Royalties have a role in the digital future, even if they won’t be easy to implement, according to a Curio Cards panel featuring the artists and founders.
Speaking to Unstoppable Domains in a live Twitter Space titled “Art, NFTs, and the future of digital assets” on March 7, 2023, Curio Cards artist Robek World highlighted the need to keep rewarding artists, saying he’s “proud of the marketplaces that still honor royalties.”
Asked about options for aligning the industry as it seemingly moves toward a royalty-free landscape, he continued: “I think there should be something that maintains. Because otherwise you just end up with this same curation gallerist BS that’s in the traditional market. Are we creating a new paradigm or are we going to replicate what we already have?”
Curio Cards founder Travis Uhrig described the need to do “some kind of extra good” to preserve the artist-collector relationship intrinsic to NFTs.
He also acknowledged, “There’s a lot of change going on right now, but it’s a topic that’s really important to Curio Cards.”
While Curio Cards didn’t have royalties built into the 2017 contracts, their approach was to pay artists directly on-chain, providing them with one hundred percent of sales revenue. In 2021, after the project’s rediscovery, the Curio team put to a vote between the artists and the community whether to introduce a marketplace royalty of one percent, or none at all.
During the Twitter Space, Robek confirmed he voted for zero percent — part of a tiny minority with a view that’s increasingly becoming the norm — because, he says, he’s “a crazy person.”
But now, as “an artist-turned-collector,” he recognizes “the promise of royalties drew a lot of people to the space.”
He adds: “To get into the space at the time was a huge risk. It could damage your reputation; it could do all kinds of harm, or destroy your audience. I think a lot of the artists that took the leap of faith came, because there was this promise of potential income if you became popular enough.”
Most of the art projects that became popular were so-called “10K collections” — ten thousand-image generative art projects depicting similar avatars with different “traits.” As prices and royalty payouts shot up, the space shifted toward what Robek calls “speculative asset trading that’s not completely different to general shitcoin trading.”
In this kind of profit-seeking environment, “traders would much rather not give any percentage to the artist.” This has prompted collections and marketplaces to cut out or make royalties optional.
Robek says he’d much rather see 10K collections lose out on royalties, because art is about “the intent.” He adds: “If your intent is to do a one of one or a limited run edition, you’re doing a single piece and you’re creating it by hand.”
The artist royalty debate came back into focus last month as leading marketplace OpenSea temporarily gave users the choice to remove royalties.
In light of the cut-back since the initial NFT hype, Mad Bitcoins, a surprise guest on the Space said, “It was a nice promise. But I think it was kind of a false promise, and it will fade quickly, unfortunately.”
The Curio Cards founder referred to the technical difficulties of hard-coding royalties into current Ethereum contracts, and how buyers and sellers may opt to just “exchange accounts” or trade over-the-counter, “instead of going through OpenSea.”
Since the Curio Cards community voted to introduce a marketplace royalty, the artists have benefitted continuously from their 2017 art — work which Max Infeld (known as Marisol Vengas) described as “a really important part of [his] art-making history.”
If these kinds of benefits are to persist, the NFT industry will need to adjust for the future. It will need to evolve, most likely, in ways that redefine existing norms.
Luis Buenaventura, also known as Cryptopop, said he hopes there will be a time when the term NFT is no longer used. This is because the NFT itself is “not what the artists produce — it’s just the receipt.” Rather, he envisions a world where the technology is “baked in” so that it’s just implicitly part of all digital art.
As the industry evolves, platforms and the market as a whole are facing a choice. And if royalties are to remain, Uhrig says, “it has to be some kind of social contract, ultimately, because there’s a way of bypassing a code, or contract.”
Uhrig hopes the patronage toward artists continues, and that it “just becomes part of the culture.”
Listen to the full recording of the Twitter Space with Unstoppable Domains here: https://twitter.com/unstoppableweb/status/1632811188705964034