NFTs are in strife.
Sunday saw the lowest volume of NFT sales on OpenSea, the biggest marketplace for such goods, since December. Just $52 million worth of the stuff was sold, according to Dune Analytics. Compare that to April, where volume dipped below $100 million on only a handful of occassions.
Reluctant buyers have led to precipitous falls in NFT prices. Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs had a starting price of around $400,000 (145 ether) towards the end of April, but by Monday that price had been cut in half to $200,000 (91 ether). Similar drops have been seen in other blue chip collections. The entry price of pixelated Moon Birds fell from a high of around $110,000 to $44,000 on Monday, while Reece Witherspoon-backed World of Women’s entry price is $10,000, down from $34,000 in the middle of April.
Compounding the chaos, NFTs are dumping right alongside bitcoin and ether. Bitcoin fell below $30,000 for the first time since 2020, and ether sits at $2,300, far below its high of $4,600 last November. This is unusual. Typically the NFT market goes down when crypto goes up as speculators toss their money into ether and altcoins, which can shoot up by several hundred percentage points amid market euphoria.
Citing a huge fall in the number of NFTs bought, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that NFT sales were “flatlining,” while Yahoo questioned whether a $140,000 sale of a CryptoPunk bought for $1 million 6 months prior signalled “the death of the NFT.” This has sparked another type of euphoria: Punters calling the imminent demise of NFTs.
“The NFT market is collapsing,” one tweet with over a thouasnd likes reads. “Turns out digital rocks and digital monkeys was not a good store of value.”
There’s something to these proclamations. NFTs are a four-year-old technology, one that people have only paid attention to for the past year or so. Propped up almost entirely by crypto investors, their long-term durability is worth questioning. “Volatility is particularly pronounced in NFTs because the market is less mature and therefore more susceptible to shifts in user sentiment,” notes Ethan McMahon, an economist at blockchain data analysis firm Chainalysis.
Yet there’s an element of confirmation bias here. People dislike NFTs, because most are bad for the planet and at present exist largely as status symbols for celebrities and the crypto rich. But just because you hate NFTs doesn’t mean they’re going away.
Yes, NFTs are in strife. So is everything else.
The bad state of the market appears tied to the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike of 0.5%, its biggest in two decades. If the NFT market was up, it would be practically the only thing that was. The Nasdaq stock index is down 20% in the past month. Compared to this day last month, Alphabet and Amazon are down 11% and 28% respectively. It’s not just tech companies, as most consumer-facing firms are feeling the squeeze. Disney has dropped 18% over the last 30 days; the WWE announced record quarterly profits but is still red month-on-month. Nike and Adidas are slumping 11%, and Gucci owner Kering has slid 15%.
The Bored Ape Yacht Club’s aforementioned price drop of 50% puts it in company with Neflix. Woes compounded by losing subscribers for the first time ever, the streaming giant’s share price has halved over the past 30 days.
What goes up must come down. The NFT market grew by around 2,500 percent in 2021, according to DappRadar, with $25 billion spent compared to about $94 million in 2020. Almost no one would deny that speculation has created an NFT bubble, even if many disagree about how inflated that bubble is.
But much the same can be same about many companies, whose valuations skyrocketed following March 2020. Amazon’s stock last July touched $3,777, twice its pre-COVID price. Apple, Netflix and Meta all had their stock price double in the past two years, and Tesla’s high was 14-times its pandemic low.
Numbers go up. Numbers go down.
NFTs aren’t dead — yet
The fortunes of NFTs are in many ways encapsulated by Otherside, an upcoming metaverse developed by Bored Ape Yacht Club creators Yuga Labs. Yuga Labs on April 30 dropped NFT land deeds for Otherside, with just under $1 billion being spent on the virtual land in the 10 days since. It’s hard to say NFTs are dead when the biggest ever trading day occured within the past two weeks.
But the launch highlighted some of crypto’s weaknesses — weaknesses which are contributing to the market’s downturn. Thanks to Ethereum’s efficiency issues, traders spent around $200 million in transaction fees, including thousands of dollars on failed transactions. Ether’s deflationary protocol has these “gas” fees burned, which means that roughly four days-worth of current market activity was destroyed.
Still, the upcoming metaverse is in many ways the evolution of NFTs. NFTs are mostly used as digital status symbols, but Yuga Labs is hoping to turn its Bored Ape brand into a mainstream, AAA game. It’s not the only one, as dozens of NFT creators are hoping to sail from OpenSea into your living room. Whether a few can succeed or not will say more about the long-term viability of NFTs than a slump brought on by an interest-rate spike that’s impacted most other indexes.
Don’t count out the digital monkeys just yet.