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“Potentially industry-changing technology”: Why publishers should start experimenting with blockchain

blockchain has the potential to transform news media but less than 10% of the interviewed publishers have incorporated it into their strategy.

Editors note: We are republishing an article by Faisal Kalim that looks into blockchain’s potential impact on the media. This piece was originally published on What’s New in Publishing.

“Although blockchain has the potential to disrupt the news media industry, at the moment it’s not clear exactly what that will mean,” notes a new INMA report. And that’s an important reason why most publishers are yet to start 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.

The INMA report, “Exploring Blockchain’s Potential to Transform Media,” written by Zoltan Vardai and Jeanhee Kim of Forkast.News, shares interesting trends, as well as some successful applications of the technology in publishing. The objective is to show how blockchain can benefit publishing and how they can start experimenting with this “potentially industry-changing technology.”

“The blockchain opportunities that stand out to me in this report include combating disinformation, content rights management, democratizing content creator revenue, simplifying payments, rethinking subscriptions vs. a la carte, combating advertising fraud, and boosting audience engagement.”

Earl J. Wilkinson, Executive Director, and CEO, INMA

Immense potential to immutably preserve journalism

Blockchain allows users to record information that is next to impossible to hack, cheat, or alter. Publishing digital content using the technology will help publishers enforce more accountability as they will be transparently traceable to the original source. “With more transparency comes a greater sense of control and security — both directly applicable in combating copyright and IP infringement,” the authors write.

It will also help combat disinformation. Publishers, including The New York Times and BBC among others, are exploring how they can use blockchain to secure image sourcing information – the who, what, where, when, and why always remain connected to an image even if it is shared on social media without the original context.

“Blockchain enables greater transparency of the source and production of media content, and this is crucial for readers to rebuild trust in the reputability of legitimate news sources. Blockchain offers immense potential to immutably preserve journalism that witnesses and explains history.”

Stef Lo, Corporate Communications Manager, SCMP

Fundamental reset in the economics of the media industry

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are one of the most exciting developments in blockchain, according to the authors. They are pieces of digital multimedia art (drawings, animated GIFS, songs, even tweets) that are recorded on the blockchain as a way of keeping track of who owns them. An NFT can be a unique, one-of-a-kind, single edition, or one copy of many (such as baseball cards). 

NFTs represent a significant opportunity for publishers to monetize their content library, especially imagery and other one-offs such as magazine covers, etc. They can also help publishers counter copyright infringement.

Vogue, USA Today, and The Economist have experimented with NFTs. Vogue Singapore published an NFT-themed issue that included a QR code. It allowed readers to switch to the online version where virtual gowns and two digital versions of the cover were converted to NFTs. Readers could bid for them at the auction house Brytehall. Similarly, The Economist sold a cover featuring an Alice in Wonderland theme with Alice going “down the rabbit hole,” as an NFT. 

“We have always written about the potential of technology to change the world,” the publisher announced in an online article. “NFTs, and the crypto infrastructure they sit on, could transform finance. By minting and selling our own NFT, we are experiencing this first-hand.”

“NFTs provide a fundamental reset in the economics of the media industry and in the creative industry, and people have to understand that.”

Keith Grossman, President, Time

Create a more transparent and secure media supply chain

Since it’s associated with cryptocurrency, Blockchain can also enable publishers to reinvent the ways they manage money. It offers opportunities for simplifying payments as well as creating new pathways to monetization.

“Blockchain’s distributed ledger technology can create a more transparent and secure media supply chain and decrease the number of copyright infringements,” the authors explain. “This can also help streamline royalty payments, especially for companies with a large number of contributors.”

Publishers can track the usage of their content registered on the immutable blockchain ledger in real-time. This opens up new monetization opportunities for media outlets. For example, publishers can consider using blockchain-based smart contracts to make consumption-based pricing mechanisms possible. Readers would be benefited as they can pay only for the content consumed if they don’t want to pay for a full subscription. 

Publishers would also see incremental benefits. They stand to attract paying readers who are not interested in subscribing and could also reduce the cost of billing-office payroll. 

The technology can also be used to boost audience engagement. Decrypt Media incentivizes its users to read, share, and interact with their content in exchange for DCPT, its utility token. The publisher has more than 4M readers a month and 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.

Exploring Blockchain’s Potential to Transform Media

A new way of thinking about the world

Alanna Roazzi-Laforet, Publisher and CRO, Decrypt, says that traditional media companies are being overly cautious about using tokens. “Tokens and crypto are not the enemy,” she comments. “They are not scary. They’re a new way of thinking about the world. 

“Approaching the market with fear and trepidation, especially right now because it’s growing so quickly, is just going to be a non-starter.”

Publishers can consider tokens not only for compensation, but also for activities like building, communicating, governing, and showing value, she adds.

However, many publishers are wary of experimenting with blockchain. “[Blockchain] kind of reminds me of the Web 2.0 era and the social networking technologies, where people at the top of publishing are like ‘Why would I want to tweet what I had for lunch?’,” says Brian Morrissey, Former President, and Founding Editor-in-chief, Digiday. 

“And the reality is it took them getting involved in order to understand what it means to have a truly two-way relationship with an audience. But for a lot of publishing executives, that was very novel, and they couldn’t really understand the power of that. And with crypto, it’s kind of a similar thing.”

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. 

Exploring Blockchain’s Potential to Transform Media

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Photo by Pierre Borthiry on Unsplash

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