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What if you could invest in your favorite book?
Several startups believe that web3 technologies will upend how authors make a living—and how we define who owns a story.
What if you could own a stake in Harry Potter?
What if the book series functioned like a publicly traded company where individuals could “buy stock” in it, and as the franchise grows, those “stocks” become more valuable? If this were the case, someone who purchased just three percent of Harry Potter back when there was only one book would be a billionaire now.
Just imagine how that would affect the reading experience. Suddenly a trip to Barnes & Noble becomes an investment opportunity. Early readers could spot “the next big thing” and make a $100 contribution that becomes $10,000 or even $100,000 if the book’s popularity grows. If readers could own a percentage of the franchise, they might then be incentivized to help that book succeed. They could start a TikTok account to promote the book via BookTok, or use their talents as filmmakers to adapt it to the screen. All of this stands to increase the value of their original investment.
“Imagine when all of an author’s readers can suddenly make money as well,” says Margarita Guerrero, head of partner and publishing relations at the publishing startup Readl. “How much more would they be engaged?”
This is the future an emerging number of publishing startups are after—aiming to change the value of a book from a $10 Amazon purchase to a $100 investment opportunity, while creating a market of readers excited to see the books they love succeed. It might not work—finding readers (and investors) will be a challenge—but if they succeed, their vision could bode very well for the author who, in this scenario, could retain a percentage ownership of these “stocks” and earn value alongside their investors—just like Jeff Bezos retains a percentage of Amazon stock and grows richer as his company’s shares gain value.
This is a middleground compared to how it works today. Typically a book’s rights are owned by a publishing house (if traditionally published) or by the author (if self-published), but these startups imagine a third option—where authors and investors jointly own the copyright—that could be made possible by technology known as the blockchain.
Hailed by many as “the future of the internet,” the blockchain is a digital ledger where “blocks” of information are added to a “chain” of them, but never removed. This creates a ledger of information that is publically stored on a distributed network and accessible by anyone. Imagine, for example, if I could see a ledger of every single person who owned my home—when I bought it, a new block was added verifying that I am the current owner.
Describing it this way is a bit like describing the internet as “a bunch of servers in air conditioned rooms where information can be stored and accessed with a computer.” What’s more important than how it’s achieved technically is what can be done with it. If the internet gives us unfettered access to information, then the blockchain allows us to own it.
I hope you enjoy my first ever article for Esquire! When you’ve finished reading, come back and meet me in the comments section 👇🏻
Thanks for reading,
P.S. This is my first ever article for Esquire and I am so proud of it. Working on a piece this ambitious, with an editor who encouraged me to take it this in-depth, and alongside fact checkers who could help me make it this iron clad, and getting to do it all for ✨👑Esquire👑✨ was a complete dream come true!
How I landed this story was something of a ruse. I haven’t had any luck pitching recently, so I got creative. I downloaded a list of my newsletter subscribers into an excel spreadsheet, then sorted it to remove everyone with an @gmail.com email address. What was left was a bunch of people with businesses addresses—ones that ended with @nytimes.com and the like.
I googled all of those people, pitched stories to the ones who were journalists, and the one that stuck had an @hearst.com at the end of her email address! Pitching someone who already knew who I was and who already subscribed to my newsletter was so much more effective than reaching out cold. And it’s the first time I’ve had a pitch for a major media outlet accepted!!
If this isn’t a lesson in the power of creating a platform for your work, I don’t know what is. I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed writing it!
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