A new report from the International News Media Association (INMA) says that while blockchain technology has the potential to disrupt the news media industry, it’s not clear what that means. ‘Exploring Blockchain’s Potential to Transform Media’ looks at how blockchain can benefit publishing and how publishers can get started with this “potentially industry-changing technology.”
What is blockchain?
Blockchain can be thought of as a digital ledger that is duplicated and distributed across a network of computers. Each block in the chain records a number of transactions, and every time a new transaction is added to the blockchain, a record of that transaction is added to every participating version of the ledger.
Most databases have an administrator who can change entries, but with Blockchain no single person is in charge. It is a distributed system for recording information in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to change, hack, or cheat the system.
Blockchain in publishing
A lack of clarity around how blockchain technology can be deployed in publishing has stopped most publishers from experimenting with it. The majority of the publishers in a recent survey said that blockchain has the potential to transform news media but less than 10% have incorporated it into their strategy.
Blockchain was developed as the infrastructure to support cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but it is now being used in many other applications, from music royalties to voter registration. In publishing, it has been touted as a way to bring transparency and security to payments, content distribution and copyright.
Publishing use cases include:
Payment to content creators and publishers is often controlled by third-party service providers. It is possible, using blockchain technology, to remove these intermediaries and allow authors, for example, to be able to monitor their content distribution and receive micropayments directly from readers through smart wallets.
Using blockchain technology to create contractual agreements can significantly reduce the time and cost of creating contracts. From advertising to subscriptions, deals and discounts can be executed and documented automatically without the involvement of third parties, making it possible to offer a much wider variety of options. For readers, consumption-based pricing mechanisms are possible.
Blockchain technology can be used to add ID stamps to published materials, protecting ownership rights for both creators and publishers. Blockchain can also support the expansion of digital property management, allowing readers to share digital copies of created works as they would with physical books and magazines.
The INMA report identifies NFTs as a ‘significant opportunity’ for publishers looking to monetise their content archives, focusing on images and one-offs like magazine covers. Several publishers have experimented with NFTs; The Economist sold its October ‘Alice in Wonderland’ cover featuring Alice going “down the rabbit hole,” as an NFT, raising over $400,000 for charity.
Blockchain technology can also be used to boost audience engagement. Decrypt Media uses DCPT reader tokens to reward users read, share, and interact with their content. The publisher grew its audience by 2,000% in 2020.
Rewarding the audience with digital assets bearing real-world value can enhance audience loyalty while returning a portion of the advertising revenue to consumers.
While publishers are understandably cautious about getting involved in such a rapidly changing technology sector, Brian Morrisey of the Rebooting newsletter says they’ll have to if they want to understand it.
Referencing the early development of social media, he said: “it kind of reminds me of the Web2.0 era.” He explained that it took the people at the top of publishing to get involved to understand the truly two-way relationship with the audience. “And with crypto, it’s kind of a similar thing.”
The message to get involved is echoed in INMA’s Blockchain report:
This is the time for publishers to begin exploring blockchain, whether that means joining a social network or opening a crypto wallet. These are small steps toward exploring this emerging, disruptive technology that could lead to big outcomes.