During my journalism internship, I could already see there was going to be a problem with my chosen vocation. The small New England television station where I was interning was struck by a wave of media consolidation and competition from new cable networks. Writers were happy just to be called in as weekend temps. Geez, my mentor was telling me to go to law school. That was 1992 and traditional journalism was in deep crisis.
Then along came the Internet, that happy digital highway of instant-publishing gratification. This had the effect of turning nearly everyone into a writer and publisher, arguably for better or for worse. But the question imprinted on me during my internship remained: How does anyone seriously get paid for this?
Different models – subscriptions, sponsorships, embedded ads, SEO, and pay-per-download – have been tried for promoting equitable distribution of digital content, but this question of secure, reliable payment still hovers over the media industry – as it does for most anyone who produces creative content, like books, movies, music, or pictures.
The traditional route of an author has been to present her work to a publisher, and hope that her particular flavor of creative genius will be chosen for readers’ mass consumption. Not many make the cut, and those that do face absorbent publishing fees that detract from hard-won earnings, sometimes leaving the author with a slim royalty of 25% for her e-book (source: Business of Publishing). One of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert, wrote in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear about the many rejection letters – some helpful, some seemingly capricious – that she received from publishers. Undeterred, she chalked it up as part of the creative process, preferring perseverance to despair. She also kept her day job until her third book, the New York Times Best Seller Eat, Pray, Love, won critical acclaim, Oprah added her novel to the book club, and Julia Roberts agreed to play the lead role in the movie version.
But what if there’s another path to publishing that’s open, free from media manipulation, and inherently just in matters of financial compensation? The answer might be found in blockchain technology. Underpinning the new “Internet of trust,” blockchains are open, distributed ledgers for recording transactions so they are verifiable and permanent. Information is stored on a decentralized, peer-to-peer network that is free from manipulation by any single source. Inherently secure and resistant to tampering, this technology is ideal for recording events, records management, identity management, and transaction processing. But blockchain technology isn’t just for the likes of banks and insurance companies. It can also help creatives showcase their work, cultivate an audience – and get paid securely and directly.
Freedom of Speech on the Blockchain
DECENT, a Swiss tech startup, is applying blockchain technology to build a secured and trusted content distribution platform for authors, artists, and creatives of all calibers. Already in its second round of testing, with a launch date set for this summer, DECENT is attracting interest from technology enthusiasts and authors alike. Content posted on the platform includes e-books, blogs, videos, music, photos, and white papers, as well as independent software packages. Additionally, DECENT is encouraging third-party developers to build their own apps on top of its open-source protocol, opening the way for new publishing opportunities such as blogging spaces, photo galleries, and independent newspapers.
What makes DECENT different from other content distribution platforms is both the blockchain technology that supports it and its commitment to freedom of speech. Founded in 2015 by Matej Michalko and Matej Boda, both from Slovakia, DECENT is an independent, nonprofit peer-to-peer network that is wholly owned by its users. As such, it is not affiliated with any economic, media, or political party. In this decentralized network, content is hosted on multiple sites, meaning that it cannot be blocked, manipulated, or tampered with once it is published. This level of security provided by blockchain technology, in effect, also presents an interesting opportunity for independent media and organizations, like political opposition press and dissidents. “We have created a fully integrated and trustworthy worldwide platform system of digital content distribution, where blockchain plays a central role,” says Michalko. “Communication and all payments are done through the blockchain.”
DECENT has created an integrated platform for digital content distribution with blockchain at the center
That means no middlemen stand between the content author and the consumer. Whether in the form of publishing fees or content hosting fees, the cut taken by middlemen can be a serious threat to trust and profitability. “Most middlemen are unnecessary,” says Michalko. Citing a key advantage of blockchain compared to other technologies, he adds, “There is a significant reduction of costs of hosting because blockchain is peer-to-peer technology.”
DECENT Community: Authors, Consumers, Publishers
The DECENT community is divided into three groups based on their relationships to the content: authors, consumers, and publishers. Authors comprise all types of content creators, whether they are individuals, organizations, businesses, artists, writers, photographers, software developers, music producers, or videographers. These people can upload their content, regardless of format, to the DECENT platform and set their price for which they will allow someone to access it. “There are no steps needed from the author. Just basically, upload the content to the platform and push the Publish button,” says Michalko. And what about tracking the content downstream? DECENT will tag the content with a digital fingerprint, enabling the author to identify copies of the content, so no unauthorized person can access or distribute it.
Consumers are the people who purchase the content and download it for their use. They can either access DECENT via its app or on the Web. “We built our products aimed at the general public, so no special knowledge is needed,” says Michalko. Purchasing content is like entering into a contract: the consumer makes a promise-to-pay; the author then delivers the content; and the payment is made. No payment, no content.
Payment is made with DCT tokens, a cryptocurrency like the Bitcoin that is the value denomination used in the DECENT community. DCT tokens are exchangeable to Bitcoins (BTC) and fiat currencies like euros, dollars, or pounds.
Which brings us to the role of Publishers. Publishers are the members of the community who sustain the network by applying their independent computing resources for activities like processing transactions between authors and consumers and mining of Bitcoins. They typically provide their services in exchange for a fee. To be a publisher requires the necessary hardware and computing resources.
Startup Credo: Build Fresh, Hire Smart
DECENT stands out among blockchain startups in that it has its own blockchain built on open-source protocols. This provides the DECENT team with assurance in both the integrity of its technology and the mission of its platform. “Having built something from scratch, we are pretty sure what’s in there and we are not obliged to base our solution on someone else,” says Michalko. “There are a lot of great platforms, but some have their limitations and we are not sure about what mission they have. By building something from scratch, we are really in control.”
From September to November of 2016, DECENT held its initial coin offering (ICO) for its DCT tokens, raising 5,881+ BTC in the value of USD$4.2M at the end of the ICO and having a value of $15M in June 2017. The funds will be used by the startup to further the development of its technology. More than 4,000 people backed the ICO, often buying in at two bitcoins or less. “We are really proud of it,” says Michalko when speaking of the ICO. “Based on how many people put trust in us, we are going to make this dream a reality.”
DECENT’s team consists of more than 35 people, spread among four global locations: Switzerland, Slovakia, China, and Armenia. The startup is hiring extensively; however, it hasn’t exactly been easy. “The biggest challenge for us is to find the right people. Usually [that’s] 1 out of 100 people,” says Michalko, who subscribes to the view that human capital is the single best investment. “We have low capital expenditures, so it’s all about getting the right people.”
Michalko’s vision for DECENT is to be the content distribution platform of choice. He says, “I have confidence because we have great technology and a great team, and we are able to eliminate all the unnecessary middlemen.”
Look for the DECENT launch this summer. To find out more about DECENT, watch the AMA session (Ask-Me-Anything) with founder Matej Michalko.
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