Maker Metadata: NFT dApp for Bookbinders

The rare book world is an intense maker space. Old books are being conserved and re-bound in order to keep the material from decaying beyond recognition, to preserve the book's reading ability. New books are bound with the intention to last 500 years, minimum. I am a bookbinder and I live by this premise.
Incredibly, the provenance for new bound books is rarely documented and if documented at all, it's most often on paper, frequently written in pencil on the flyleaf when the book is sold.
My objective is to create a dApp specifically for the book world, for the bookbinders who care for the world of books as fine art. Why are books so successful as fine art? It's a simple equation: you can have loads of them and they never go out of fashion. Libraries are the quiet hero for knowledge keepers. Think Alexandria…think Sotheby's. Books meant to last are created by human hands. The ability to keep a permanent record via the blockchain about books created today will have far-reaching implications. Ask Gutenberg? I wish I could have asked more questions.
As a bookbinder, and member in good standing with the Guild of Bookworkers, I am connected to a small niche of makers who create the books meant to last, to carry our art and thoughts into the future. Most of the time, we don't create the content, rather we bind it in a secure form: a book. My pitch is for a dApp that is not financially-driven, but meant to be an easy and inexpensive means for these makers to ensure future discovery with accurate and secure metadata secured on the blockchain.

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15 Responses

  1. This is an Awesome Idea. I am often saddened by people who cut the pages out of old rare books to sell pages for profit. I agree with your statement “ The ability to keep a permanent record via the blockchain about books created today will have far-reaching implications.” Yes! We need to preserve the original artifacts and using blockchain makes perfect sense. Good luck!

    1. Keith, thank you for your input. Books have evolved from watermarked paper to trademark to copyright to ISBN and Library of Congress in publication data. Now, we have an opportunity for a new and decentralized approach using Cardano to capture the metadata (provenance and authenticity) of the book that lives beyond the mainstream as a hand-made record between pages and a cover. Anyone who has handled a brittle paperback knows they don’t last. Contrast that with the hand-written journals of Alexander Hamilton and H.P. Lovecraft’s notebooks. Each, I’ve seen for sale because libraries had to thin their special collections and to raise funds. Not necessarily sad, but a fact of life. Knowing where these treasures reside will serve future scholars. Otherwise, the alternative is to hope for a rare garage sale find in the next century.

  2. Great idea, Kae! I had a few questions:

    I know that the size limit for metadata on Cardano is 16KB. Do you know, roughly, how many pages of text that would equate to? I would assume that large books would need to be broken up into sections. Also, have given thought to what format the text would be in (.txt, .md, etc.)?

    I am just wondering where the funds would come from, in order to cover the cost of creating transactions with all of this metadata. Would these books be publicly available? So that you would try to get funding from Catalyst, crowdfunding, or angel investors. Or would the text be encrypted and someone would need to make some sort of payment to access the information?

  3. Mitch, Hello!

    Thank you for asking this clarifying question. The book content would not reside within the metadata. This premise is geared for the non-Amazon book; books written and designed as fine art meant to survive us. Generally, these are not public-facing books unless they’re in a major library’s special collection. Bookbinders, researchers, private collectors and institutions are the target end-users.

    Most significantly the core of this project is the metadata associated with the book’s authenticity: bookbinder, designer, cover materials, paper origin, gilder (if not the binder), series numbering, if applicable. 16KB should be enough. Metadata would also include key information about the book including author and content information, year and # of copies made, country of origin, and affiliation, if applicable, such as a library or university), as a baseline.

    NFTs can also be applied to existing historical books as well as new bindings with new content. Payment for the NFT would occur on the front end to establish and later maintain or demonstrate authenticity. The metadata would be available publicly on the blockchain first, to prove that the work exists and then to leave a breadcrumb trail to finding the work; for example, who purchased the work and when.

