'NFTs for authors and writers', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the technological.

NFTs for authors and writers

It’s a brave new world, peregrinos. Things are fast evolving, and you need to move sharpish to keep up with it all. The learning curve is steep. But I’m trying.

While by no means a technophobe, I had to be dragged into the smartphone age.  It was 2020 when I first buckled and bought a smartphone, and 2021 before I installed WhatsApp. Until around eight months ago, I was using a Samsung GE120T with minimum detrimental effect to my day-to-day life. I got some looks and sniggers, but fuck em, I just didn’t need a sweatshopped iPhone. The Samsung was indestructible, built to last. It’s still in my possession, just waiting to be redeployed.

My laptop, on the other hand, is like a third arm. Losing it would be like having a limb cleaved from my body. I own a tablet too, which serves multiple purposes, one of which is to house my crypto wallets. I dipped my feet into crypto in 2017, buying in for about five hundred euros and selling out for a couple of grand at the time of the big crash. I’ve since gotten back into it, and it excites the hell out of me. I like the gambling, the ups and downs, the selling, the transferring, the swapping. I’ve just discovered staking. Each new layer added to the crypto ecosystem, I have to dive in and have a go.

Just a few weeks ago, I first heard about NFTs. As a creator, this excited me greatly. So I started digging around and exploring the platforms, seeing how I might get my teeth into this new infrastructure. There is an abundance of platforms out there catering to digital creators, all of which make use of the Ethereum blockchain or some variation thereof. Now, I dig crypto, but I’m by no means a ‘crypto guy’. I’m a rank amateur and I’m the first to admit it. I have a working knowledge and no more. So, I’m gonna try and break down what I’ve discovered over the last few weeks of playing around, but if I err in my attempted explication of the blockchain ecosystem, then don’t twist my nuts. I’m far down the ladder in terms of crypto knowledge, and so this article is for those of you who are just getting started. For beginners, let’s say.

I write books and I’ve been researching ways of selling books on the blockchain. Now, it’s young days for NFTs and the infrastructure is still being built, and for the moment, it supports mostly digital art in image form: gifs, jpgs, and pngs, and sometimes mp3 and mp4. For an oldish guy like me, I look around on the marketplaces and see pixelated swords and avatars for sale, and I wonder what it’s all about – Minecraft collectibles? Legend of Zelda? I don’t get it. I’m not knocking it, but I find it difficult to comprehend why people pay for these things. Art, I can get behind. And I see plenty of good artwork there, too.

Perhaps because there’s no market for it yet, books seem to be mostly unavailable on the NFT marketplaces. The majority of them don’t yet support book formats. I have not found a single place that supports epub, and only one where you can upload pdfs. Why not? I dunno. It seems like a great place to sell books. One of the benefits of the NFT marketplace is that you can add a royalty for resale. This means that every time your work is sold on, you get a slice of the resale price. With hard copy books, you know that after that first sale, that’s it. It goes into the second-hand market and is gone forever. With NFTs, you get a cut forever. What’s not to like about that? 

Another prohibitive factor in the adaptation of NFTs is that diabolical thing called ‘gas fees’. So apparently Ethereum is a process that uses huge amounts of natural resources, and to utilise smart contracts you need to pay a fee to ‘upload’ your work to the blockchain. In marketplaces built on Ethereum, such as Rarible, Mintable, or OpenSea, the gas fees to upload a single item can be $180. If you’re charging $500–1000 for a single piece of art, then this is viable, otherwise there’s just no way. And if you want to open a ‘storefront’ on the market, it will cost you $600 or more. That was it for me, I checked out right there.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. Stablecoins are cryptos that are pegged to regular currency such as the USD. One such stablecoin is xDai, and xDai is a crypto that is built on a ‘sidechain’ of the Ethereum blockchain. Transaction fees on the xDai chain are super low – we’re talking pennies here. (And for the ecologically-minded, I think that means the environmental effect of transactions on the xDai blockchain are a whole lot less stressful than those on the Ethereum networks, though I stand to be corrected on that, if I’m mistaken.)

So, can we get on with how to publish books as NFTs, please? Yes, we can. I’ve discovered an online marketplace that supports pdfs in the creation of NFTs. There are very few books on the site, but my hope is that if we get more self-published authors interested in promoting their work on the blockchain, other marketplaces will take up the practice. Effectively, the way I see it, we need to create the market for books as NFTs. Let’s get it rolling. Let’s get our work out there. Let’s embrace new tech.

Check the following post for instructions on how to mint an NFT.

To see books from Black Tarn Publishing, follow the link below:

 ‘NFTs for Authors and Writers’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

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