If the acronym “NFT” didn’t already give you a headache, perhaps this news will: artist Mark “Beeple” Winkelmann and Ryan Schreiber, the founder of Pitchfork, are launching a site where people can buy random moments in time as non-fungible tokens on the blockchain.
NFTs are essentially digital watermarks encoded onto a blockchain, the distributed cryptographic technology which is by far most commonly applied to power cryptocurrencies. Those watermarks are used to signify ownership of anything from digital collectibles to moments in NBA history and works of online art, and they commonly suck up absolutely massive amounts of energy to use. Beeple has become somewhat notorious in the art community thanks to his $US69 ($88) million sale of an NFT of a collage auctioned via Christie’s, both because of the NFT’s environmental impact and its shameless commercialism. Notably, Beeple told the New Yorker he wasn’t “remotely a crypto-purist” and he wouldn’t be affected if “all this fucking NFT stuff went away tomorrow,” while he told Coindesk NFTs were a “bubble.”
According to The Verge, Beeple and Schreiber’s injection of additional gas into this bubble is called WeNew, which will sell “iconic” moments in human history on the Ethereum blockchain. Schreiber told the Verge that WeNew’s business model will be “immortalizing these moments of human achievement for collectors.”
WeNew appears to be celebrity-focused on athletes and artists, as opposed to letting users buy such iconic moments of time as World War II. As an example given to The Verge, users will be able to bid on limited-edition digital watermarks signifying their ownership of parts of tennis player Andy Murray’s path to victory at the Wimbledon tournament in 2013, such as a speech he gave in 2012, some of his best tennis swings from 2013, and his victory speech. Or, to put it another way, they’ll have their name on a publicly distributed file claiming they own those things. Murray is apparently involved, as some of the NFTs (which will run from $US49 ($63) to $US4,999 ($6,412)) will come with actual physical memorabilia. The buyer of Murray’s game-winning point will be able to play tennis with Murray for 30 minutes, according to The Verge, which to be fair is pretty cool.
This business model has actually been done before by the NBA, no stranger to cashing in on its fanbase’s voracious appetite for collectibles. It launched its NBA Top Shot platform last year and has already raked in over half a billion in sales.
Schreiber’s role will involve attempting to attract musicians to sell similar memorabilia on the blockchain. The Verge wrote that Wenew says it plans to offer “storytelling,” which sounds a lot like a euphemism for trying to convince someone any of these NFTs are worth money:
“A lot of things in the NFT world feel like a cash grab right now, and we wanted to put storytelling first,” Michael Figge, a Wenew co-founder, told The Verge.
NFTs face a few perpetual questions — starting with, simply, “why?” — but Wenew at least tries to answer the question of “what are you actually buying?” The initial buyers get something real out of the purchase, in addition to the nominal bragging rights that typically accompany an NFT purchase.
WeNew is partnering with “renowned stewards of cultural heritage,” according to VentureBeat, including Time, Wasserman, and Endeavour. It says it is partnering with the Open Earth Foundation to lower its environmental impact, such as by donating a portion of each sale towards work on inhibiting climate change (meaning carbon offsets).
In a statement to VentureBeat, Beeple wrote, “NFTs represent a new paradigm, not just in how people can invest their money but in how we conceive of our shared experience and how we celebrate remarkable achievements. They give people a way to meaningfully engage with the memories and moments that matter to them — maybe even inspired them or shaped who they are in some way. WeNew exists to facilitate and make concrete these once-abstract connections.”