“Can you imagine how your view of the world might change if you spent your time online in a place optimized for reading what you care most about, rather than just endless scrolling? What would it feel like to check a feed that’s trying to catch you up on what you deeply value rather than keeping you feeling anxious, angry, and alone?”
This is what tuka does. Read on…
This is an excellent example of how to use new online platforms to sell and monetize creative content, long-form authors in this case. Musicians, authors, podcasters, videographers, poets, photographers, etc. all need to do this.
10 Reasons Why I’m Publishing My Next Book on Substack
The publishing world is changing, but writers can change too—maybe even for the better
I’m a little like Walter White in the TV show Breaking Bad.
As you may recall, White was a high school chemistry teacher, overqualified and underpaid, who turns to the illegal drug business to pay his bills. In season one, White is still a reasonably decent guy, and we sympathize with his plight. He wants to focus just on the laboratory side of the business, leaving all the nasty downstream distribution problems to his young partner Jesse Pinkman.
That’s me and my writing. I enjoy the creative side of it—every aspect of it. My writer’s nook is my shiny white laboratory. It’s all the messy downstream stuff I prefer to avoid.
Dealing with it is painful and time-consuming. I send a manuscript off to a New York publisher, and it takes another year to get the book in the stores. Or more than a year, in some cases.
And what happens during that year? Oh, I could share stories that would make your blood run cold.
But Ted doesn’t tell tales out of school.
The Honest Broker is a reader-supported guide to books, music, and culture. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.
The key point is, that like Walter White, I’ve learned it’s impossible to avoid getting embroiled in the complexities and competing agendas of downstream activities.
At least until now.
The Internet may be a curse in many regards, but it has given me direct contact with my readers. I cherish that. Things that once took a year now happen instantaneously. Instead of getting feedback from one editor, I learn from thousands of people, many of them very smart with useful things to say. The whole process is energized, streamlined, and turbocharged.
Best of all, I get to stay in the lab—or writer’s library office, in my case—but still have total connectivity with all my readers. Publishing is as simple as pushing a button, and there’s no cartel to worry about.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had great experiences with editors and publishers. I even had one editor (Sheldon Meyer) who was an extraordinary individual, one of the most impressive I’ve met in my life. And I’ve collaborated with many other outstanding people in the publishing business. I’ve worked with them on 15 different books (11 new books plus 4 revised editions) at 6 different publishers over the course of 3 decades, and all parties have benefited from these relationships.
The publishers have done well—all my books are still in print and have, on average, paid off the initial author’s advance four times over—so they have nothing to complain about. And I’ve definitely gained from access to their know-how and downstream distribution expertise. Those smart folks in New York have been my Jesse Pinkman, yet even more on-the-ball and reliable.
Alas, the New York publishing world has changed, and not for the better
The indie publishing business has almost completely disappeared. For decades now, large publishers have swallowed up small publishers. It’s gotten so bad that the Department of Justice had to file an antitrust suit to prevent the acquisition of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House.
Here’s what merging those two publishers would do. The combined Penguin and Random House is on the left, the next 21 publishers are on the right.
Source: US Department of Justice
Can you see what I’m saying?
I still have cordial relationships with those big four publishers. Just a few days ago, an editor at one of them reached out to me about writing a book for his imprint. But I declined, because it wouldn’t have been the right move for me.
But it’s more than just me. This kind of concentration of power can’t be healthy for other writers—or for readers. Or for our culture at large.
And as publishing becomes more monolithic, the process of writing a book changes—sometimes in awkward or even disturbing ways. I said above that I wouldn’t tell tales out of school, and I won’t. But let me simply note the dizzying rise of teams and committees and Zoom meetings in publishing—so many stakeholders with so many competing agendas—and too many crucial decisions made after a group discussion of five minutes. I’m sure the pandemic contributed to this, but the groundwork had already been laid in the previous decade.
Nowadays the team not only judges your book but your entire life—spelled out in the morality clause now inserted in many book contracts. The Author’s Guild is protesting, and for good reason. The wording is extremely vague—and leaves me wondering whether Hunter Thompson or Allen Ginsberg or Anaïs Nin or James Baldwin (or Baudelaire or Wilde or Dostoevsky in an earlier day) could have confidently accepted a book deal with such vague threats hanging over their head. Hey, can the team provide me with a clear definition of moral turpitude? But the penalties are crystal clear. Not only can the team terminate your contract, but can also demand you repay your advance—which might cause problems if, like most writers, you have already used it to pay your rent.