    Catalyst or angel investors would support development of the NFT dApp to enable bookworkers to establish the metadata on the blockchain. The cost for individual NFTs would be bourn by the collector/institution/recipient or possibly by the bookbinder who wishes to preserve his/her/their legacy by documenting an immutable record of it so that future generations would know to look for it.

    I hope my response is helpful. I’m open to continued dialogue if you have additional questions — or ideas.


  4. Hello,
    I was wondering about how to make sure the NFT and the book remain related. IN the call you mentioned adding a Qr code of something to the book, but how would it work? Would gluing or permanently attaching some piece of paper to a vintage book reduce the value? Also, how could you account for shipping prices when sending a book?

  5. Hello sebpereira33,

    Great question! Much like gamers embed an ‘easter egg’, the same concept can be employed for new bound books. A QR code may be printed and added to the book’s colophon (the paper record about the book — sewn in along with all the book’s pages), the token’s fingerprint, policy ID and asset name may be added in the same manner. Additional options include adding these identifying numbers or QR code blockchain reference via stamping along the cover’s edge beneath the decorative paste-downs on the inside cover (commonly done today) or including an incorruptible reference embedded in the spine as the book is covered (whether leather or parchment). Leather is particularly easy to deboss with a stamped image or characters. I can also imagine that fine bookbinders will embed the blockchain reference is the cover design. If you look at modern or historical books, you’ll see that the covers are often complex and designed with gold and colored onlays to reflect the book’s content, author, or patron.

    Fun fact: Ancient libraries chained their books to the shelves because they were so easily stolen. Chained books were common from the middle ages (500 to 1400-1500 ce) through the 18th century. The idea that books can be digitally chained in modern times revisits an old and intriguing story.

    Concerning your question about reducing value by altering the book with a digital image: For new books, no way. Quite the contrary. It would document the authenticity and provenance of the work. For historical works, the traditional means to secure provenance is often via pencil on the end sheets. Pencil! Go ahead and scream – I’ll wait.

    For historical and rare books, a paper certificate would have to accompany the book. It wouldn’t make sense to alter a rare book. All is not lost, however, if the book and it’s blockchain reference were separated. The blockchain reference accomplishes two things: a documented, immutable reference that the book existed and clues to locate it’s origin or sales trail — think two hundred years forward.

    Critically important: Knowing that a book existed at all and whether multiple copies are known to exist is half the historical battle. This gives the researcher something to compare with a book in hand as even rare books are often made in multiples. A one-off book is likely to have an artist’s proof as a potential companion. I create an artist’s proof for the books I make.

    Shipping prices are traditionally baked into the sale price of the book. Often, valuable works are delivered by hand to ensure the safety of the work. Hand delivery is a small price to pay to ensure safe arrival. Nefarious intrigue is very real in the book world.


    1. Hello kpiszczor,

      Good question! While Worldcat is a tremendous resource, only libraries can add references to Worldcat. So, if the book you make – or own in your private library – is not held by an institution like a library or university – then it does not qualify for listing.

      This project will enable a permissionless metadata archive for bookbinders and private book collectors without centralized gatekeepers.

      Books that eventually became famous were not always well-known when they were published. This project will address present-day record keeping to support future discovery. What will the top 5 most sought after books be in the future. Here’s a current sampling of some of the most desirable books today.

      * Gutenberg bible, printed 1456, with 180 copies known to exist
      * The Three Musketeers: Alexandre Dumas 1846, London, leather bound, 1st English translation
      * Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin 1536, 1st edition, Latin
      * Birds of America, John James Audubon, double elephant folio
      * Shakespeare’s First Folio: compiled by John Herminge & Henry Connell 1622-1623


    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Matthias! I love hearing that your sister is a bookbinder, too – there is something inherently good about book people, I think. So much patience and creativity are required.

      Thanks to encouragement from the ADA Maker Space community, I’ve submitted a Catalyst proposal on Idea Scale F6 Metadata Challenge — Books: Legacy Discovery. There is no hope, there is only doing and so I had to go for it.


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