I first presented the idea to him, intellectual property transactions are the ideal taxonomy for the blockchain,” DiOrio says. “Rights transactions happen for creative works in myriad ways. Obviously, you have your book deal, and then you have your video deal, and you have your ed-tech licensing deal, or your video game deal or your merchandising deal,” she explains. “With blockchain, all of those deals can be committed to ‘smart contracts,’ which then reside in a blockchain for all to see, so there’s checks and balances built into the system.”
That’s the promise that has publishing world so inyrigued. Imagine a digital ledger of so-called “smart contracts” that is permanent and irreversible, and you will begin to understand why blockchain promises so much for the online world. With blockchain, transparency and certainty are inherent in every e-transaction. And with Creative Mint, DiOrio hopes to blaze a path for the industry to follow.
In April, Sourcebooks will publish, What Does It Mean to Be American?, acting as a partner in Creative Mint’s first “brand ecosystem.” DiOrio noted. The partnership is the latest chapter between DiOrio and Sourcebooks, which in January 2017 acquired the publishing, foreign, and audio rights in all previously published Little Pickle titles.
“We are in the process of formulating a comprehensive product development roadmap and brand strategy that will include relationships with other channel partners to make an album, create a video series, license rights to toys, games and merchandise,” DiOrio says said. And Creative Mint will take its reliance on leading edge technology even further than blockchain through a partnership with Austin-based start-up StoryFit, which uses artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze creative content and identify works most likely to succeed.
“The AI piece is critical, and we’re going to get smarter and better at picking the intellectual properties that will excel in our model, because we can fine-tune as we get more data,” DiOrio said. As DiOrio envisions it, Creative Mint AI will evaluate content according to a 100-point scale similar to Robert Parker’s 100-point scale for wine. All criteria will be in advance not only for its publishing partners but also for authors, artists, photographers and other creatives who submit to the Creative Mint platform.
“Today nobody knows what any given publisher is looking for. There is a black box—you submit, and then you don’t hear anything. And if you do hear no, you don’t really know why. Well, we’re going to create some transparency, which is another fundamental tenet of blockchain,” said DiOrio. “Once vetted, the highest-scoring properties will then go into our [publishing] system to be ‘germinated.’ We will develop a product development strategy and then watch to see if it’s taking root.”
The unusual editorial approach is applicable not only for new works, but also for backlist titles, DiOrio notes. For example, publishers could feed data about their backlists into the Creative Mint algorithm to help identify which titles that are out of print might be worth reviving.
“We’re going to be able to unlock the value of that idle IP,” she said. “We’re bringing new life to the work, and of course, benefiting the author or the underlying brand owner.”
Christopher Kenneally hosts “Beyond the Book,” a podcast series from Copyright Clearance Center.