by Katherine Dee
Wednesday, 24
November 2021
Spotted
10:00

Crypto books can bypass woke publishers

A politicised industry has opened up a space for Internet self-starters
by Katherine Dee
The digital front over of ‘HUMAN FOREVER’ by James Poulos

Earlier this week James Poulos, executive editor at The American Mind, sold 30 copies of his new book Human Forever. That is, in and of itself, nothing special — until you realise how much each copy was going for: $600.

Who, exactly, would be willing to spend $600 on a book? Quite a few people apparently: in less than 20 minutes, 30 copies were sold. And at the time of writing, a further 64 have been purchased (adding up to a cool take-home of $56,400).

Perhaps the most interesting feature of this book launch is that Poulos has been selling his book as a limited NFT on canonic.xyz, a Bitcoin-backed book publishing platform. And nor is he the first; earlier this month, Internet personality and horror writer Zero HP Lovecraft self-published a collection of his writing, They Had No Deepness of Earth, as a limited NFT. The purchase gives access to a tradable NFT, with the option to redeem the NFT for a physical, leather-bound collectible book and an eBook. In just a few hours, Lovecraft made six-figures from around 200 copies.

We live in a time of big numbers. Start-ups regularly receive valuations in the billions. Cryptocurrencies many of us have never heard of regularly reach values in the thousands, and in Bitcoin’s case, tens of thousands. Housing prices continue to soar. So, when you hear “$56,400 in a day,” or even “six-figures in an evening”, it might be hard to understand just how impressive these book figures are.

An author friend of mine explained the situation to me like this: “With major publishing companies, selling 10,000 copies is considered a major success. But, if you think of the fractional royalties you get, Poulos just made more money in 20 minutes than the standard literary “success” does in a year .”

So what’s behind their success? While crypto maximalists argue that it’s yet another data point showing that cryptocurrency will (or already does) reign supreme, I believe the success of Zero HP Lovecraft and James Poulos speaks to something else.

To my mind, it marks another victory for Internet subculture in the face of institutionalised wokeness. In recent years, publishing has slowly morphed into a Left-wing bubble, driving out heterodox and edgy material from its platforms. This has opened up a space for Internet self-starters like Poulos and Lovecraft. If legacy publishers don’t want their work, then they can just go straight to their consumer base.

Even if 200 or 94 aren’t big numbers in and of themselves, it does point to a market that is ripe for content that goes against prescribed narratives. For two relatively unknown writers to generate sales at those prices, just imagine what other writers can do. 

On the flip side, perhaps their success may also encourage existing publishers to loosen up and start entertaining more heterodox content. Maybe that’s why Penguin withstood internal pressure to publish Jordan Peterson’s second book.

Either way, it would certainly be ironic if these legacy institutions ended up copying the Internet upstarts to recapture their success. This could well be the beginning of the end for book publishing as we know it.

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Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
10 months ago

Getting your book traditionally published has benefits. Penguin, Bloomsbury can get your book in the hands of critics and bookstores. But – bookstores are woke hell holes and literary critics have lost plenty of prestige. There’s a great column in the Critic by ‘Secret Author’ who bemoans the constant praise and exaggerations of recent releases. Also, a traditional publisher will edit and proofread your book.
But… is it worth it? Much has been said about royalty rates. But to me, the bad part of trad publishing is how easily they drop authors for wrongthink – i.e David Starkey as one example. Writers like myself are not K-Pop stars, we shouldn’t have to live under the pressure that one wrong move (or scandal) ruins our careers. We’re not paid enough for that rubbish.
Katherine mentions Jordan Peterson. While I’m glad Penguin stuck by him, I’m concerned for authors who a) are more politically right-wing than him. b) don’t have his financial clout. I write novels, and I’m scared of querying them because I feel like I’m signing up for constant moderation. More than that, I’ve seen first hand how traditionally published authors censor themselves in public. Didn’t bookstores hide Helen Joyce’s book?
It’s a sad situation. But well done to the rule breakers. Bring on the next Gutenburg.

George Glashan
George Glashan
10 months ago

Interesting article, good news if true and continues on this path.

