Lethargica: A Case Study in Web3 Publishing

by Edward H. Carpenter

This article was originally published  in Issue 6 of Vagobond Magazine.

When I began to research the intersection of books and the blockchain, it was from the perspective of an author who had already published in traditional newspapers and journals, as well as self-publishing in Web2.

What I found was that many of the options for Web3 publishing would let a potential purchaser read the entire work for free – and this struck me as somewhat of a drawback.

My own first effort at a solution was to release one of my own short stories as an NFT but use a “book trailer” – a video teaser – as the base NFT. That is, a potential collector would see a one-minute video that suggested what the story would be about – and if they bought it, they’d get access to written and audio formats as “unlockables” along with Discord access and the knowledge that 20 percent of the sales would go to charity and other NFT artists.

In my mind, this solved two problems – it eliminated the potential for people to read the whole story without buying it, and provided an answer to the question “why buy this story as an NFT when I could get it more cheaply on Amazon?”

So, how did it go?

I think it went well enough that I will continue to release short fiction in this format. Since releasing Lethargica in May 2022, it has netted 0.27 ETH – about $500 USD at the current exchange rate. That’s about what it would have made had I sold it to a magazine – the traditional venue for short story publication – at the current “pro” rate of 8 cents per word.

And when compared to Amazon, where the basic story (minus the video, the audiobook, and some extra written material) has netted me a little over $300 since 2011, the NFT version has proved much more lucrative.

That said, if you’re planning to go down this path, here are a couple of points to consider.

First, while the money is better in Web3, the readership is much higher in Web2. Lethargica, for example, has had 600 paid sales and 5600 free reads on Amazon – the NFT version on OpenSea has reached less than 30 readers to date. Then again, the story has been available for a decade on Amazon, and only a few months on the blockchain.

Second, I used my own cover art for Lethargica, but I think that anytime you can collaborate with another Web3 creative – be it an artist or a videographer – you really increase the potential sales by doubling the number of people promoting your NFT. That is, of course, if you are splitting revenue with them, which you can now do on OpenSea.

While I look forward to prototyping short fiction across the emergent publishing platforms on BookCoin, Creatokia, and Readl, I believe that for the present, packaging these stories in a multi-media format on OpenSea is a quick and profitable way for self-published authors to make the jump from Web2 to Web3.

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