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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Move over, GameStop. The newest speculative game in town is NFTs — digital files that can be owned and traded on a plethora of new online platforms.

Why it matters: Most NFTs include some kind of still or moving image, which makes them similar to many physical art objects. Some of them, including a gif of Nyan Cat flying through the sky with a pop-tart body and rainbow trail, can be worth more than your house.

How it works: Most crypto assets are like dollars, or stocks: They're fungible, which means that one bitcoin, or share of IBM, is worth exactly the same as any other bitcoin, or share of IBM. NFTs, by contrast, are non-fungible tokens: They're unique objects that live on a blockchain and are valued as collectors' items.

  • By the numbers: Nyan Cat sold for 300 ETH (the Ethereum cryptocurrency), or about $580,000 at the time the bid was entered on Feb. 19. An artist going by the moniker "Beeple" sold 20 artworks for $3.5 million in December, and has consigned a major digital work to auction house Christie's in an online auction that will end on March 11.
  • One fake Banksy, by an artist calling themselves Pest Supply, sold for more than 60 ETH, or about $100,000. The artwork featured a stencil saying "I can't believe you morons actually buy this NFT shit." It's not clear where or how the buyer could resell the work, given that the Opensea platform has now disabled all future sales by that artist.
  • A short clip of a LeBron James dunk from 2019 sold for $208,000, on a day when more than 20,000 buyers spent more than $45 million in total buying NBA TopShot clips.

The catch: Most NFTs (but not TopShots) live on the Ethereum blockchain, which has a massive carbon footprint. Artist Joanie Lemercier calculated that one release of his art on NiftyGateway was responsible for more carbon emissions than his entire physical studio emitted in 18 months.

  • Another artist, Memo Atken, analyzed a separate platform, SuperRare, and calculated that a single NFT is on average responsible for 211kg of CO2 emissions — the equivalent of driving a gasoline-powered car for 1,000km.

The big picture: Our digital lives are surrounded by countless digital objects. NFTs are a way to imbue such objects with financial value. When that happens they take on a new level of significance and importance.

  • They also become vehicles for speculation, whose financial value is generally entirely unrelated to their artistic value.

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Updated 3 mins ago - Sports

College football gone mad

Former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly walks in front of his players. Photo: David Madison/Getty Images

In the span of two days, the head coaches of two of the biggest college football programs in America have jumped ship, wooed by even greater challenges — and the almighty dollar.

Driving the news: Lincoln Riley is ditching Oklahoma for USC in a deal reportedly worth $110 million. LSU poached Brian Kelly from Notre Dame with a reported 10-year, $100 million contract.

Media startups anxiously await BuzzFeed’s stock market debut

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Digital media companies considering going public are watching BuzzFeed's expected stock market debut next week to see how investors will respond.

Why it matters: A slowdown in SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies) earlier this year pushed some digital media companies that were considering going public via SPAC IPOs away from the idea, such as Vice.

Retail's IOU boom

Black Friday shoppers in Skokie, Ill. Photo: Joel Lerner/Xinhua via Getty Images

Here's a staggering stat: Americans' use of "buy now, pay later" options increased 438% between November 2019 and November 2021, according to an Adobe analysis reported by Retail Dive.

Why it matters: This is one of the biggest new trends in shopping right now. People are getting more and more comfortable with apps like Afterpay, Klarna and Affirm that facilitate "buy now, pay later," and let customers spread out the cost of purchases over a long period of time without a credit card.