Over at Cryptoversal Books, we're building a web3 publishing house in cooperation with our community, so we’ll be brainstorming about all the elements of writing, publishing, marketing, and selling web3 books.
One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is the value proposition of web3 books. In marketing theory, a value proposition is a feature that describes how awesome a product or service is and why people should buy it.
If a value proposition is presented as a promise, that promise had better be kept. If it’s more of an expectation, that expectation had better be met and exceeded. Otherwise, there's no reason for anyone to come back for more.
The value proposition doesn’t have to appeal to everyone, and probably won't, which is one reason marketing types like to break out their market segments and ideal customers. For the purpose of this article on web3 publishing, we'll keep it simple. Our ideal customers are people who enjoy reading books.
The value of books
The value proposition for a book can be the escapism it provides into a fantastic realm, the feels it makes us feel, the mental challenge of a murder-mystery puzzle, the thrill of a spine-tingling scare, factual information about the world around us, or useful guidance for our spiritual, emotional, or physical wellbeing.
For some books, the value proposition may be entry into a fandom community, a sense of accomplishment from reaching a satisfying conclusion, or the broadening of one’s world to include alternate viewpoints and experiences.
The value proposition will vary from book to book and from reader to reader. But whether on paper or on the blockchain, there’s no denying that books can and do contain vast pools of value no matter what form or format they are in.
The value of web3
For authors, the value proposition in presenting their works in a web3 format may be access to new markets, new fans, and new business models.
For collectors, the value proposition of web3 books includes all the usual factors that go into evaluating an NFT plus the added utility of unlocking hundreds of pages of exclusive content.
But for readers who may have no experience with the web3 space, who have no interest in NFTs, and who may be actively repelled by all things blockchain-related, the value proposition of a web3 book must battle through some powerful headwinds.
So unless we’re publishing exclusively to NFT collectors, the question becomes how we create a value proposition strong enough to draw readers into the web3 publishing space.
The value of web3 books
We’ve seen attempts to streamline the web3 onboarding experience, to provide educational resources that crush the learning curve, and to present a pleasing UX/UI that turns minting into a game.
These efforts are absolutely essential, but removing barriers isn't the same as providing value. Given the serious headwinds of skepticism we're facing among many readers, the web3 book needs to offer something more than a print book or heritage ebook ever can.
For me, the two most promising value propositions of web3 publishing are:
- Completing the disruption of literature that started with heritage ebooks; and
- The ability to enable innovation into new storytelling experiences.
Completing the disruption
I’m old enough to remember a time before ebooks, a time when ebooks were first entering the marketplace, and the tipping point when ebooks began to disrupt the traditional market of purely physical books. The book market was disrupted, but that disruption is still ongoing and remains incomplete.
The initial promise of ebooks was to separate the content from the container so that each of us could carry an entire library of works with us without carting around a truckload of paper.
(No, I'm not old enough to remember anyone actually carting around a truckload of paper.)
While we did gain convenience, what we lost in the process was any sense of ownership. An author’s words, worlds, and ideas can filter through our brains to help define who we—but we as book-buyers aren’t purchasing that content.
With physical books, what we own is whatever vessel is necessary to contain the content, usually a unique instance of ink and paper that we can keep, display, gift, or resell.
With heritage ebooks, what we own is…nothing. Most ebooks are sold on a lease-to-read model where readers pay for access to a digital file on a particular device for a certain period of time.
We were told that we had to make a tradeoff. We could have the convenience of an ebook, or we could have ownership interests in a physical book, but we couldn’t have both.
Except that now, with web3 books, we can. A non-fungible token linked to an ebook is an asset that embodies all the rights we once took for granted. In that sense, web3 books restore something we were told we had to sacrifice in our original transition from physical books to ebooks.
The widespread adoption of web3 books will complete the disruption that began with the introduction of heritage ebooks.
Heritage ebook development has stagnated over the past decade or more. The formats, platforms, features, and marketing are codified and controlled by corporate interests that authors are required to buy into. Even independent authors with innovative books are shoehorned into the cookie-cutter formats distributed under standard terms dictated by a handful of distributors.
Web3 publishing promises to break through the innovation quagmire with new tools and features. Governed by decentralized applications and smart contracts, web3 books can provide experiences tailored to each author, their fans, and their books.
We’ve already seen some early experiments involving variant covers, variant illustration, gamification, content gating, community gating, phased releases, IP licensure, and more, but these represent only the most primitive examples of what will become possible as the technology develops and new authors bring their imaginations into the web3 space.
The more successful web3 books can become at combining the best aspects of physical books and heritage ebooks into a single offering, the more they will appeal to readers. And the better web3 authors and publishers can succeed in developing interesting and innovative features, the stronger the value proposition will be for each of our titles.
But at the same time, we must be realistic about the heavy lift required to overcome existing stigmas that surround the NFT and crypto spaces, and the biases that are keeping potential web3 book readers away.
When I entered the space in 2021, most of my friends didn’t yet know what NFTs were. From my perspective inside the space and their perspective on the outside, we came away with very different viewpoints and conclusions.
While my first impression was of the exciting possibilities of blockchain technology, distributed networks, and smart contracts, their first impressions were formed by news reports of market manipulation, scams, hacks, scandals, and environmental impacts.
While I was meeting talented artists who were being empowered by innovative formats and business models, my friends were watching celebrities brag about buying expensive cartoon animals.
When the NFT bubble popped, I saw tech innovators struggle forward with new development cycles, but all that my friends saw were bankruptcies and scandals.
Today, I see people hard at work, intent on building through the bear market, while my friends are talking about NFTs as "that failed fad that we’ll hopefully never hear from again."
So the real challenge isn’t in crafting a value proposition for web3 books, but in how to deliver that proposition to potential readers who are disinclined to hear it. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, let’s start a discussion and let me know what you think.