The South China Morning Post sold approximately $127,000 (£100,000) worth of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) within two hours of its first auction launching.
The Hong Kong-based outlet sold more than 1,000 “boxes” of NFTs depicting some of its 1997 print front pages.
The auction makes SCMP the latest publication to try and monetise historic content with the lucrative NFT craze.
An NFT is a certificate of ownership associated with a digital object, for example a picture or a video. NFTs differ from conventional certificates because, like cryptocurrencies, their ownership is recorded in a blockchain – a public, digital ledger that is effectively impossible to forge or manipulate.
SCMP, which is owned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, announced in July that it had launched a new NFT technical framework, or “standard”, named Artifact. The new standard was, it said, supposed to “give anyone a chance to own and trade historical moments reported by generations of journalists”.
It was not until Monday however that the publication began selling any of the new NFTs.
The first offering, titled “Part one of the 1997 Premium Series”, comprised 1,309 “boxes” each containing five NFTs. The NFTs are all associated with one of 180 front pages the paper ran in the first half of 1997, the year Hong Kong rejoined China as a Special Administrative Region.
Each box cost the equivalent of US$97 (£74), but had to be purchased using FUSD – a cryptocurrency on the Flow blockchain, but pegged to the value of the US dollar. Sales opened at 1pm GMT.
Each NFT within the boxes was given a rarity rating associated with the historical significance of the event it depicted.
However, those who purchased would have to wait until 1pm GMT on Tuesday – 9pm in Hong Kong time – to “open” their boxes and learn which front pages they had won.
A Discord channel set up for the SCMP Artifact community had approximately 800 individual users online during the auction.
SCMP chief executive Gary Liu, who describes himself in his bio on Discord as an “Artifact evangelist”, was himself active on the forum while the sales were ongoing.
One user asked Liu: “Is Artifact owned by SCMP, or it’s [sic] an independent entity?”
Liu replied: “Great question Look out for an answer to that sometime VERY soon.”
He dismissed a suggestion Alibaba might indirectly own the Artifact framework.
“Honestly, we’re always grateful for our parent company’s support (running a news organization is expensive …), but Alibaba has nothing to do with this project. Take it for what it is.”
Asked whether SCMP’s NFT drop was linked to Time magazine’s “Timepieces” NFT efforts, Liu said “this project is different from other newspaper NFTs. This is just the FIRST drop in a huge ecosystem of historical NFTs, all connected by the same Artifact Metadata Standard.
“SCMP is the first organization to mint Artifacts using this standard, and there is a long pipeline of other institutions who will launch Artifacts in the future.”
In its FAQ section, the Artifact website says that “SCMP believes that factual accounts of history and authentic historical assets should be immutable, and that ownership of these digitised and tokenised assets (which are part of our collective human experience) should be decentralised.
“Our vision is that all ‘guardians of history’ will digitise and tokenise their assets as Artifacts.”
All but 200 of the 1,309 “boxes” sold in the first hour after the auction opened. The rest sold out shortly after 3pm GMT.
The second part in the 1997 series is due to go on sale in April.
Time magazine, after initially dipping its toe into the crypto-waters with NFTs of a past cover, has since set up a lucrative NFT shopfront in which it sells Time-branded third party art. The magazine confirmed to Press Gazette in January that it had made at least $10m (£7.5m) in nine months from “web3” (i.e. blockchain) ventures.
Three Ukrainian-language news outlets in March partnered with an NFT company to produce what was, in effect, a paywall that could only be passed by holders of an NFT “key”.
And the Associated Press announced in January it would sell selected photographs as NFTs – only to be chastised after posting a tweet promoting an NFT depicting an overcrowded migrant boat making a dangerous Mediterranean crossing.
Although the 1997 series is SCMP’s first foray into NFTs, it has already delved into other web3 ventures.
Earlier in March it launched a digital, explorable recreation of the Hong Kong ferry, which it described as its “inaugural metaverse experience”.
Picture: Lam Yik/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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