Two weeks ago, I had to look up the word “fungible” to (a) find out what it means, and (b) find out how to pronounce it. I suspect I’m not alone with the big news related to the success of NBA Top Shots. Further, who ever thought that tweets, the epitome of meaningless chatter intended to fade into the ether, would somehow become a desired commodity among millionaires and billionaires? In case, you hadn’t heard, Jack Dorsey is selling the first-ever tweet. Some knuckleheads have bid it up to 2.5 million dollars, maybe more by now. As a side note, Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter went to my alma mater, then called University of Missouri-Rolla. He’s now worth 11 figures, and I’m worth…well never mind. All this chaos makes me wonder, how will comics and NFTs co-exist and thrive in the years ahead?
Edict from DC Comics on NFTs
With news that DC Comics is warning creators AWAY from engaging the NFT market places (see the letter on PBS), interesting times are ahead of us. Rather than repeat everyone else defining NFT, see the description of a non-fungible token here. I’m more interested in the ramifications of this new destructive technology as voiced in the concerns of DC Comics Senior Vice President of Legal Affairs Jay Kogan. The implications are clear. The long-term impact for better or worse of comics as NFTs in the marketplace is murky.
- Since the DC legal department is warning creators, clearly the company is serious about protecting their intellectual property.
- If DC is aware of NFTs, it’s a pretty good bet that Disney, Dark Horse, etc., etc., etc. also plan to leverage NFTs in some profitable fashion.
- Digital downloads make no sense right now. That is, why pay $3.99 for a digital comic book that cannot be sold by the purchaser. The truth of that statement applies to music and movies as well. It seems to me that all companies will be required by the market to sell their digital products as NFTs so people can actually OWN THEM AGAIN.
- Physical sketches such as convention commissions are not included in the directive. Could that change?
How will NFTs Impact Old Comics and Art?
This article focuses on comics but there exist interesting ramifications related to art. I will follow up on that topic in the next article. But what about old comics, the back issues in libraries of DC Comics, Marvel, and others? For example, on my Marvel Unlimited account, I can go read the early Spider-Man issues digitally. Though I don’t own, I can enjoy. Now, suppose as a hobbyist and completist I make a decision. Since I can’t afford to own all the old comics in high or low grade, perhaps I’ll slowly collect them digitally into my “library”. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. Perhaps people who use iPads rather than 3-pound textbooks at school may prefer the convenience of digital. Again, that’s great. But for all the money spent to build their collection, in the end, it’s not theirs!
On the other hand, with NFTs, a person could diligently collect the old stories that formed the foundation of characters like Spider-Man or Supergirl. And in time, the NFTs might gain in value similar to the “floppies” most of us grew up with. Then, if those collectors chose, they could potentially sell their NFT comics collection at a profit. Of course, the means of initial distribution for these comics could affect the market. Would every issue be in infinite supply direct from the publisher for a set price, or could particular keys be limited by a lottery sales format?
Destructive Technology Means Winners and Losers
The engine, the internet, e-coupons… all destructive technologies. I attempt to be humorous, but the blockchain technology driving NFTs qualifies as a destructive technology. Some ways of doing business will go away. Smart companies will implement new strategies that will thrive. The letter from Jay Kogan implies that DC will take an approach mutually beneficial to all parties. Naturally, changes in royalties structures over the years could benefit many of the people that have produced comics both past and present. Then again, perhaps loopholes in the contracts will leave those creators on the outside of the blockchain fence looking in.
I do believe it is reasonable for these huge corporations to exercise some constraints on the use of their licensed characters. And if publishers recognize the win-win opportunities, all sides can enjoy a piece of the action. So while I admire the work and talents of the creative people who produce comics, I agree it’s best to limit the proliferation of unauthorized art as NFTs. In fact, I believe blockchain technology can usher in a grand new age of comics, where NFTs actually help to keep the collection of physical comics from dying. That is, if digital without ownership became the norm, the next generation of comic fans would have no interest in purchasing your old comic book collection!
If this serious discussion has got you down, consider reading my take on comic book politics in right-wing vs. left-wing comic cameos. Seriously, I don’t take it that seriously!