Welcome to the Blockchain Revolution, Herr Gutenberg
I woke in a panic from troubled dreams and rushed to the window. A chill breeze blew the cap from my head as I leaned out to survey the bustling street below. “You there, boy!”
“Me?” asked the young urchin.
“Yes, you. What day is it, boy?”
“Why, it’s Christmas morning.”
“So I haven’t missed it after all! And can you tell me the year?”
“Oh, such a relief. I was worried I might have slipped into a Dickensian novel. And now, if you please, can you tell me whether anyone has yet minted a 1284-page full-color Gutenberg’s Bible to the blockchain as a non-fungible token?”
The lad scratched his head. “No, I reckon that t’aint never been done before.”
“Well, why the bloody hell not?”
I slammed the window shut and pondered my next move. I’d just been visited by three ghosts on the night of Christmas Eve. First, the Ghost of Publishing Past had brought me to the year 1454, to the printshop of Johannas Gutenberg, to watch Europe’s first movable-type press churn out the first modern book.
“You’re witnessing a revolution,” the ghost whispered reverently.
“What, this?” I asked. “A wooden frame presses a paper or parchment sheet against an inked tray of typeface and I’m supposed to be impressed? No marvel of technology there. The Egyptians could have done this on papyrus five thousand years earlier if only they’d thought of it.”
“The revolution is what happens next. From this point on, books no longer had to be scribed by hand, one letter at a time, into error-prone scrolls or tomes. Gutenberg’s press brought more books to more people, spread ideas with more speed, created more durable records, enabled greater collaboration, and sparked an Enlightenment that advanced all of human civilization. Print technology has been refined since then, but the basic idea remains the same. Every physical book published from then until today is the conceptual offspring of Gutenberg’s Bible.”
“Why are you showing me this?” I’d demanded.
“Because you can’t see the future until you understand the past.”
The Ghost of Publishing Past then handed me off to the Ghost of Publishing Future, who zoomed me to a utopic world of gleaming towers, flying cars, world peace, and environmental sustainability.
“Not too shabby,” I had to admit. “YA fantasy novels had me expecting the worst.”
“This is the best possible timeline,” the ghost explained.
“Well, that feels nice after where I’ve been living. And what is everyone reading in this utopia?”
“Digital books on a decentralized network, safe from tampering, censorship, or accidental erasure.”
“Or from a disapproving school board?”
“Once these books are on the network, no one can remove them. Or steal them. Or pirate them. Their provenance and ownership are recorded on an ever-available public ledger that can’t be forged or altered.”
“This really is a publishing utopia.”
“We also have calorie-free chocolates that allow people to fly.”
“But I brought you here to talk about books.”
“I haven’t even mentioned the smart contracts yet. Each of these books is governed by computer code that can enable reader experiences beyond your wildest dreams.”
“This is my wildest dream,” I reminded her. “And what do you call these unimaginable books?”
“I call them smart-books, but that hasn’t caught on yet,” the ghost confided. “Others call them literary non-fungible tokens or non-fungible books.”
“They’re a kind of NFT?” I scoffed.
“Oh? You’ve heard of NFTs?”
I rolled my eyes. “Some days my feed is nothing but articles about financial bubbles of speculative hype, a crypto-celebrity culture run amok, scammers and money launderers operating beyond the reach of the law, tech bros hustling cartoon characters, and all of them gleefully pushing the world closer to the brink of environmental disaster.”
The ghost shook her head. “All that noise of your time is masking a signal of genuine innovation. Here in the future, crypto industries have all matured. Decentralized files remain decentralized. The ledgers remain immutable. The contracts keep getting smarter. And feature-rich experiences in art, text, music, and video hum along on energy-efficient blockchains.”
“So the planet doesn’t get destroyed?”
The ghost motioned at the gleaming cityscape that surrounded us, seemingly pollution-free. “Blockchain transactions don’t have to be energy hogs. Smart-books using the most eco-friendly tokens of your time are already using less energy than it takes to print, bind, box, warehouse, and ship a physical book. There’s even a carbon offset from leaving more air-cleansing trees intact, and it only gets better with time.”
“I’ll think about it. Maybe over a bar of flying chocolate?” I asked hopefully, but the ghost was already gone.
The Ghost of Publishing Present was the last to arrive. She wore a mask and complained about supply chains, which was a total anticlimax after her two partners.
“Where are you going to take me?” I asked.
“To the present,” she yawned. “And look, we’re already here. Sorry about the mess — it always gets a bit chaotic at the start of a new revolution. There’s too much fear and not enough organization. But then there’s a spark, then a tipping point, and then somebody mints a non-fungible Gutenberg Bible.”
“And nobody’s done that yet? With all the cartoon apes and punks and kittens out there, nobody’s made an NFT Gutenberg?”
“Nobody. Yet.” Her piercing ghostly eyes fixed on mine.
“That sounds like a lot of work. Too bad I was planning to spend Christmas with my family.”
“Revolutions require sacrifice,” she said. Turns out the Ghost of Christmas Present is the cruelest of the three.
Dear reader, I compiled and minted a Gutenberg Bible to the blockchain on December 26th, thanks to my publishing partners at WIP Publishing and PageDAO. It was a symbolic act, inspired by the spirit of publishing past, using the developments of publishing present, and hopefully inspiring a bold publishing future.
This is where it starts. Merry Belated Christmas, Herr Gutenberg. Welcome to the blockchain revolution.