Pearson says NFT textbooks will let it profit off secondhand sales - The Verge

Textbook publisher Pearson’s CEO says blockchain tech and NFTs could help it make money off ebook sales by tracking ownership transfers.

Textbook publisher Pearson suggests blockchain tech could let it take a cut of secondary textbook sales, capturing a section of the book market that’s so far escaped it. As quoted by Bloomberg, Pearson CEO Andy Bird believes non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, could help publishers make money off textbook resales, although he stopped short of describing concrete plans.

“In the analog world, a Pearson textbook was resold up to seven times, and we would only participate in the first sale,” said Bird after the company announced its latest quarterly earnings this week. “The move to digital helps diminish the secondary market, and technology like blockchain and NFTs allows us to participate in every sale of that particular item as it goes through its life.” Bloomberg suggests this would mean letting buyers resell ebooks, something that’s so far been a rarity in the publishing world.

It’s not clear how, when, or if NFTs might show up in Pearson’s catalog. But they could mark a new stage in a long-standing publishing war. Thanks to legal concepts like the first-sale doctrine, physical book buyers typically own the media they’ve purchased outright, and they’re allowed to sell it without the original publishers making money. But ebooks have complicated that calculus. Any digital transfer creates a new “copy” of the work, and third-party secondhand ebook sales (along with other secondhand digital media sales) have faced serious legal challenges as a result.

That’s historically given physical books a built-in advantage for students, who can buy or sell them secondhand to defray their often extraordinary upfront costs — without the publishers taking any of that money. Allowing ebook resales could make that advantage less dramatic.

As with many mainstream crypto applications, NFTs don’t bring an obvious technical innovation to this question. Bird talks up the way crypto ledgers track an item’s ownership from “owner A to owner B to owner C,” but this has always been possible using a digital database. A blockchain offers a decentralized version of that database, but the odds of Pearson using a fully decentralized, open system are approximately zero. It would almost certainly extend an existing copy protection scheme to stop non-NFT owners from pirating its books. That would make the NFT a fig leaf on top of an old-fashioned digital rights management or DRM framework. NFTs can theoretically be sold on third-party markets that aren’t approved by the creator, but big companies like Ubisoft certainly haven’t followed that principle, and Pearson may not either.

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