The value of NFT art and the companies developing this market have grown very rapidly in recent months. According to some, this is a global phenomenon representing the future of digital art, while others see it mainly as a Ponzi scheme (fraudulent scheme). But by the way, what is NFT?
Why purchase the NFT if you can screenshot the image, print it, and have it?
NFT is the acronym for ‘non-fungible token’ (unique proof). It is a piece of data that is kept on a blockchain (usually Ethereum). This type of token represents digital goods, such as a drawing, a video or, for example, a digital object in a video game. Each NFT is unique and can be considered as a kind of certificate. The NFT, therefore, introduces a kind of scarcity into an ecosystem where it is possible to reproduce things ad infinitum.
While there is generally only one copy of a classic work, such is not the case with digital work. It is possible to easily copy a digital drawing and insert it on a computer without loss of quality. But this type of NFT is unique and is considered by some as a kind of proof that its owner has the ‘original copy’. The system thus adds certificates of ownership to digital assets that previously only had a single author, and possibly copyright. Digital work can therefore be found on a thousand computers, but its only ‘owner’ is the one who holds the certificate, a certificate that is kept on the blockchain so that it cannot be touched. At least that is the principle.
How NFTs become valuable and suddenly worth millions
We have witnessed a real gold fever in the field of NFTs and digital works. An animated gif of Nyan Cat, a 2011 meme, was sold in February 2021 by the original artist as an NFT for over $500,000. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, has auctioned an NFT of his first tweet for 2.4 million euros. Auction house Christie’s sold the NFT of a work by digital artist Beeple for some 60 million euros, which is a lot of money for a digital token that essentially amounts to a right of detention. The right to copy the work in question remains, for example, with Beeple.
The lightning-fast rise in NFT prices is thought-provoking. Interest in crypto-art lately is comparable to that in ICOs (initial coin offerings) at the end of 2017: a gigantic trend likely to burst like a bubble in the event of regulation. Like currencies on the blockchain, the NFT market is currently an arena reserved for speculators with all that entails in terms of rises and falls in the value of works. This kind of NFT is therefore not a stable investment, but this has never yet reduced the enthusiasm of some.
The sense of value: example of video games
Anyone who has ever played an RPG knows the value of a legendary weapon dropped by defeating a dungeon’s final boss. This weapon will not have the same value due to its characteristics and the bonuses it grants to the character and will therefore be worth more than a basic weapon obtained at the start of the dungeon. In a non-exhaustive way, it can be:
- The rarity of a skin (costume customization)
- The characteristics of equipment (boots, armor, shield, weapons, etc.)
- The rarity of equipment
- The supply of a consumable (potion, improvement materials, etc.)
The endpoints won’t be the same as the collectibles for a very simple reason: It’s not the same use case. This is one of the factors that makes the evaluation of NFTs more complicated than the rest, not only is each asset different, but they are not all used for the same purpose.
It is therefore according to the need for use in the game that a seller will agree to sell off his NFT or that a buyer will be ready to pay a high price for it. It is difficult to speak of objectivity in the criteria because this market may also depend on the events that will occur in the game or on a change in overall strategy due to a nerve (change in the characteristics of a spell or a power by developers). It will therefore be necessary to do further research to find out why an asset will suddenly be worth more or less than it was two months ago.
For NFTs, it’s a bit more complicated and it’s one of the main reasons why most buyers keep their assets. Indeed, unlike the crypto markets, assessing the value of an NFT is an exercise that is not within everyone’s reach and the exercise requires crossing several indicators specific to the project.
The Primary and Secondary art market
Since at the moment everyone is snapping up digital works of art and many are discovering a passion for collecting, it seems important to recall a few indicators surrounding the art market.
First of all, this market is the most subjective thing on the planet and that is the importance of this market, it is based on everyone’s tastes and the prices seem to escape all logic. However, the art market is one of the most codified, so there are many patterns to take into account before investing…
The Primary Market
The primary market is all the first sales of a work. Everything that follows is, in fact, called the secondary market.
In 2020, as you can see, the primary market in terms of USD volume is largely dominated by SuperRare. The other marketplaces are left behind but the notable element remains that from the global containment the USD volume has increased considerably over the year.
In terms of sales volume only, it is much more nuanced and other trends are emerging. What this means is not that there have been a number of “more sales” but rather the price of the works which has increased since March 2020. The reason, some of us know it well: the increased transaction fees on Ethereum.
To make mint costs profitable, the price of works has therefore increased on all platforms…
An element to take into account which is particularly important for the evaluation of a work of art that has never been sold: it is the selling price which will determine its value. This can be determined by the artist or in the case of an auction, the final price.
The Secondary Market
Selling a work as an artist is one thing, reselling it as a collector is another. This is where other criteria come into play:
- Number of edition of the work
- Number of the edition of the work (the n°1 will always be worth more!)