When I was publishing my first three books, I never heard once about what the team decided. My editor had my trust and vice versa. We worked together closely as individuals on every issue, from writing to marketing, even down to the tiniest details. I knew publishing was a business, even back then, but it didn’t feel like one. That started to change in the new millennium, and every aspect of that downstream process became more acutely corporatized.
Fortunately, the rest of the world has changed too, especially technology. And authors have options that didn’t exist years ago. Or, in some instances, they have options that didn’t even exist just a few months ago.
Substack is one of those options.
So I’ve decided to publish my next book on Substack. Maybe I’ll later do a deal with a traditional publisher to issue physical books, but I’ll worry about that in good time. (That’s the downstream stuff and, blessedly, I can defer all that for now).
My subscribers will receive the book in installments. And I will continue to do lots of other articles too—so this is a plus for them. What they call a lagniappe in New Orleans. I hope and expect to pick up more paid subscribers, so I benefit too.
Below I’m listing the 10 reasons why I made this decision. I offer them as a checklist for other authors considering a similar move.
But first let me share the title of my new book.
This is breakthrough research, and it not only tells you extraordinary things about the origins of our music and culture, but it’s also a guide to how music can transform lives and communities today.
I’m very excited about this book, and have to restrain myself from talking more about it now. But I’ll provide more details (and the first installment) soon enough.
For the time being, I’ll limit myself to sharing the chapter titles. The book is every bit as surprising and wide-ranging as the titles might suggest. On almost every page you will discover something you’ve never encountered anywhere else.
I expect to publish at least one chapter every month on Substack, alongside my other articles. I would prefer to send the chapters to all subscribers, paid or unpaid. That’s my current hope—but I need a sufficient number of generous readers to take out a paid subscription to make that possible.
Consider this my equivalent of pledge week. In other words, your support can make it possible for everyone to enjoy this project, and the other offerings from The Honest Broker.
So let me insert one of those subscription buttons here.
And now here’s the checklist of ten reasons why authors should consider publishing their books on Substack.
10 REASONS TO PUBLISH A BOOK ON SUBSTACK
(1) Substack is an accelerating platform:
A few days ago, I had a chance to sit down with Substack’s founders while they were visiting Austin. I told them that I was initially skeptical about the platform, but a moment arrived when I finally grasped the way Substack empowered me.
“What made the difference for you?” CEO Chris Best asked.
“The lightbulb went on when I saw that Substack was an accelerating platform,” I replied. “I initially thought that I would gain some early subscribers and then growth would flatten. In fact, the opposite occurred—my subscriber growth and impact have accelerated over time. I had no idea this would happen, or in such a dramatic way.”
I started out on Substack attracting around one thousand new subscribers per month. But within a short while I was gaining around one thousand subscribers per week. In other words, not only do I continue to gain an audience on the platform, but the pace at which it grows gets faster and faster all the time.
Below is a mind-blowing chart. A few months ago, I would have told you that the best decision I made in expanding my audience was by getting into direct contact with my readers on Twitter. But check out this comparison between my Twitter followers and Substack subscribers.
Here are three observations:
It took me eight years to reach via Twitter the audience Substack got me in just a few months;
Publishing on Substack turbocharged my audience on every social media platform (and visibility in traditional outlets too); but…
My Substack audience is growing five times faster than my Twitter presence, which was already expanding rapidly, but not at the post-Substack rate.
This is not a small thing. There’s a huge difference being on an accelerating platform versus a flattening or shrinking one. But most media people rarely (or never) experience it—the audience for almost every media outlet has flattened or declined in recent years.
As a result, I will reach 50,000 total Substack subsribers within the next several months, and probably surpass 100,000 sometime next year. In other words, I will soon have a larger subscription presence as a freelancer on Substack than many magazines enjoy after decades.
This is genuinely a game-changer for writers. Especially for someone like me, who (according to several experienced NY editors) writes articles that are poorly suited for commercial success—they are too long, too dense, too strange.
