The hottest fad in digital commerce — NFTs, or “non-fungible tokens” — soared to new heights Thursday, after a piece of digital artwork was sold for a whopping $69.3 million by auction house Christie’s. It’s the biggest price paid for an NFT to date.
The piece in question is “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” by Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple. He first posted a new work of art online on May 1, 2007, continuing for the next 13.5 years to comprise the finished product.
The winning bid for the 319-gigabyte JPEG was entered after a two-week online auction held by Christie’s. According to the company, it was the third-highest auction price for a work by a living artist, after transactions for pieces by Jeff Koons ($91 million) and David Hockney ($90 million).
The identity of the winning bidder was not disclosed. The Christie’s NFT auction accepted payment in both conventional currency and Ether cryptocurrency. In response to the sale, Beeple tweeted, “holy fuck.”
What, exactly, is an NFT — and what did the new owner of Beeple’s JPEG actually buy? In simplified terms, an NFT provides a method of authentication for piece of digital content, based on blockchain technology. It certifies and tracks the ownership of a unique digital asset.
In essence, the owner of the NFT gets bragging rights to an “original” version of a digital item… even though that piece of digital content can be reproduced and viewed millions of times over by others. The market for NFTs has soared in recent weeks, as some buyers have speculated that the value of their NFTs could appreciate in value.
Others latching on the NFT trend including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who is auctioning off his very first tweet from 2006 (“just setting up my twttr”). The highest bid currently for the NFT on auction site Valuables is $2.5 million, by Sina Estavi, CEO of cryptocurrency firm Bridge Oracle. The winner of the auction, set to end March 21, will get a “digital certificate of the tweet,” Valuable’s FAQ says. Dorsey says he plans to donate the proceeds to the Africa fund of Give Directly, a not-for-profit org supporting people living in poverty.
Musical artists have been flocking to NFTs, too. Kings of Leon released its new album, “When You See Yourself,” on March 5 as a NFT on public-blockchain ticketing platform YellowHeart. The band estimates that the album’s NFT sales generated over $2 million, with $600,000 of that pledged to the Crew Nation Fund for supporting live music crews affected by the pandemic. Meanwhile, music artist Grimes sold digital artworks at NFTs for a reported $6 million.
Foundation, an auction site for NFTs that also trades in Ether cryptocurrency, launched in February and says it has had more than $7 million in sales for almost 6,000 NFTs. That included the sale of decade-old internet meme Nyan Cat, which sold for 300 Ether (currently worth about $544,000).