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How NFTs can shake up the world of book publishing

April 9, 2021, 2:15 PM UTC

The Kindle-induced revolution never happened. But it doesn’t mean forward-thinking people have given up trying to reorder the publishing world with digital means.

Today’s striver is author and artist Emily Segal. And her strategy—it’s 2021, you know what comes next—is to publish a book on a blockchain and raise money by selling non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. Can she do it? For sure. Will it change publishing forever? We can only hope.

Segal’s first novel, Mercury Retrograde, was about a character named Emily Segal who goes to work for a mysterious Internet startup called eXe when hijinks ensue. It got good reviews and carries a 4.6 star rating on Amazon. Segal created her own queer-focused publishing company, Deluge, and sold the book as a paperback, PDF, and ePub (the open ebook format). It’s also sold on Amazon as a paperback and Kindle ebook, for just a few dimes less than the prices on Deluge’s web site.

Her NFT-funded book, Burn Alpha, will be “a homoerotic teen thriller about a group of three girls at an elite New York City private school who stumble into busting a global sex trafficking ring.” (You’ll recall that the despicable Jeffrey Epstein taught at upscale Manhattan private school Dalton for a few years in the 1970s, which is part of the inspiration here.) But instead of trying to sell the book to a big publisher for an advance or waiting until it’s written to sell it online via Deluge, Segal is trying something different.

She’s taking an excerpt of Burn Alpha‘s digital manuscript and minting an NFT on the Zora marketplace. Earlier this week, Segal put up for sale a 70% stake in the token for a total of 25 ethereum, or about $50,000, offering typical crowdsourcing extras like limited edition merch, a hardback copy of the book, and a chat with the author at various levels of support. No surprise in our NFT-mad times that she quickly raised the entire lot. Famed NYC VC Fred Wilson said he bought a small slice.

Once Segal finishes writing the book, she’ll mint a subsequent token tied to the full manuscript to give to the excerpt-NFT buyers. As this “first edition” of the book on the blockchain is bought and sold in the future, all of the original investors will get a cut, at least in theory (if something happened to the ethereum blockchain or the website where the digital book lives, the system would break down).

All of this happens without any involvement from Amazon, another big publisher, or really anyone at all in the book industry. That leaves Segal free to write her book her way without any meddling. Still, if it weren’t for the current hyped-up phase of NFT development, she might not have been able to raise $50,000. Now it’s time to get writing.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Snap back to reality, ope there goes gravity. The count is not complete, but union advocates at Amazon's Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse near Birmingham appear to be going down to defeat. With about half the votes counted as of Thursday night, non-joiners were ahead of the pro-union workers by 1,100 to 463. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union criticized Amazon for its high-pressure tactics in the fight, including hounding the Post Office to install a special odd-looking mailbox for ballots at the warehouse.

Aaron, please add me to your network. It's not a hack, it's a scrape of publicly available data, but the latest personal data spreading incident, shall we say, comes from Microsoft's LinkedIn unit. Hackers are selling a database of info including user IDs, full names, emails, phone numbers, titles, and other work-related data, from 500 million people.

One more chip. A day after my musing about why there have been no Apple events in 2021 yet comes news the global chip shortage may be part of the issue. Nikkei Asia reports that Apple is postponing production of new MacBook laptops and iPads because of a shortage of critical components including chips, though iPhone production has not been slowed. Those are both products where we are expecting updates soon. That does make it a good time to be in the business of making chips, of course. The stock price of Taiwan Semiconductor, for example, is up 13% this year and 145% over the past 12 months. So no surprise that GlobalFoundries, the chip making operation spun off from Advanced Micro Devices more than a decade ago, is prepping to go public at a valuation of around $20 billion.

Way too much SPACulation. John Coates, acting director at the Securities and Exchange Commission, has had enough of wild-eyed, unfounded, and just plain nuts-o financial projections from startups going public via special purpose acquisition corporations. “Any simple claim about reduced liability exposure for SPAC participants is overstated at best, and potentially seriously misleading at worst,” Coates wrote.

Ingy flew so far, zooming good past Wanke and Navarro and the spiders from Mars. It's almost time for the first drone flight on another planet as NASA on Thursday set the schedule for flying its Ingenuity copter on Mars. The flight should happen on Sunday though video isn't expected to reach Earth until Monday, when NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. ET. In the meantime, check out the grainy footage of Ingenuity testing its rotor blades. Hopefully, video of the first flight will have higher resolution!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The hype is just starting for quantum computing, the field of building computers based on the principles of quantum instead of classical physics. Washington Post reporter Jeanne Whalen checked out some of the startups trying to cash in on the coming quantum wave.

Breakthrough Energy is interested in quantum computing as a tool for finding new materials to enable carbon sequestration, said (physicist Chris) Monroe, chief scientist at IonQ, which has announced plans to go public on the New York Stock Exchange.

ColdQuanta, another venture based in Boulder, Colo., is hoping to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in investor funding in the near term, said Dan Caruso, executive chairman at the company.

“I kind of liken what’s going on with quantum right now to what was going on with the Internet in the early ’90s,” he said. “Quantum is going from being something most people haven’t heard about … to rapidly transitioning into the beginning of the commercial phase.”

FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE

A few great long reads I came across this week:

Meet the Briton leading a Tesla rival who wants to save the planet (The Guardian)
Peter Rawlinson says Lucid, which is about to list for $24bn, has drawn interest from big carmakers.

Cracking the Case of London’s Elusive, Acrobatic Rare-Book Thieves (Vanity Fair)
How detectives from Scotland Yard, Romania, Germany, and Italy nabbed the so-called Mission: Impossible gang, which pulled off a string of daring warehouse heists.

Bill Hwang Had $20 Billion, Then Lost It All in Two Days (Bloomberg Businessweek)
The fast rise and even faster fall of a trader who bet big with borrowed money.

An Interview With the Man Who Keeps Uploading My Feet to WikiFeet (The Cut)
Back in the fall, I received an unexpected text from a man I had just started seeing. “Are u on wikifeet?” Assuming he was joking, I laughed and said no. Then he sent me a link.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

How the Best Workplaces in Technology plan to go from virtual to hybrid workplaces By Claire Hastwell and Great Place to Work

Acquiring Clubhouse would have been Twitter’s biggest bet yet By Lucinda Shen

Recognizing patterns: reflections on anti-Asian sentiments in business By Ellen McGirt and Daniel Bentley

What chip crisis? BMW and Mercedes deliver double-digit growth on strong China sales By Christiaan Hetzner

Big Hospitals vs. Big Pharma: Which industry is most to blame for soaring health care costs? By Geoff Colvin

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)

BEFORE YOU GO

Elon Musk's third or fourth current company (is the Boring Company still a thing?) is Neuralink. That's the one trying to create a direct computer interface into the human brain. They have produced a video of a monkey playing Pong for you this week. Well, Musk's creativity famously knows no bounds and neither, it seems, does that of Neuralink co-founder Max Hodak. In a tweet that immediately went viral this week, Hodak asserted, "We could probably build jurassic park if we wanted to." Okay, fine, BUT WHY WOULD WE WANT TO? Did he not see at least one of those five movies? Spoiler alert: They did not end well. In my spare time this weekend, I may mint a non-fungible token of Pandora's Box and send it to Hodak's wallet. Have a great weekend.