But the numbers don’t lie. I always believed there were readers who didn’t want writing downsized or dumbed down. And now I see it confirmed in the metrics every day.
I get some credit for all this. But the larger truth is that Substack is an accelerating platform for writing. There aren’t many of these, and I may have stumbled upon the best of them all.
(2) The Money is better:
It’s shameful to talk about this, but even Walter White had to pay attention to accounting. Substack only retains 10% of subscription revenues. Authors keeps 90% (minus some tiny transaction fees). That’s almost the exact opposite of a traditional publishing deal.
I like math, so let me calculate the payoff. If we make some reasonable assumptions, an author can generate the equivalent of a $100,000 publishing advance with fewer than a thousand new paid subscribers.
Did that catch your attention?
To be more precise, the number of breakeven new paid subscribers to reach that six-figure level is actually 901.
Here’s how I arrived at that:
Many of my readers are active in the music world, and might wonder how this compares to the way musicians are paid. I’m glad you asked that. Here’s a quick summary, from a recent analysis by Billboard.
That’s quite a contrast between business models—one provides the creator with 90%, the other with 16%. (And let me give three cheers for Bandcamp at this point, which has a payout model for music similar to Substack’s.) I suspect this approach will spread further, not just in publishing and music but other fields where creative professionals have been locked into trickle-down formulas of this sort.
(3) Translation and audiobook rights are mine:
Previously I shared these revenues with my publisher. If I publish myself on Substack, I retain 100% of all these rights and revenues. There are a bunch of other income streams (book club revenues, etc.), which I’ll skip over here, but also won’t have to be shared.
(4) I can still sell physical book rights:
Publishing on Substack doesn’t prevent me from subsequently releasing a physical book with a traditional publisher. I can even refer you to case studies of books achieving an even larger audience in print because they first found readers online. So I’m not foreclosing any other options by publishing on Substack.
I note that it’s not quite so easy working in the opposite direction. Try telling a big commercial publisher that you want to share your book for free online after they have released it in print, and just see what happens. But the beauty of the Substack model is that I can do whatever I want with the text after publishing on the platform—I can remove the book from Substack, or put it behind their paywall, or license it, or change the font to Comic Sans, or anything else I fancy.
(5) Speed to market is much, much faster:
I no longer lose a year, as invariably happens when dealing with a mainstream publisher. I find that attractive in itself, even without considering all the many ways that time is money. But if I dug into the details, I could certainly show how the shortening of time-to-market has many positive financial ramifications for the author. Yet even if we only consider the psychological benefit of faster publishing, this is a big positive for me.
(6) I have more direct contact with my readers
This is an intangible, but it’s a very important consideration for me. I will get direct feedback from thousands of smart people. This leads to the next advantage. . . .
(7) I can improve the book after getting feedback from readers:
I can fix a mistake on Substack in a few seconds. If someone sends me an interesting piece of information about a story I’ve published, I can add it to the text in a flash. (I’ve done this on several occasions already—that’s why it’s always best to read the article online even if you have received it via email.) I anticipate getting all these benefits for my new book. Put simply, it will improve after publication.
(8) I can easily add links, graphics, and videos to my book:
I am excited about the potential for embedding YouTube videos, links, images, and other enhancements into the book. This is an extraordinary advantage of online publishing, and I’m still at the beginning stage of tapping its potential.
(9) I have access to much better metrics:
Substack provides authors with extremely useful metrics. I will actually be able to measure the dissemination and response to my chapters in real time. I’ve never had that opportunity before.
(10) There’s tremendous symbolic value to making this move right now:
That’s another intangible, but an important one. I believe that it’s important to show other writers, who may be considering such a move, that they can be masters of their own destiny, and don’t need to operate within the often inflexible system of legacy publishing.
Authors deserve more options than they find today in a publishing world dominated by a tiny number of enormous corporations. If anything I do contributes to their freedom or flexibility, I will be quite pleased.
The real risk is that we go on getting lost in stupid arguments, over shiny but trivial talking-points, and never get the hang of parsing what actually matters in the torrent of information overload.
This essay, published in UnHerd examines the downside of anonymity and the pathologies of social media. And also the dangers of censorship. This is why we have no anonymity on tuka so reputational capital can be valued and rewarded. Some excerpts and comments below.
