The accurate joke about Bitcoin is that you would never use it to buy a pizza, because a pizza could cost $20 one day and $200,000 the next. There's this enduring perception (self-inflicted) that cryptocurrency is just that, currency, and it should be used to buy and sell normal things like pizza and illegal drugs — that those transactions are its primary use case. But we've seen Bitcoin move into its role as digital gold — a store of longterm value — and other currencies like Dogecoin act more like penny stocks than anything functional. You might make money treating it like an asset, but there is no fundamental basis for its value.
Ethereum presents a different function, a different value system, and different relationships to its holders, as Joe Weisenthal observed in Bloomberg. Ethereum (not gonna use 'Ether' for the currency lol) can be a pass into new digital spaces, like a train ticket or a Euro for the internet, the common currency of multiple platforms. And NFTs act as a more comprehensible version of the value of Ethereum. Instead of the currency, you have an object that you own. That object is what's traded back and forth, what's exchanged to create new relationships among its holders. NFTs have a fundamental logic that a wider userbase can grasp: they are stuff.
NFTs can become a form of currency of their own, as a kind of in-game currency or membership ticket for particular projects. The impetus to collect NFTs is clear enough — you hold it in your wallet, you enjoy looking at it, you show it off. But the next level up from that is enabling users to play games with their NFTs, making them interactive and dynamic instead of static collected objects. Games give NFTs a sense of personality, a sense of meaning, and, most importantly, a sense of fun. When you can play with a NFT, it acquires more meaning.
On May 27th, I launched a campaign to fund the daily entertainment newsletter Dirt using NFTs. In short, all the NFTs and editions have sold out, raising 12.23 ETH, or a bit over $30,000. (131 NFTs in total.)
This is a breakdown of what happened, what I learned from the process, and what steps might be taken going forward.
With this crowdfund, we’re pioneering a way to fund media through NFTs, with a newsletter built on social tokens and NFT sales. It follows the guidelines I described in my previous sketch on Mirror. The plan is to turn Dirt, a daily newsletter on streaming and entertainment that I've been developing, into a major voice on digital culture.
To participate, you can buy Dirt’s new animated NFTs of the newsletter’s mascot, Dirty. You’ll get the NFT art as well as an airdropped commensurate number of $DIRT-S1 tokens as a reward. There are three versions of NFT: a Pea Green edition of 100, a Pearl Pink edition of 30, and a special Rainbow Wave, which is a single NFT. The 100 edition will get a reward of 50 $DIRT-S1 tokens, the 30 edition 200, and the unique NFT will be auctioned off and the winner will be rewarded 1000 tokens.
The publication is voice-driven digital content that inspires loyalty in readers: arriving every day, reaching them where they are, communicating about things they need to know about or identify with closely. The publication serves a self-selecting demographic of cultural consumers who are obsessive, and either need or want to know about the content.
The brand needs to be specific and identifiable, standing out in the media landscape of heritage brands, somewhat interchangeable newsletters, and voices on Twitter. It has to be distinct, recognizable from only a few elements wherever it is found. The editorial voice is part of that brand, but it also must be (audio)visual. ("Content" is not solely writing, or even information.)
My previous post was about how cryptocurrencies function like content and how investing in tokens is in some ways like being a reader of a magazine. Both of these relationships are mediations between creators (a terrible word) and consumers or fans. Many digital platforms have lately been trying to form new relationships between creators and consumers, where it's donations on Patreon, subscriptions on Substack, or buying NFTs on SuperRare. The consumer provides some form of support (usually monetary) in exchange for various forms of access to the creator.
It's worth breaking down a bit how these different relationships work. Through its subscriptions, a magazine like The New Yorker offers access to a packaged group of writers and voices in various formats: articles, print magazines, crossword puzzles, podcasts, and videos. We subscribe to The New Yorker because we want to be in touch with those specific voices, and the magazine offers a convenient bundle. The subscription is a rather abstract exchange: We don't know how much money goes to the specific writer we like; we just know that it supports the whole organization, which we affiliate ourselves with as readers.
On Patreon and Substack, the relationship is more direct. Patrons or subscribers are paying directly for some form of content from the specific voice. Particularly with Substack, it feels like a subscription to a magazine of one writer. Those economics can work out very well because the now-accepted price for a solo newsletter is similar to that of an entire print magazine. Yet the relationship is less abstract. I know where my money's going and I know what the writer is going to do with it, and I want to be more closely affiliated with them, so I'm willing to pay a higher price relative to content.
Newsletters or Patreon posts are a stream of content that consumers follow over time. NFTs function more like art exhibitions: creators put out a few in batches, or one at a time consistently, and collectors buy up ownership rights for much higher prices than a reader might pay to consume the same content on Patreon. It's a different business model and relationship, relying on wealthier, more committed followers to offer support in more intermittent, higher-value ways. What those collectors get is more intimacy or affiliation with the creator, because they can assert a right to something that no one else can.
Aside from being a form of capital, technological innovation, and financial product, cryptocurrencies are also a kind of content. They have brand identities and aesthetics in the form of their logos; they gather together communities who identify with them by allowing people to hold (or hoard) bits of the brand. Cryptocurrencies also enable literal content, the way Tezos undergirds an NFT marketplace like Hic et Nunc or the tokens that support crowdfunded essays on Mirror, like $ESSAY or $MOOD. The $FWB token gathers together and supports the Friends with Benefits community.
When I think about the connection between capital, content, and community, what comes to mind first are magazines. I've written a lot about the significance of magazines over time, profiling smaller publications like Kinfolk and Monocle and also analyzing the historical arc of the magazine behemoth Conde Nast in a book review. Magazines bring together communities of readers through content that speaks to those readers and allows them to create shared frames of reference within which they can communicate with each other. (In other words, all readers of The New Yorker share the fluency in New Yorker content and its implicit depiction of a desirable lifestyle.) Magazines, like tokens, are actually really good at creating a shared sense of identity and mutual investment. The bragging right of a token is that you own a lot of it; the bragging right of a magazine is that you subscribe, or read it online often, or write for it.
Superficially, what makes up the community of a magazine is its content: the articles you read, share, and discuss partly as a way of signaling your belonging within that community. But there are other aspects that make up the content community, that don't necessarily involve reading. You keep the magazine on your coffee table, you renew your subscription because you like getting it in your mailbox — you consume the magazine's brand. Lately, The New Yorker's new run of tote bags, with the dramatically large overlapping black letters, have become omnipresent where I live in Washington, DC. The tote bags signal belonging to The New Yorker's community and thus its brand because you get one when you subscribe.