GATING CONTENT USING NFT’S STILL NOT AS STRAIGHTFORWARD AS IT SHOULD BE
Authors looking for permissionless web3 alternatives to Amazon or Barnes & Noble to publish their works have yet to see anything that approaches the ease of use of those platforms.
It’s unfortunate, because for now, it means a lot of gatekeeping power still resides with those publishing platforms.
I recently surveyed and tested some different methods of publishing a comic series, LayerWorld, by utilizing a combination of NFTs and decentralized storage.
Unfortunately, a major platform that at one time provided some nifty features to authors, mintgate.io, no longer appears to be active.
One of the problems with using sites like OpenSea (the largest NFT platform out there) to try to use NFTs to gate content to, say a pdf or epub file, is that the underlying media is pretty easily exposed—and available for sharing—if the NFT owner decides to do that.
The DRM protections that can be enabled for digital books sold on Amazon and Barnes & Noble aren’t perfect. There are apps out there devoted to cracking the DRM so books can be downloaded off the proprietary Kindle and Nook devices.
But at least DRM provides a hurdle that suffices to deter most average consumers who might be tempted to “share” their book this way.
NFT Standard Forgot to Include Common Book Formats
The issues I ran into, in trying to find a suitable way to securely publish my comic series using web3 technology, isn’t exactly a “novel” frustration.
This reddit thread from the height of the NFT craze in 2021 gives an idea of the frustrations experienced by one author at that time, hoping to publish a book as an NFT.
A number of snarky commenters in the thread opine variations of “why don’t you just use Amazon KDP?”
But the whole point of web3 is to build decentralized solutions that avoid having to feed into, and potentially be censored or limited by centralized tech corporations.
As censorship has become more prevalent on social media sites, and even on these major book publishing platforms, it’s more important than ever to have alternatives.
Ideally, the NFT standard backed by OpenSea and others would’ve natively supported common digital book formats like pdf and epub.
But that’s not the case. As OpenSea says via a FAQ:
“We currently support JPG, PNG, GIF, SVG, MP4, WEBM, MP3, WAV, OGG, GLB, and GLTF files. The maximum file size supported is 100MB, but we recommend keeping it under 100MB for faster load times.”
Compared to video files, book pdfs and epub files are usually much smaller in size.
OpenSea has made “unlockable content” available as an option for NFT creators.
This was a definite step forward, though other services like darkblock.io provided that functionality for NFTs created on OpenSea and elsewhere. Darkblock.io has also generously offered free storage via the decentralized Arweave blockchain, for creators who use their service.
But though unlockable content can now give the purchaser of an NFT on OpenSea access (via a link), to say, a private folder on the Arweave storage network, the NFT owner could easily choose to share the goodies they find there.
In contrast, an NFT has value because it can be verified as a unique object.
That confers value. Can someone copy the simple pixel artwork of one of those prized and expensive “Cryptopunk” jpegs? Of course.
But the value of those NFTs is that the owner of the “original” can be verified via a wallet address on a blockchain.
There are many thousands (at least) of copies of the Mona Lisa, painted as studies by aspiring artists, and available as digital depictions, etc.
But there is only one original. Or in the case of limited runs, only a limited sequential series (of say a print or casting of an art piece).
If the pdf and epub formats were natively supported as NFTs, this would confer the same “original provence” attributes to pdf files put up on OpenSea or elsewhere.
This is all very likely confusing to many readers. Don’t worry. Wading through it all, just trying to get a comic published via web3 technologies currently out there, was nearly as confusing to me!
NOTE: For now, the first issue of LayerWorld is available on Amazon. A companion comic, LayerWorld Hot & Heavy, and LayerWorld are both available on Barnes & Noble Press. NFT collectibles and unlockable content associated with the series can be found on OpenSea.
Be advised: these works contain explicit content and are made for adults only. The series is a grindhouse ode to a retro comic style that I grew up with and collected in the 1970’s, the so-called “Bronze Age” of comics.
It involves elements of sci-fi and erotica that will be familiar to people who experienced that era, ever read Heavy Metal (or Penthouse and Hustler), or watched movies like Barbarella, Spaced Out, Things To Come, and movies by Russ Meyers, etc.