Penguin withstood internal pressure to publish Jordan Peterson’s second book.

What will happen to Penguin when bestsellers like Peterson self publish, who will pay their activists staffs wages then?

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
10 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

The privilege of the activists has completely inoculated them from the idea they may need to earn money.
Either that or they think that losing their job as some sort of conscientious objector will allow them to start a patreon that will set them up for life.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

It’s also inoculated them from reality. These activists know nothing about the world outside themselves, are not interested in history, economics or political science – they are, as Camille Paglia puts it, naive. A sheltered life breeds such weakness and lack of moral fibre.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago

Who, exactly, would be willing to spend $600 on a book?

Exactly. who? It all very nice for some writers, but there will be no change unless these prices are slashed by orders of magnitude. A few tens of people with loadsa money which they’ll spend just to own a NFT isn’t going to change anything.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
10 months ago

The only new bit here is the NFT angle. Authors have been doing limited run expensive runs since, well, forever. I used to share office space with Coach House Press, in Toronto. Every time that Margaret Atwood, among others, came out with a new book there would be a limited run special printing done at CHP with signed, autographed numbered copies. If you head to any ‘rare book’ site that stocks Atwood, you will find the CHP titles. Of course, the CHP vanity was thicker paper, better colour prints, and typesetting that still used hot lead instead of this new-fangled digital printing. Collectors got to spend a fortune on collectable copies, which they were happy to do so, since they were in the ‘I spend money to show I have money to spend’ demographic, anyway. The mainstream publishers do not mind one bit — this is fancy advertising for their books which somebody else is paying for, yum, yum, yum.
In the self-publishing market for those not targetting those who want to flaunt their wealth and their culture credentials, but those who want to sell in bulk to consumers, there have been good options for quite some time. I believe the most famous, and most popular in the English speaking world, is Lulu https://www.lulu.com/ . Warning, when I bought something from there about 12 years ago, it took me about 2 years to get them to stop spamming me with new offers for things to read. Things may have improved since then, as it has been a while.

Last edited 10 months ago by Laura Creighton
Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
10 months ago

I see this as performance art rather than publishing. Both authors are making a statement in line with the topics of their books. People do have money to burn and a non fungible token convertible to a limited edition book could attract silly prices based on rarity/fashion rather than intrinsic worth. But it will not get the book widely read so I do not see it as publishing.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago

The problem with this article is the writer does not understand NFTs and Block Chain. Block Chain is a system whereby ownership can be proven, theoretically incorruptible. The NTF is the token establishing ownership.

The NTF of the book therefore is Not the writing, it is ownership of a non-fungible token, which happens to be a limited published copy of a book. If the writer produced a book with a cover made of gold for $50,000 you cannot say the book sold for that – it sold for the gold value. Same with the NTF.

BUT – that everyone mis-understands NFTs in this time is insane, as they are about to completely change the paradigm of value and property and ownership of ALL Assets!!!!!!!!

My County Court House keeps Land Deeds on file in paper, proving who owns what property, (and also allows on-line copies). Same with all property everywhere in the world. Like the DMV has the title of your car.

This is likely to change and all to become NFTs. THAT MEANS ALL PROPERTY IS FOR SALE AND OWNERSHIP to anyone, any where on the globe!!

So say you are a Chinese with some cash to invest, so you look at the world’s assets for sale and buy 4 acres of wheat field in Saskatchewan Canada. The NFT is altered to your ownership after the money electronically exchanges.

The nations with surplus $$$ will buy all the assets up over time, all property ownership will migrate to where on the globe an excess of $ exists. Your neighbors house for sale? Some guy in Zambia with a windfall thinks it a good investment in a safe place and buys the NFT, puts it into a management company to rent, collects the rents…

The world becomes Globalized – BUT all the property, money, industry plant, goes to the wealthy – and they can use it for collateral and borrow and buy more,,,, and one day we wake up, we own nothing, we are unhappy, as some guy in Dubai owns our house and rents it to us, owns our car and leases it to us…. And we are Serfs in a Nu-Feudalism…..