The whole ordeal was surreal, and it raised the question: Why would anyone spend the price of a high-end Lamborghini on a picture of my words? After all, the NFT was just a cryptographic signature linked to an image of a column that anyone could read on the Times’ website, albeit with a few bonus perks. (I also stipulated that I would feature the winner’s name and photo in a follow-up column, and Michael Barbaro, the host of The Daily gamely agreed to throw in a voice message for the winner.)
The winner, whose handle on the auction site was @3fmusic, appeared to be a prominent NFT collector. The profile on the site was linked to a Twitter profile belonging to a Dubai-based music production company and to an Instagram account identified as that of Farzin Fardin Fard, the company’s chief executive. The user’s NFT collection included a variety of other expensive digital works, including a $US14,000 “emoji portrait” of musician Billie Eilish and a $US8,000 piece titled “Jumping Spider enjoying coffee in the morning.”
Some NFT collectors believe that owning early, prominent crypto tokens will eventually be like owning rare, first-edition books or priceless paintings.
I reached out to @3fmusic to offer my congratulations on the purchase and to discuss the bid. They (it’s not clear if the winner is Fard or some other individual or multiple people) declined to be named — and, because of the pseudonymous nature of blockchain-based transactions, there’s no easy way for me to identify them beyond the information they volunteered — but they sent me a statement over Twitter direct message that read:
“We are already involved in art and media for a long time now,” the message read. “Our management team is always in cooperation with some highly knowledgeable and experienced art advisers who believe that we must grow with technological movements that help us to not only promote our business but also to support artists and the art market. Thus, we have proudly decided to dedicate sufficient funds and resources to invest in NFT as pioneers of this industry.”
They also gave me permission to include an image of their music studio’s logo in this column.
Jiannan Ouyang, an NFT collector who dropped out of the auction after a high bid of 290 ether (about $US469,000) told me that he had decided to bid on my NFT for both personal and professional reasons. He’s a former Facebook research scientist who is now a blockchain entrepreneur, and he’s married to a journalist.
“This column reflects the thoughts we exchange daily about how the NFT technology will reshape the modern media and advertising industry,” he told me.
Some NFT collectors believe that owning early, prominent crypto tokens will eventually be like owning rare, first-edition books or priceless paintings. Ouyang admitted that the value of my NFT was “still highly speculative and subjective.” But he said that he believed that NFTs and other blockchain-based technologies would ultimately reshape the entire media landscape, allowing creators to reimagine how they create and monetise their works.
“This particular NFT from The New York Times is one of the answers and will become a historical landmark in this inevitable movement,” he said. “That’s why I think it is valuable.”
André Allen Anjos, an electronic musician from Portland, Oregon, who bid 5.69 ether (about $US9,200) on the NFT, told me in a phone interview that bidding on the token could be seen as a symbolic gesture of thanks from the crypto community to me and The Times for, essentially, taking them seriously enough to experiment with our own token sale.
“It’s like, here’s a mainstream publication trying to interact with us as a community in an earnest and real way,” he said. “I wanted to signal, ‘Hey, this is cool, you’re asking the right questions.‘”
Anjos said he had grown up in the era of Napster, when musicians first realised that the internet could destroy their livelihoods by making it free and easy to duplicate songs. Blockchain technology, he said, had changed that by making it possible to create limited-edition collectibles stamped with a digital marker of their provenance. Collecting NFTs, Anjos said, was less about owning the pieces themselves — most of which can be freely downloaded from the internet, albeit without their special cryptographic signatures — and more about signalling belief in this new model of ownership.
“I’m not going to call it a protest, but it’s a statement,” he said. “This is the crypto world trying to prove that we’re here, we care about revolutionising this entire model, and we’re willing to put our money on it.”
In addition to readers who eagerly followed along with the NFT auction, I did get some questions from people who worried about the environmental impact of promoting NFTs that use the Ethereum blockchain. (The Ethereum blockchain, like the Bitcoin blockchain, requires vast computational power, and critics have called it an emerging environmental hazard.) I fully support developing less computationally intensive ways to do blockchain transactions and to mitigate any harmful effects of this experiment, I’m personally buying $US400 in carbon offset credits — enough to offset about 100 times as many carbon emissions as I generated by auctioning off this NFT.
And as soon as I can figure out how to do the transaction without completely screwing up my taxes, I’ll be sending roughly 300 ether — worth about $US497,000, at the current market price — to the Neediest Cases Fund.
The New York Times