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What are NFTs, and why are they worth investing in?

nft investing

NFTs are commanding exorbitant sums of money. But what are they, and are they worth investing in as an alternative investment?

A digital-only artwork by Beeple sold at Christie’s auction house for a whopping $69m. However, the bidder will not get a physical artwork like expected. 

Instead, the winning bidder will receive a unique digital token, a non-fungible (NFT).

If Bitcoin is the digital answer to currency. Then NFTs are the digital answer to collectables.

However, despite the enormous amounts quoted and traded, some believe that NFTs are a bubble that will burst soon.

What is an NFT?

NFT is short for ‘non-fungible token.’

A fungible asset is a unit that can be interchanged with the same value it initially held, much like money is today. 

People can exchange two 10 euro notes and receive a €20 note in return; the value remains the same, whether as two banknotes or one = €20. 

However, a non-fungible unit cannot be interchanged with something else. It could be a car, a house or artwork like The Last Supper. 

It is one of a kind. 

You can take a photo of the picture or buy a copy, but it will never be the original. 

Non-fungible tokens are ‘one-of-a-kind’ assets that can be digitally bought and sold like any other asset. 

These digital tokens can be surmised as certificates of ownership for virtual or physical assets.

How do NFTs work?

One-of-a-kind assets are highly valued. Think of an artist’s painting like the Mona Lisa; the original cannot be duplicated. Thus, it has become very valuable and can fetch large sums if ever sold. 

However, with a digital asset, others can quickly and endlessly duplicate digital files – they create a ‘copy.’

To ensure originality, a piece of artwork can be ‘tokenised’ to create a digital certificate of ownership that could be bought and sold and guarantees that the token holder has the original. 

Much like cryptocurrency, the record of who owns what is stored on a ledger is known as the blockchain.

Fraudsters, hackers and those wishing to copy files cannot forge the records because the ledger is maintained by thousands of computers worldwide.

Furthermore, NFTs can contain smart contracts that could remunerate the artist for any cut if the token is sold as part of a future sale. 

If anyone can copy digital art, won’t it lose its value?

It depends on your perspective.

Beeple’s $69m artwork has been copied and shared across the internet, with millions viewing it.

Even the artist retains the copyright ownership so he can produce more copies if he so wishes.

However, the buyer or holder of the NFT owns the ‘token’ that proves they own his original work. Think of it as having the only copy of an autographed artwork. 

Because of this, prices for NFTs have skyrocketed.

How much are NFTs worth?

Recent headlines of multi-million-dollar sales have fueled interest in the NFTs, and not only for digital artwork.

Twitter’s founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey, has promoted an NFT of the first-ever tweet, with bids beginning at $2.5m.

Musician Grimes sold some of her digital art for more than $6m.

Even the animated Gif of Nyan Cat – a 2011 meme of a flying pop-tart cat – sold for more than $500,000!

However, as with cryptocurrencies, there is so much written about how they will always rise in value, yet because it is so easy to create an NFT, market saturation could easily implode. 

Simply put, having too much of one asset class will likely lose value as it becomes less scarce. 

Could this dent the demand for NFTs?

Is investing in NFTs worth it?

Because of the high sums mentioned above, NFTs attract investors considering the resale values that all artwork pieces can command. 

As with physical artwork, owning the art itself does not make the holder rich. It sells the art to the highest bidder willing to pay for it, which enriches the holder.

If an investor can purchase a high-value NFT and sell it for more than they paid, they can make a considerable alternative investment profit.

However, not all understand the potential (or lack thereof) value because NFTs are a relatively new investment class. 

Unlike the stock market, where the stock price is how much the investment is worth, it is hard to price digital art. Especially as NFTs are often very illiquid.

Investors can buy stock at a specific price and then sell it when it’s at a higher price, making them a profit in the process.

However, the value of digital art depends on how much someone is willing to pay for it, making NFTs a precarious investment.

NFTs are highly speculative because it’s hard to determine how much a tweet, meme, or image is worth to someone else. What may seem valuable to you at the time may be worthless to others, meaning you may not be able to sell the NFT.

NFTs are interesting, although they are not suitable for all investor types. Those who wish to consider this alternative investment should only buy what they can afford to lose.

As always, it’s a solid idea to keep the majority of your funds in less risky investments, such as index funds, physical artwork, or P2P. 

When most of your portfolio is invested in lower-risk ventures, you may wonder whether you have some funds to spare to invest in NFTs. 

Alternatively, you can observe others attempt to monetise NFTs from the sidelines before deciding to invest in this strategy. 

Are NFTs just a bubble?

Digital artists have always struggled with copyright and plagiarism of their artwork. 

Artists can add their artwork to social media platforms and online galleries with the ability to make a profit.

However, the caveat to this ease is that it only takes a few clicks for others to copy and download the work for private use without compensating the artist. 

As discussed above, NFT solves this problem by acting as a virtual certificate of authenticity. Essentially it ties the original digital artwork with the token, thus giving the digital image a higher value as if it had an artist’s signature on the physical artwork. 

The certificate of authenticity or token cannot be forged or copied by anyone as it exists on the blockchain.

And yet, there are concerns that this precarious and speculative bubble could crash despite this authenticity, bringing down inflated investor prices with it.

Digital artwork relies on manufactured digital scarcity – if there is less of something unique, like an NFT piece of work, the price remains high because it is ‘one-of-a-kind.’ 

But if artists decide to sell multiple tokens on one piece or the market does not care for digital scarcity (think music downloads), the price of NFTs could drop for prospective collectors or buyers. 

The future of NFTs

Much of the generated value in NFTs is indeed speculative. 

The biggest cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin and Ethereum, and even the gimmick Dogecoin, began the same way. Two of them (Bitcoin and Ethereum) have become global currency exchange mainstays. 

What may seem ludicrous to pay for a digital token now could become the norm shortly.

NFTs can provide long-term value creation for artists and businesses in the long term. 

Gaming companies and even the NBA have devised ways to use NFTs for profit. 

NFTs may be considered a bubble, but they will be here to stay. 

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