The potential of NFTs to enhance the reading experience is so significant it's nothing short of extraordinary. Publishers can create tokenized artwork for book covers, copy pages as images or cryptographically-protected documents, offer personalization possibilities (making custom editions), or even use NFTs to create an immutable digital archive of out-of-print and rare books, appealing to collectors.
Publishers can bring back-catalogs online en masse, establish a global eCommerce marketplace for their titles, and sell assets in packages so readers can buy the titles they want without requiring them to purchase entire series or anthologies.
Publishers can also release digital editions for rental—allowing readers to pay-as-they-go through a smart contract with one NFT representing the entire book with another representing the time it has been in their possession. It really is just scratching the surface.
Unfortunately, there are barriers to NFT adoption within publishing. Readers who purchase copies of these digital editions will hold them digitally, but there is no user-friendly experience for reading these works. Most minting platforms and marketplaces do not support any formats compatible with a decent reading experience, and there are no dedicated NFT readers.
The possibilities are extraordinary and something publishers should really be exploring, but the barriers to entry for publishers are not insignificant; Designing and minting NFTs is not trivial work—and that requires additional time and resources that some may not be able to afford.
Publishers who want to get involved must also consider how their assets will function on decentralized networks. While decentralized storage will offer stability, it will also come at a cost, not just financial costs. Publishers have long been used to being in control of their products and how they are presented to readers, but decentralization flips this on its head. It can be challenging to adapt to a reality where everything is public by default and out of your control.
Publishers are also faced with the challenge of creating "one-stop shops" for their readers, but decentralization is not always conducive to this—particularly when it comes to transacting. If publishers want to offer sales on non-NFT assets, they will face hurdles integrating multiple stores and protocols while still offering a smooth experience for their readers.
Publishers who wish to offer NFT copies of their books also have a chicken-and-egg problem when it comes to attracting users who want to purchase these items. They have to convince existing NFT projects and marketplaces to list them, but they need some customers to do that. And without a decent user experience for reading these works, the only people interested in purchasing them will be NFT aficionados and those predisposed to trust and transact with publishers.
Purchasing NFTs is difficult enough for those familiar with cryptocurrencies, involving managing private keys, creating exchanges accounts, converting fiat money to crypto-currency, etc... But the bar is even higher for those less experienced, requiring them to first download a wallet application that can be intimidating at first glance.
If these obstacles can be overcome, the traditional publishing industry will be disrupted in a way that eBooks promised and never delivered and empowered in a way that they've not been since before the birth of the internet.
Outside of publishing houses, the benefits are even more significant; indie authors currently experience a problematic and frustrating struggle to gain recognition for their work, with many readers, reviewers, and editors considering self-published books to be less-than.
But indie authors could easily use the blockchain to mint NFTs that would be easy to track and review, ensuring a more transparent and fair ecosystem of discovered work—and importantly, a level playing field for new and established authors.
Rather than relying on a centralized platform to reach readers, indie authors could mint and distribute NFTs that payout royalties directly to any ERC-compatible wallet application—and not just the authors.
Publishing NFTs are a missed opportunity, in my opinion. Readers face a fragmented and largely incompatible series of digital formats across multiple devices in a paradigm of digital ownership and transactions with third parties that is confusing and alienating. The project that can successfully challenge the current model for digital publishing will be rewarded with a growing audience of readers, authors, and NFT projects.