With the surge in interest in crypto and blockchain since the end of last year, many industries have been trying to grapple with what blockchain means for them. On Wednesday, April 18, we hosted a Forbes Talks event to better understand the impact of the blockchain on publishing. But before digging into that, let’s explore the relationship between innovations and disruptions.
In the early 1400’s, the clever son of a well to do merchant spent his youth in and around the church, watching diligent monks spend countless hours handwriting copies of the Bible. He was convinced there had to be a better way to do this. This clever young man happened to also know goldsmithing. His initiative combined with his skills led Johannes Gutenberg to invent the plated printing press. And printing Bibles became much, much easier.
In 1712, a miner ran into a problem with an old coal mine. They had dug so deep, that water was filling the mine faster than the livestock could pump it out. He began to explore ways to pump the water out faster. After some experimentation, he replaced the animals with a piston pump that was powered by boiling water beneath it. Thomas Newcomen is now considered the father of the mechanical engine.
In the 1839, an accomplished painter had grown sick and tired of painting portraits. His subjects often grew impatient as they had to pose for hours. In search of a better way, he began tinkering with light sensitive materials. Soon after, he found a way to create portraits with far less time, effort and errors using photographic plates. This process was called Daguerreotype, after its creator. Louis Daguerre is now considered the father of modern photography.
In World War 2, the smartest people in the country could not crack the enigma code because it was changing faster than they could compute it. The army enlisted the help of a brilliant young engineer who built the first programmable calculator to enable them compute the encryption code faster. Alan Touring is now considered the father of the modern computer.
In the late 1960’s, researchers collaborating around the country were frustrated with mailing computer disks back and forth to share data. They couldn’t feasibly run cables across the country to directly connect the computers. But maybe they could use existing cables to transfer data. So, in 1969, this group invented the first distributed computer network by connecting their computers to the phone lines. This network (or maybe Al Gore) is now considered the father of the internet.
People have been innovating throughout human history. Innovations allow us to do things better. But, sometimes, these innovations turn into something more. Sometimes they allow us to do better things. That is when they become disruptions.
For the case of blockchain in publishing, it is definitely an innovation at this point. We invited a group of 50 or so industry executives and stakeholders to hear three startup leaders discuss the potential for disruption in the space – Jarrod Dicker, CEO po.et, David Bookspan, co-founder Amino Pay, and Julien Genestoux, CEO and founder, Unlock. These pioneers are employing blockchain technology to change the way many publishers do business today. Each startup focuses on a different component of the eco-system:
- Po.et: content attribution, permission and discovery
- Amino Pay: digital advertising supply chain
- Unlock: paywalls, subscriptions
What is the problem each are solving?
- Po.et: lack of ownership and control over media assets for content creators (syndication, fake news)
- Amino Pay: loss of revenue and trust in the digital ad supply chain (ad fraud)
- Unlock: loss of revenue and control of subscription payments (gateway fees, lack of positive incentives)
How are they using the blockchain to solve these problems?
- Po.et: providing creators a way to secure, manage and verify their ideas
- Amino Pay: verification of ad views and instant clearing of payments from brands to agencies, users and publishers
- Unlock: publisher-owned decentralized payments protocol with tokenized user incentives
Much like the early days of the aforementioned innovations, these companies each provide tangible improvements to various parts of the publishing business that will increase revenues, reduce cost and/or loosen some choke points. We also discussed other areas that blockchain can be applied to help the eco-system (listen up, entrepreneurs!): personal data management, better user analytics, improved ad targeting, and affiliate sales attribution.
We can already see the potential for true disruption as old habits are undone and new use cases are unlocked. There was consensus on the timing of such changes as all three panelists indicated a 1-2 year timeline. However, the audience Q&A unearthed some valid concerns. While popular discourse focuses on the benefits of decentralization, immutability and transparency, new problems may arise:
- Do we actually want full transparency?
- What happens to your right to be forgotten?
- How do you delete a piece of content if it’s immutable?
- What happens if the network fails or is hacked?
While providing clarity on the current state of the blockchain in publishing, we left the event more stimulated by the questions that we can’t answer just yet.