“Big Change” *is* coming in publishing via the Machine-Payable Web @21


Publishing guru Mike Shatzkin wrote an important and well received article this summer entitled The “Big Change” era in trade book publishing ended about four years ago.  You should read the article in its entirety but in a nutshell:

… the challenges of today aren’t about change of the magnitude that was being coped with in the period that ended five years ago. They’re more about improving workflows and processes, learning to use new tools, and integrating new people with new skill sets into the publishing business. And there are a lot of new people with relevant skills up and down the trade publishing organizations now. That wasn’t so much the case when things were changing the fastest, 2007-2012.

It isn’t that there aren’t still many of new things to work on, new opportunities to explore, or long-term decisions to make. But the editor today can sign a book and expect a publishing environment when it comes out in a year or two roughly like the one we have today. The editor in 2010 couldn’t feel that confidence. The marketer can plan something when the book first comes up for consideration and find the plan will still make sense six months later. And while things [are] still very much in flux in sales, a blow comparable to the loss of Borders isn’t on the [horizon].

Of course, there could always be a black swan about to announce itself.

The last sentence is the correct one: there will be no rest for the weary. The book publishing industry is about to be swamped by yet another tsunami of change.  Two major technological trends are driving this, one well known, one less so. Machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies are famously spurring the creation of self-driving cars, human-like speech recognition and synthesis, flawless image classification, and more.  In the book publishing world companies like Kadaxis are applying these technologies to meet the revenue-unlocking challenges of discovery. Chatbots and other technologies that provide dramatic improvements in eliciting user intent will probably also play an important role in improving discovery going forward.

Still emerging from the shadows is the Machine-Payable Web, a combination of new and old technologies that promises another great wave of change.  In a nutshell, we’re finally going to see viable microcommerce, this time powered by machine-to-machine transactions that take place largely without human intervention and denominated in fungible cryptocurrencies.   A leading company in this space is Balaji Srinivasan’s 21 funded to the tune of $121.5M by a coalition of VCs including leader Andreessen Horowitz. 

First, we had the World Wide Web, a web of links between documents. Then we had the Social Web, a social network of relationships between people. We believe the third web will be the Machine-Payable Web, where each node in the network is a machine and each edge is a micropayment between machines.

Towards this end, we’ve developed open source software called 21 that makes it simple to perform micropayments over HTTP. The software allows you to get digital currency onto any machine headlessly, set up web services that accept and transmit bitcoin over HTTP, and discover other machines with similar services to autonomously trade with.

The Web as a whole is going to change from having two tiers–free and paid–to having three–free, micro-metered, and paid.  It’s crucial to understand that the micrometering will be automatic, seamless, and bidirectional.  Instead of contributing content gratis to be monetized by huge companies like Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Quora,  those who deliver value to the global conversation will receive compensation proportional to their conversation. These production earnings in turn will subsidize metered consumption in a virtuous circle.  For “content creators” (“authors” in the book world), this will mean another huge revenue opportunity on the scale of Google AdSense or Kindle Direct Publishing.  Book publicity and marketing will probably become more self-supporting and measurable as the value they are producing will be more effectively recognized by the market.

At the same time, machine intelligence will continue to improve.  In recent years, companies have successfully demonstrated algorithmic content creation of news stories, poetry, screenplays, art, and music, while PageKicker has been pushing the envelope of algorithmic book creation.  As machines become better and better at understanding human needs, algorithmic content creation tools will become better and better at producing what readers need.  It’s only a question of time until robot authors are automagically building libraries on the fly.   Authors and editors will gradually be moving up the value chain from artisan to supervisor, sponsor, and patron.
It’s with this technology vision in mind that PageKicker has made a “pivot” towards the Machine Payable (and Machine-Powered) Web. Over the last few months we’ve been porting selected elements of our algorithmic content toolkit to the 21 platform so that we are ready for what we believe will be a huge “green field” distribution opportunity, a gold rush during which book people establish new and valuable commercial relationships directly with their customers, temporarily free from the bottlenecks created by incumbent tech giants.

For more information about the Machine Payable Web, see this article by Balaji Srinivasan: A bitcoin miner in every device and in every hand; PageKicker’s website, MachinePayableWebNews.com. To see PageKicker’s current suite of machine payable publishing apps, see http://21.co/pagekicker; more coming, & open to collaborative projects.

The move to the machine-payable web reminds me of 1994, when I created the Internet Book Information Center, the first book meta-site on the Web. At the time, there were 130 web sites in the world, total.  (Here’s a flashback from 1998, the earliest one I can find.)  Almost every website in the world can benefit from a microcommerce layer, and there are trillions of websites now. It’s a huge opportunity, and we’re moving fast to squeeze through the launch window.

Stay tuned for more!


Fred Zimmerman
Founder & CEO, PageKicker

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