Words You Can Own
The Case for Onchain Publishing and Text NFTs.
In 1985, one of the earliest online communities flickered into being on a rack of servers in northern California. The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, or The WELL for short, was a gathering place where readers of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog could convene and chew the fat over everything from childcare to cybernetics. The first rule of The WELL was YOYOW: “You Own Your Own Words.” Rooted in the communitarian culture of Whole Earth, YOYOW alluded to an ethic of collective accountability. It served to remind users that whatever they posted to The WELL was ultimately what the community was made of. This was not just information exchange, but the construction and maintenance of a shared cultural world. Media was the collective memory of the community—the source of its cohesion and renewal.
Media in all its forms, from books to blogs to blockchains, has long performed this function. It is not a coincidence that one of the earliest experiments in choreographing online culture was birthed from an independent publication that catalyzed its audience around inspiring speculations on how they might live otherwise. Think too of the self-published zines from which this publication takes its title and how they allowed communities to directly manifest a shared culture.
Today, however, the platform physics of the ads-based internet have made the relationship between media and community increasingly tenuous. Creators are compelled to churn out low-quality content optimized for low-traction engagement from the largest possible audience. Meanwhile, readers are left exhausted and adrift in a graveyard of broken links, paywalled archives, and shadow-banned accounts as publications buckle and platforms make ever more dizzying and unpredictable pivots. This model cannot enable cultural consensus in media.
As a first step in seeding a decentralized, blockchain-native alternative, articles published by Zine, beginning with this one, will be minted onchain as text NFTs. All of our content will remain free to read, but if you encounter something that resonates and want to hold on to it, you can pay a fee and let it live in your wallet forever.
We are committed to onchain publishing because we believe it challenges the shortcomings of our present online mediasphere on four interrelated levels: permanence, transparency, attribution, and collectibility.
If you remember reading something online a decade ago, there’s a substantial chance it’s now irretrievable—either because the blog hosting it went bust or the hyperlink is just lost to memory in the relentless churn of the scroll. If you’re a writer interested in publishing something someone will want to read in ten years, the economics of doing so have never been more hostile.
Onchain publishing makes media permanent and secures the legacies of writers. If we decide to abandon Zine in a fit of editorial fury, the article you collected will still be there to read in your wallet. If you’re still sending the article to your friends and they like it enough to mint it, the writer will continue to receive their cut of the fee.
Writers currently have two ways to publish work online: established media organizations (funded by paywalls and ads) or self-publishing via platforms like Substack (funded by subscribers).
Onchain publishing does not present a drastically new monetization model to the above, but it is transparent, globally accessible, and secures automated splits and royalties. Writers aren't left trapped in “just checking in on this” email limbo, chasing payments they may never receive. Rather, writers will continue to receive splits as long as people continue to collect their content, providing a sustained source of revenue beyond a one-time fee.
What has been lost with the annihilation of the media industries by Web2 is not just a sustainable funding model for editorial, but a deeply collaborative form of creative production. Onchain publishing provides a means for the scope of this shared authorship to be attributed and awarded with ease.
Automated splits also easily enable royalties to be shared not only between Zine and the author(s) of an article, but also with an interview subject, photographer, illustrator, copyeditor, or any other participant in its production who has opted in. All involved in the creation of an article can automatically and indefinitely receive a share of the value they create.
Onchain publishing allows users to collect, curate, and contextualize the writing that matters to them. When you collect an article because you identify with an argument or want to preserve a moment, you support the writer, signal your own identity and tastes, and expand the context that surrounds the writing itself.
The collectible nature of onchain media allows readers to become participants in culture rather than passive audiences. In contrast to the ads-based internet’s reliance on flashes of monetized attention, onchain media locates value in contextual knowledge and enduring appreciation.
We’re experimenting, and we hope that our readers will invent new cases beyond those sketched out here, but our fundamental conviction is this:
Media is a medium for community. By putting our media onchain, we hope to make that medium permanent, decentralized, and transparent. In doing so, we hope to safeguard the open-ended evolution of culture from the incursion of the attention economy.
If you feel similarly, mint the article below.
See how it looks in action here.