When I was a newly published author, marketing to readers was mostly done blindfolded. Authors created swag to give away at events, to bookstores, and to libraries: branded pens, sticky notes, calendars, bookmarks, etc., and handed them out far and wide with no way to measure whether any of their efforts resulted in enough book sales to cover the cost of the swag. There was only cost involved, with hope of profit being made at some future time.
Now we can measure the effects of our digital giveaways, and even some of our physical giveaways.
But there’s a new kind of swag in town. NFTs. Non-fungible tokens. The idea is that you can create digital one-of-a-kinds by tying the digital creation to a unique digital address. Digital one-of-a-kind seems impossible, but go with me for a minute. I’ll explain more in the how-to section.
There’s been a lot of hype around celebrities and their NFT success (or failure). Should authors jump on the NFT bandwagon?
The answer is yes (for now) in only two instances: if you love to create on the cutting edge and don’t mind losing a little money in hopes of making a profit; or if you have a rabid cryptocurrency-using, NFT-buying community ready to purchase, trade, and talk about what you have to offer.
Otherwise, it is a big fat no, not yet, if ever.
Let’s talk about why that is.
Why an author would create an NFT
There’s a vocabulary we’re going to need to define to get into the nitty-gritty, but first let’s explore the reasons why an author would decide to create an NFT by looking at why people buy NFTs right now (according to a Twitter survey of 1,318 survey takers by Dexter Lab):
- #1 (64%): to make money. NFT buyers are not looking to collect, they are looking to find rare and valuable NFTs for resale at a higher price. For authors, this means you need to be offering something other people are willing to outbid each other to buy in the hopes your NFT will significantly increase in value in a few months. Very few authors are in a position to do that, unlike NFT celebrities like the Bored Ape crew.
- #2 (14.7%): to be part of a community. NFT buyers are often part of communities like Bored Ape or Women Rise. They mint, buy, and sell NFTs to belong. These communities tend to be invested in cryptocurrency already and are looking for ways to invest their cryptocurrency. For authors, there is a cautionary tale in what happened to a group of YA authors that included New York Times bestseller Marie Lu who tried to launch a community of young writers around NFTs. Their audience revolted, and the launch was halted in under a day’s time.
- #3 (12.4%): to collect art. This is probably the sweet spot for most authors who are talented at art and music to offer additional ways for readers to add depth and dimension to their storytelling. For authors there could be a market for simple things like jpegs of handwritten favorite quotes from a book, autographed; special fan editions of a book; or character sketches of favorite characters by the author, etc.
There’s one other big factor to consider when thinking about creating an NFT: what you think of the future of cryptocurrency itself. If you think it is the way of the future, and you already own, or mine, bitcoin, this may be a natural fit for you. Your homework would involve finding out how many of your readers feel as you do, and also how many of your fellow crypto-lovers might be interested in an NFT created by you.
Why an author would not create an NFT
Most of you reading this are now sure that NFTs are not for you because:
- You can see they are not for your reading audience (at least, not yet).
- You don’t believe cryptocurrency is the way of the future.
- You don’t want to jump on yet another new learning curve.
- You have concerns about their environmental impact.
If it’s any of the first three, the good news for you is that you can let those few eager cutting-edge types try it out for a while, find the strategies that work for authors, and jump in later (or never). This is what many did when ebooks first showed up on the horizon.
But there is still one lingering question for many of you.
Will authors ever want to offer NFTs to readers?
Many of us have lived through the ebook evolution. I remember vociferously defending the idea of ebooks as “real” books that could bring more opportunities for authors in the future, and more money. That’s no longer an open question. The verdict is in. Being able to self-publish ebooks has made many a happy millionaire author. It took time and a steep learning curve, which readers found much easier than authors in some cases. But it happened.
Will NFTs have the same possibilities one day in the future? It depends on the future of cryptocurrency, which the Oxford dictionary defines as: a digital currency in which transactions are verified and records maintained by a decentralized system using cryptography, rather than by a centralized authority. You may have heard of this as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Solana, or tokens. You cannot buy or sell an NFT unless you use cryptocurrency.
I sat down with Brian Meeks, who also writes as Arthur Byrne and likes the cutting edge, including crypto and NFTs. Let’s begin with a few definitions, according to Meeks.
- NFT: “So first off, NFT stands for non-fungible token, meaning, as an example, people often compare them to JPEGs, which for art is sort of true, sort of not true. If I send you a JPEG of a picture of that dog on the couch, then you can make a copy, and you can send it to your friend. But you still retain a copy. If I make an NFT and you send it to your friend, you no longer have a picture of the dog. That’s a very simplified version.”
- Smart Contract: “... smart contract makes it sound like it’s a legal document. It’s intended to sound that way. But really, a smart contract is a piece of code written on the blockchain.”
- Blockchain: “A blockchain is an immutable record. So that if I buy crypto, or I buy an NFT, it’s written on the blockchain. And if you later claim that the NFT is yours, well, there’s a record and it says, ‘No, Brian owns it right now, because it came from the Creator, it went to Brian, and Brian never sold to anyone. And so he has the original.’”
The blockchain is where cryptocurrency and NFT creation/sales meet. It is also where most people fail to understand the linear simplicity of an immutable digital record-keeping system. Meeks says, “You can look on the blockchain and find every transaction I’ve ever made with regards to crypto, nothing is hidden. And so because of that, it’s wonderful. It eliminates enormous amounts of middle people, whether it’s simple transactions, banking, especially real estate, where there’s all these middle people that make things happen between two parties. With the blockchain, you can sell your house to me, and I can pay you crypto. And there doesn’t have to be any middlemen.” According to Meeks, who is all in on cryptocurrency, “…because of that, there’s history and it’s linear. And so you can always find the order of things.”
Meeks created his own art NFTs early on, but now he is on the other side, creating for the lucrative area of NFT creation at the moment, which are generative NFTs like Bored Ape. Meeks says, “The issue is the NFT market for art is a little bit of a challenge because it’s not the art that is driving the insane prices. It is the underlying mechanism of how the project launches. If you’ve seen Bored Ape, if you’ve seen Crypto Punks, it’s not good art. The reality is people are spending $1.5 million for a Bored Ape or $69 million for 5,000 days at Christie’s art auction house. They’re not necessarily art collectors, for the most part; they’re speculators. Speculators are interested in rarity.” This means that, like Bored Ape, the creators are creating parts that can be put together in many different ways. Only a few will be rare and extremely valuable. A lot like Pokemon cards, or Magic the Gathering cards…or sports cards.
So what does an interested author need to know if they’re going to dip a toe into the NFT arena? Meeks says, “Most NFT projects don’t make any sales. And so when you go onto Open Sea and look at the top 500 projects, they’re all generative art, they all have the rarity table, their Discord social channel, and the whitelist (to let fans know the NFT is about to go on sale). And so to even get sales, it’s very hard because an NFT created outside of that methodology won’t have any resale value because there’s no demand, there’s no rarity table, there’s no hype, there’s no community that is taking their new NFT that they got and putting it up on their Twitter channel. NFT sales are all driven by FOMO (fear of missing out).”
When pressed about whether he thinks there is a place for authors in NFT in the future, he said, “In the future? Yes. 100%. I do believe that books can go that direction.” For Meeks, the mark of the NFT space being ready for authors will come when the barrier to readers is not so high. For now, he advises interested authors to learn about cryptocurrency, the blockchain, and keep an eye on what NFTs are doing. “I don’t think the NFT space is ready for books, not because it can’t be done. But because the barrier to entry for a consumer is even higher than it is for a crypto-interested person.”
- https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/14/style/teens-nft-art.html (Paywall)