“…the term “attention economy” was coined… by Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon, in a 1971 article. Simon explored how to build organizations in a world saturated by information, arguing that attention is a key bottleneck in human culture. That is, the more abundant information is, the scarcer attention becomes as a resource.”
Yes, the time and energy consumed by attention are the resource constraints we face with too much information.
In the resulting bare-knuckle war for attention, it’s not reason that wins. Nor is everyone saying that the best, sanest, or most constructive ideas will prevail. Rather, it’s the most lurid (or aggressively state-sponsored) ideas that make it to the surface…
Yes, but nature has empowered us to adapt to a changing environment, and this applies to technological change that shapes our social interactions. We are learning how to cope with global social media that has distorted local human interaction. But one might have made a similar case against the introduction of the automobile. Motor vehicles made life more treacherous, where pedestrians were now subject to new risks. But we learned to regulate car traffic on roads and provide guidelines and behaviors for pedestrians. We learned how, when walking through town, to look both ways. We need to learn similar survival skills for navigating the online, virtual world. One must take control of one’s social engagement. Many have chosen to completely unplug.
The real risk is that we go on getting lost in stupid arguments, over shiny but trivial talking-points, and never get the hang of parsing what actually matters in the torrent of information overload.
Yes, so one must exert judgment over how to spend one’s precious time. Not everyone will get it, but on a societal level it becomes a reflection of cultural values. Cultural values swing and tend toward the mean of humanity. When engaging online makes us feel less human, we will disengage in favor of human interaction. This is why so many people choose not to engage on Twitter and Facebook. And this is how we control the inhuman evolution of technology. Teach your children well.
This editorial by The Guardian takes a critical look at social media and arrives at some of the same conclusions and insights we have here at tuka. Our points of agreement are highlighted with comments below:
February 7, 2022
The online virtual reality experience that almost every tech giant today wishes to commercially exploit may not catch on
In the 1992 sci-fi dystopia Snow Crash, the author Neal Stephenson imagined a bleak 21st century where the collapse of the global economy had seen governments fall and their power replaced by a few giant businesses. The book is notable for prescience, anticipating the adoption of what was then seen as outlandish technologies like the wireless internet, cryptocurrencies and smartphones, as well as the rise of the gig economy. But it is the book’s prophetic vision of “the metaverse” that has revived interest in the work.
That is because Stephenson described the online virtual reality experience that almost every tech giant today wishes to commercially exploit. Last October, Microsoft announced that users of its Teams online meetings app would be able to turn themselves into avatars – the term Stephenson popularized in Snow Crash – to encourage users into virtual interaction. Days later Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, rebranded his company as Meta, with a focus on the potential for virtual worlds.
Mr Zuckerberg wants to convince the world that he has found new ways to make money – a quest that has become more urgent since last week it was revealed that the company’s user base may not just have plateaued but is starting to decline. This is in part because many Apple iPhone owners choose to opt out of being tracked by applications like Facebook and younger people prefer to spend time on the Chinese-owned social media network TikTok. Facebook users’ engagement provides the personal data used to target advertising. Mr Zuckerberg’s Meta rebrand is meant to signal that he will improve his firm’s targeting and measurement techniques – and extract more revenue from its users.
However, the metaverse may not be the future. The corporate version of social media has been blamed, with some justification, for rotting democracy from within. Because Facebook, Twitter and YouTube loom so large in the public imagination, there exists a “blind spot”, suggests computer scientist Ethan Zuckerman, for alternative models. Yet they are here. Tim Berners-Lee, the web’s inventor, wants to wrest power back from big tech and put people in control of their personal data. [Yes, data is the new gold and personal data is personal property that is valued.]
Other decentralized platforms – such as Mastodon – make it possible to create online communities with different rules. Progressive Twitter users in India switched in 2019 to mstdn.social after a supporter was suspended. However, the biggest decentralized social network is Gab, which serves de-platformed rightwing extremists. There are also social media platforms built around cryptocurrency/blockchain capitalism, which currently has a prohibitively large carbon footprint.
