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What You Need To Know About Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) seem to have exploded out of the ether this year. From art and music to tacos and toilet paper, these digital assets are selling like 17th-century exotic Dutch tulips—some for millions of dollars.

But are NFTs worth the money—or the hype? Some experts say they’re a bubble poised to pop, like the dotcom craze or Beanie Babies. Others believe NFTs are here to stay, and that they will change investing forever.

What Is an NFT?

An NFT is a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music, in-game items and videos. They are bought and sold online, frequently with cryptocurrency, and they are generally encoded with the same underlying software as many cryptos.

Although they’ve been around since 2014, NFTs are gaining notoriety now because they are becoming an increasingly popular way to buy and sell digital artwork. A staggering $174 million has been spent on NFTs since November 2017.

NFTs are also generally one of a kind, or at least one of a very limited run, and have unique identifying codes. “Essentially, NFTs create digital scarcity,” says Arry Yu, chair of the Washington Technology Industry Association Cascadia Blockchain Council and managing director of Yellow Umbrella Ventures.

This stands in stark contrast to most digital creations, which are almost always infinite in supply. Hypothetically, cutting off the supply should raise the value of a given asset, assuming it’s in demand.

But many NFTs, at least in these early days, have been digital creations that already exist in some form elsewhere, like iconic video clips from NBA games or securitized versions of digital art that’s already floating around on Instagram.

For instance, famous digital artist Mike Winklemann, better known as “Beeple” crafted a composite of 5,000 daily drawings to create perhaps the most famous NFT of the moment, “EVERYDAYS: The First 5000 Days,” which sold at Christie’s for a record-breaking $69.3 million.

Anyone can view the individual images—or even the entire collage of images online for free. So why are people willing to spend millions on something they could easily screenshot or download?

Because an NFT allows the buyer to own the original item. Not only that, it contains built-in authentication, which serves as proof of ownership. Collectors value those “digital bragging rights” almost more than the item itself.

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