An age-old question of how to monetize memes appears to have found an answer. This afternoon, the storied internet sensation, Nyan Cat, sold for 300.00 ETH (about $590,000) in an online auction. It wasn’t the .gif file that was sold, which is still reproducible and found everywhere online, but a cryptographic hash of the psychedelic image on the Ethereum blockchain. 

Chris Torres, who created the meme 10 years ago, confirmed the sale and his role in it over email. This was his first experiment with nonfungible tokens (NFTs), a type of digital asset that has taken the crypto scene by storm recently. NFTs, like Bitcoin, are provably scarce and uniquely identifiable. They’ve found application in the world of digital art, as well as more earth-bound industries. 

“I am still relatively new to crypto in general, but I see its full potential,” Torres said. The sale took place on the crypto art platform Foundation, which launched just two weeks ago. The auction was open for 24 hours, with bids starting at 3 ETH.

In recent weeks, a number of historical NFTs have sold for hundreds of ETH, like one Crypto Punk variant priced at over $1 million. The NFT-based art market, which has surged with the crypto markets, is now worth over $100 million, with success seen by crypto-native and traditional artists alike. 

Torres’ sale represents the latest permutation of the NFT industry: codifying and selling bits of the web that seemingly belong to everyone. “I’m very surprised with the success, but I think I’m most glad knowing that I’ve basically opened the door to a whole new meme economy in the crypto world,” Torres said. 

Until now, the creators of memes would often see little recompense for their work. Some scored book deals, others sold t-shirts and merchandise. But there was little reliable way to monetize the idea. 

With crypto, any idea can be monetized directly. And so long as the creator’s identity can reliably be tied to the work, it presents the most direct way to reward someone for things others enjoy. Plus, the works can be resold on a secondary market, with proceeds continuing to accrue to the artist. 

“I feel like that’s what it really needed, and it’s going to be great seeing how it plays out,” Torres said. 

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