Contributors to such sites are typically rewarded with tokens, theoretically enabling high-quality content to be rewarded. However, this model has its downsides: notably that voting power is proportional to currency holdings [tuka departs from this weakness – there is no voting with tokens. Tukans become the currency with which the user base rewards the value of promotional behaviors through the productive sharing of valued content. The idea is prevent gaming of the human sharing “algorithm.”] When Steemit, one of the original crypto-sites, was bought out, its new owner used his market power to move it his own blockchain system – precipitating a walkout by users.
Mr Zuckerman’s wish is for “lots more social networks” that are explicitly governed by the communities who are working with them and offer tools that give more control over what is seen and how it is seen. [Yes, but in decentralized Web 3.0, platforms like Facebook have no ownership or control over the data networks created by users. So, essentially FB is rendered redundant.] He thinks that a period of fertile creativity may produce a new, more cooperative form of social media. One hopes he is right. [It does, as long as the creators have ownership and control of their content. This is the negation of Zuckerberg’s FB world. Perhaps the recent crash in FB’s tock price is an indirect reflection of that.]
NFTs (Non-fungible tokens) are the newest rage in blockchain development. These tokens are issued by the creators of digital assets and then registered on the Ethereum blockchain. The smart contracts associated with the tokens can award ownership rights to the asset with the rights to royalty payments for the marketing or sale of the asset. NFTs seem particularly suited to collectors’ items and can also be applied to physical assets. The sale of the tokens prepays the creator for the value created through his creation. Preselling NFTs for songs could deliver a revenue flow to musicians before the music became a commercial hit. Think of having a digital right of ownership to Happy Birthday or Yesterday or The Mona Lisa. The problem, of course, is that predicting the future value of a creative piece of art today is almost impossible. Remember, Van Gogh couldn’t sell any of his paintings!
This makes NFTs a very speculative asset play.
Click below to view the idea of an NFT art gallery:
…while Facebook has been heavily promoting the idea of the metaverse in recent weeks, it’s still not a concept that’s widely understood. The term was coined originally by sci-fi novelist Neal Stephenson to describe a virtual world people escape to from a dystopian, real world. Now it’s being adopted by one of the world’s largest and most controversial companies — and it’ll have to explain why its own virtual world is worth diving into.
Frank McCourt Wants to Build a New Model for Social Media
By Emily Bobrow Oct. 8, 2021 12:28 pm ET
It bothers Frank McCourt, the billionaire real estate mogul and former Los Angeles Dodgers owner, that his data—his contacts and search history, his shopping preferences and driving habits—is being harvested and used in ways he can’t control. “Big tech knows more about me than my wife, and I didn’t give them that permission,” he says over Zoom from his home in Wellington, Fla., where he lives with his wife Monica and their two young children.
The fact that a few powerful internet players are “hoarding and exploiting” the personal details of users is not only “inherently unfair,” Mr. McCourt argues, but also socially corrosive. He blames the rise in extremist views in the U.S. and around the world on social-media companies that prioritize “audience engagement” over the welfare of customers.
McCourt has pledged $250 million to Project Liberty, an initiative to reclaim the internet as a force for good.
In response, Mr. McCourt, 68, a self-styled “civic entrepreneur,” has pledged $250 million to create and advance Project Liberty, a grandly named initiative to reclaim the internet as a force for good. The plan includes $75 million to establish an interdisciplinary McCourt Institute to research and develop an ethical framework for new technology, in partnership with Georgetown University, his alma mater, and Sciences Po of Paris. Mr. McCourt has also promised $25 million to help develop a “Decentralized Social Networking Protocol” or DSNP, a new open-source, blockchain-enabled protocol for managing data on the internet.
It’s a new kind of infrastructure project for Mr. McCourt, who hails from a long line “of builders, of problem-solvers,” he says. His great-grandfather, an Irish immigrant, created a Boston road-building company. His grandfather, a part-owner of the Braves—the baseball team that played in Boston before moving to Atlanta—got into highway construction just as automobiles were becoming popular. His father took on a wider variety of big infrastructure projects, including expanding Boston’s Logan International Airport.
Mr. McCourt launched his own first business at 12, collecting garbage from neighbors near his family’s summer home in Deerfield, N.H., and entered the family business at 16. His family, in touting the value of hard work, would quote a Gaelic saying that translates loosely as “Where there’s muck, there’s brass.”