- Artist’s Coast
- And of course, subjectivity
And even if the artist can promote what is happening on this market, it is above all the early collectors who will bring it to life… or not.
SuperRare has always been a leader at all levels of the different marketplaces, but it is interesting to see that for a time, its leadership was disrupted by AsyncArt and Markerplace … until the start of the 2020 school year.
The other marketplaces offering more affordable prices to buy works, their secondary market was able to develop until the fees became too high for it to become really profitable for collectors.
How to Determine the value of an NFT?
As you will have understood, the secondary market for NFTs is very different from that for cryptos after an ICO. This not only requires technical or fundamental analysis before investing but also trading skills in order to successfully sell your assets.
It is therefore important to keep in mind that:
- If you buy an NFT work of art, it is above all to encourage an artist, then because you like the work, that you intend to keep it and, alternatively, maybe resell it one day
- If you buy an object used in a video game, it is above all because you need it or else you know its usefulness and therefore its value.
- If you buy a collectible in pre-sale, keep it if it is rare but resell it quickly when you can (NBA Top Shot)
- Some whales buy assets en masse in the pre-sale but also on the secondary market at very low prices so as to raise the “floor price” later
The NFT secondary market can be perceived as a large decentralized flea market open to the whole world: you can have the chance to find a rare pearl just like falling on a scam! Except that, unlike a flea market which generally lasts a whole day and where it will be possible to go back to the seller to complain, once you have purchased your NFT, there is little chance that the seller will buy it back from you if you complain about the quality of your acquisition.
Crypto-art is seen by companies like SuperRare as a disruption in today’s art market. NFTs would allow artists from minorities and less wealthy countries to take their fate into their own hands. A Cuban or Iranian artist could, thanks to NFT, sell his works to international dealers, which is not possible in traditional circumstances.
The advantage of this kind of Ethereum NFT is furthermore that the token represents a ‘smart contract’, where it is for example possible to indicate that the artist who was the first to sell a work, receives royalties when it increases in value. This is among other things what SuperRare does by taking a 10% commission on subsequent sales of the NFT.
So what do the artists themselves think? They are shared. Even if people earn a few million with this new type of sale, there are many others who are suspicious.
The business model of many independent digital artists currently relies heavily on Patreon (crowdfunding website) and commissions. For them, it is important to accumulate followers on sites such as Instagram and Twitter and to make themselves well known, in order to be able to sell works. It’s mostly smaller artists who enjoy NFTs because their works are more often ‘stolen’: images are copied and then re-posted without watermark or source, so fewer followers turn to NFT. original artist. The idea that someone could sell their works without their knowledge using the same principle, by making NFTs, arouses fear among them.
In addition, a lot of people, including artists, are worried about the environmental aspect. The same goes for NFTs as it does for cryptocurrencies: the blockchain and the calculations it involves require electricity. Lots of electricity. And while much of that electricity comes from green sources, NFT currently has an imprint on nature.
Suppose you decide to invest in NFTs and buy, say, Jack Dorsey’s first tweet. How long will this investment last? Know that a work of this kind is more fragile than any other. Da Vinci’s old canvases are kept under very specific conditions, but they have held up for centuries. What about this kind of NFT? It largely depends on the company you buy it from.
A researcher reported on Twitter that some of the NFTs sold consist of URLs and metadata and don’t actually contain a work as such. Often, these are URLs of the start-up that issued the NFT or contain an IPFS hash, a reference to where the digital file is stored. In the first case, it is to be hoped that the start-up in question does not disappear, because there is then little chance that its servers will continue to operate. The second case is a bit safer but still requires someone to continue hosting the ‘original’ digital file.
NFTs have a lot in common with cryptocurrencies and not just because they are both blockchain-based. Technology offers a series of exciting possibilities. Think for example of NFTs for digital elements in video games. Anyone who buys a unique hat in their online shooter wants to be sure that it won’t be copied. There is definitely a market there. NFTs also offer different types of artists the ability to make specific property and value dependent on their expertise. These are not only visual artists, but also, for example, dancers who introduce new movements, or composers.
But just like with cryptocurrencies, there is also a lack of regulation here. Each NFT provider does not seem to verify in-depth whether the work is indeed offered by the original artist, nor does any investor know for sure how long he/she will be able to enjoy his investment.
One can always wonder if 60 million euros for a digital work represents a correct price, or if it is the effect of a bubble. Beeple, the artist of the work at 60 million, fears the rest himself. “I think it’s a bubble,” he told crypto site Coindesk after the sale. ‘And if it isn’t, I believe it will be soon because there are simply too many people flocking to this market’.
Even if currently the NFTs market seems to be exploding, remember that the cryptos market has also had its moments of making waves. However, NFTs being one of the most obvious ways to spend cryptos, it is therefore perfectly normal to see volumes that seem impressive at first glance. Stay curious but above all stay careful and responsible in your purchases!