Metaverse Opportunities for Authors
Mark Zuckerberg changed the world in 2004 when he founded Facebook. Yes, social media companies like Myspace existed before his platform, but none facilitated the shift for social media from a niche pastime to a mainstream phenomenon more than Facebook. Look at the company today, now called Meta, and you’ll see its lasting power as it restructures to form the next evolutionary step in social dynamics: the metaverse. As with social media, the idea of a metaverse isn’t new. But with Zuckerberg involved, it will almost certainly grow in popularity. Hence, as authors, we need to take notice.
So, what is a metaverse? If you’ve read Earnest Cline’s sci-fi novel, Ready Player One, or watched the movie, you’ll likely have a vague idea. GeekWire describes the metaverse well as “a 3D, immersive, fully-realized digital world, where humans can live a digital second life – working, socializing and building homes and communities.” Most envisage that average users will access the metaverse in virtual reality, using headsets like the Oculus Rift. However, it will also be accessible through smartphones, using augmented reality technology in a similar way to the game Pokémon Go.
It might sound like a far-off concept for now but, according to a recent JP Morgan publication, consumers already spend $54 billion on virtual goods every year, NFTs (more on those later) currently have a market cap of $41 billion and Second Life, the closest we have to an existing metaverse right now, turned over $650 million in 2021. Interest in this space is developing fast. And, as many of us authors run online businesses, we can capitalise on this growing market in more ways than one. Today’s blog post will discuss a few potential ideas you could explore to prepare your author business to get in early before the metaverse hits the mainstream.
Science Focus defines NFT’s – or “Non-Fungible Tokens” – as “unique and non-replaceable” items anyone can buy and trade using blockchain technology. As we’ve already mentioned in this post, it’s possible to make a digital print run of NFT ebooks which you can sell as collectors’ items, each of which is completely unique. Such products make up an entirely new format that can sit alongside epubs, paperbacks and digital audiobooks. However, NFTs have so much more untapped potential.
In the metaverse, NFTs will no longer exist only on a screen; they’ll inhabit the virtual world just as physical products exist in our real one. That means consumers’ avatars will be able to hold, use and wear NFTs. Keeping this in mind, you could create mugs, t-shirts and other merch for your readers in the metaverse using NFT technology just as you would in the real world. Only, without physical manufacturing and distribution restraints, far more impressive merch ideas are possible. Want to sell a branded cape using your IP? You can do it. How about a car? Yes. You could even use the intellectual property rights from a fantasy novel to open a pet shop stocked with monsters.
Before the pandemic, gigs were limited by logistics. Then the rise of Zoom and Microsoft Teams changed the game. Suddenly, speakers didn’t need to travel to events and neither did audiences. Speakers could present to “visitors” while sat in their kitchens, only dressed from the waist up. Is this experience perfect? Of course not. There’s only so much information you can convey while sharing your screen and only so much humour you can summon when your face appears as a small rectangle. But the metaverse will fix a lot of these issues and even improve on live speaking gigs.
Think of the production value of the average author talk in the real world. Typically, if you speak at a small-scale event like a local bookfair, you might present in front of 20 readers and have a chair, desk, microphone and maybe a banner with your book on it. At a high-budget event, perhaps you’ll welcome a few hundred guests and have a stage with professional lighting and a few props. As space, location and budget aren’t factors in the metaverse, however, individual authors like you could theoretically run stadium tours to thousands of attendees, with pyrotechnics and Broadway-scale casts of AI actors acting out stories. You could even present in a pen-name avatar to hide your identity in a way that would never be possible in the real world.
When it comes to theme parks, building a small-scale one will set you back at least $10 million. A project as big as Disney World or Universal Studios can run into the billions. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – arguably the most famous theme park project created from the IP of a novelist – cost a reported $265 million to build. Creating a theme park like that is beyond the scope of all but a handful of authors on the planet – particularly if you’re a die-hard indie and want to fund construction yourself to maintain creative control. This won’t be true, though, in the metaverse.
There, in theory, every author could buy their own plot of land and populate it with branded rides. As a romance author, you could create a carnival that resembles the place where your heroine met her future husband, or a tunnel of love that takes guests through the major destinations they went on their honeymoon. As a sci-fi author, you could create a trans-dimensional 3D maze complete with wormholes. Or, writing horror, you could fashion a city-wide zombie run inside a sprawling metropolis. Land is an unlimited resource in the metaverse and the only construction limit will be your imagination.
Average authors thinks differently since the indie revolution altered the publishing landscape. At one point, many considered themselves artists who generally worked alone, their only source of contact an agent or publisher. Many new writers gave little regard for the “team” that created their books, other than to mention a handful of names in their books’ acknowledgement sections. These days, however, many of us operate author businesses, full of collaboration, both with freelancers and co-writers. And the metaverse will only amplify our ability and desire to collaborate.
Consider the virtual office, for instance. If you’re like many of us, right now, you probably don’t meet most of your collaborators in a physical space. You get freelancer updates via email and discuss co-writing projects over Zoom. You could meet at a real convention but that’s rare for most of us. The metaverse, however, could enable teams like yours to meet regularly in a virtual space that has all the creative and social benefits of an office but no commute or uninspiring backdrop. In theory, you could pass a virtual copy of your book around a table during a marketing meeting on the Orient Express, or perform writing sprints alongside an accountability buddy atop a mountain, without leaving your living room.
Brick-and-mortar bookstores in the real world have updated over time, but there’s only so much they can do as physical businesses. A manager can’t place an infinite number of informative signs in a walkway or alter the store layout every hour without overworking their staff. The metaverse, though, has no such constraints. Should they want to, a metaverse bookstore manager could A/B test the store layout so each customer entering the room experiences a different layout. Or they could present different books on their promotional islands based on an individual’s previous shopping habits.
And that’s just in virtual reality. Remember Pokémon Go? Using augmented reality, it led millions of gamers to spend months walking outdoors in the hope of capturing Pokémon. To do this, players directed their smartphones at their environment to see 3D, virtual creatures superimposed onto the world. Similar technology could evolve the real-world shopping experience. Readers, for instance, could point their cameras at books in bookstores and see dashboards of extra information floating above them that managers could never fit on their physical shelves. As an author, you can’t make these changes happen, but you can prepare for them by optimising your books’ metadata in advance to ensure your books integrate well into the metaverse.
If it does take off, there’s no doubt it will come with boundless opportunities for authors. Some will resemble the ones described in this article, but bear in mind that the landscape is always changing. The focus may shift from virtual reality to augmented reality. Cryptocurrencies might create an entirely new economic model that differs from the ones we currently experience. The blockchain might trigger a seismic shift in intellectual property law. Short-term opportunities will arise and, while some will stick around, others will disappear. All that’s certain is that the metaverse isn’t a place for authors to fear. It will be a place of abundance, designed by and for indie creators like us.
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