Mr. McCourt followed in his father’s footsteps at Georgetown, where he got a degree in economics in 1975 and met his first wife, Jamie, with whom he had four sons. But in business, he had a greater taste for risk and sought a different path, developing real estate instead of infrastructure. He helped convert Boston’s Union Wharf into a bustling mixed-use area in the late 1970s, then bought 24 acres on the waterfront from the defunct Penn Central Transportation, which soon generated millions in annual income as parking lots.
This was the property Mr. McCourt sold to help buy the Los Angeles Dodgers from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (the parent company of The Wall Street Journal) in 2004, in a highly leveraged deal valued at around $430 million. Mr. McCourt’s ownership of the Dodgers proved controversial, particularly when his messy, costly divorce from Jamie became public in 2009. To prevent the team from being seized by Major League Baseball, which accused him of “looting” team assets to fund his lavish lifestyle, Mr. McCourt declared the Dodgers bankrupt in 2011. He then sold the team in 2012 to a consortium led by Magic Johnson for a record $2.15 billion.
“When you go through something that’s humiliating, it changes you,” Mr. McCourt says of his time in Los Angeles. He admits, with hindsight, that he “could’ve done a better job” as a steward of the franchise. But the experience helped clarify his priorities. In 2013 he donated $100 million to establish the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown, and then gave another $100 million earlier this year to help cover financial aid and scholarships. In 2018 he gave $45 million to help build The Shed, an arts center in Manhattan.
The Dodgers sale also enabled Project Liberty. Mr. McCourt doesn’t run a tech company and doesn’t use social media himself, but he is troubled by what he calls “a polluted ecosystem of information where you can’t distinguish between fact or fiction, information or disinformation.” He points to recent revelations in The Wall Street Journal that Facebook executives knew the company’s algorithms increase “misinformation, toxicity and violent content” on the site, but did nothing to rein in these problems for fear of alienating users.
He still has his mother’s voice in his head asking, ‘Yeah, but what are you going to do about it?’
Mr. McCourt decided to enter the field, he says, because growing up as one of seven siblings in his Irish Catholic family, he learned it was never enough to simply articulate a problem. He still has his mother’s voice in his head asking, “Yeah, but what are you going to do about it?”
With Project Liberty, his goal is to spur the creation of new social networks in which users, not platforms, have control over their own data. He notes that the official protocols used to send and receive information online—known as Web 2.0—were designed without accounting for how digital monopolies like Facebook and Google might use data and algorithms to sow discord, suppress innovation and compromise privacy. These developments, he says, have transformed the internet “from something that was designed to create value for society to something that creates value from it.”
Because technology moves so swiftly, Mr. McCourt says the solution to its ills is not more regulation, but innovation. Other developers share this view. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, is in the early stages of creating an “open decentralized standard for social media” called Bluesky. Some smaller social-media companies, such as Steemit, Mastodon and Peepeth, already use blockchain or alternative technologies to challenge the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
That these companies are not yet household names does not concern Mr. McCourt. Nor does the fact that blockchain technology tends to be slower and more complicated for developers than the conventional web. He suggests the appeal of his protocol will soon be plain: “If I said to you, ‘You can have everything you have, but you will also own and control your data, you will own and control your privacy, you will be dealing with actual people and not machines, and if you engage in ad-tech you will be credited for your data,’ would you use it?”
“The guiding principle in Silicon Valley was ‘move fast and break things,’ which they achieved,” Mr. McCourt says. “Now we need to move fast and fix things so that we can restore trust, strengthen our democracy and make our economy much more fair.”
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The following article was published by The Guardian. It examines some of the political challenges to Facebook. But at tuka we think the FB dilemma will be solved by social networks that makes sense to their human users.
An ownership economy concept is a system where all individuals hold a financial stake or value from participation in an ecosystem.
“Big Data is broken. Users are not being compensated for an asset they create. Data is now the world’s largest digital asset, and Cirus puts control of it back into the hands of the user. Turning data into cryptocurrency, Cirus unlocks data as an asset for the user, opening the doors into Web 3.0 and unleashing its long term potential as a new bankable asset,” says the Cirus team.
Cirus Foundation plans to build an ownership-led economy, giving individuals control over their data and how it is used, enabling any person with a Cirus device in their home to transact with cryptocurrencies and decentralized assets.