The Broke Ape Yacht Crash: Lessons for Justin Bieber and Other NFT Collectors

Why has Yuga Labs’ Bored Ape universe collapsed in value?

AccessTimeIconJul 5, 2023 at 7:01 p.m. UTC
Updated Jun 14, 2024 at 6:13 p.m. UTC

Bitter finger-pointing and recrimination are swirling among and around investors in Bored Ape Yacht Club, the “profile pic” (PFP) NFT collection that skyrocketed to immense values in early 2022. The market for Apes has been brutally hammered by a lull in NFT interest, with floor prices – the lowest price for which an Ape can be purchased – declining to 27.4 ETH, from a high of 153.7 ETH in April of 2022.

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Floor price is a proxy for the overall value of an NFT collection, so that 82% floor decline can translate into even bigger drops in the value of individual Bored Apes and related assets. In one notable example, Justin Bieber owns an Ape that was supposedly worth $1.3 million at one point, and now the highest bid for it is just over $58,000 – a 95% decline.

It should be noted that early Ape holders are still in decent shape, and Bored Apes are still very highly valued and traded relative to other NFT collections. They were also far from the only crypto-asset to experience a wild runup and crash over the last few years. And they are slumping roughly in line with the broader NFT market, which by some measures is at its lowest point in two years.

But there are crucial lessons to be learned here that are specific to BAYC. Many buyers, particularly those who aped hardest, have paid immense sums in “market tuition” to (hopefully) learn them. If you’re lucky enough to learn them for free, take heed.

1. Pride Cometh Before the Fall

Perhaps not a straightforward market lesson, but still the most important: One reason people are so attuned to the failure of the Apes right now is the questionable behavior of holders when times were good.

Some of the negative feeling towards Apes is thanks to rather typical crypto bull market behavior, such as extravagantly lame parties. But, fair or not, Ape-holders have also gained a reputation for being particularly toxic and self-absorbed. In the minds of many, a Bored Ape is the visual counterpart to unironically tweeting “have fun staying poor” at anyone with the temerity to ask why a monkey jpeg is worth half a million dollars.

This kind of behavior may have been an understandable defensive reaction to the huge wave of mainstream mockery that targeted the Apes, but it was a tactical mistake (as it is with Bitcoin). The lack of goodwill towards Apes, whether within crypto communities or more broadly, is now translating directly into weaker financial support for the assets.

That’s because there is clear truth to the rhetoric around NFTs and “community”: The community of holders really, really matters to these things’ value. To cite just two notable examples of more robust PFP communities, Wassies and Miladies have held up vastly better in value than Apes over the past year, though admittedly from a much lower starting point.

So ask yourself: if the guy next to you bought his Ape because he couldn’t tell Paris Hilton was basically joking on the teevee, is that a community you really want to be in?

2. Aggressive marketing is a red flag

One reason Bored Apes came in for such scrutiny among crypto veterans in particular is that they were so aggressively marketed to a mainstream audience. That was most notoriously crystallized in the infamously awkward Paris Hilton segment on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.

That moment was seized on by both mainstream skeptics and crypto veterans because it was so transparently fake. The insincerity was palpable, as it almost always is in such situations. (Personally, I think Paris tanked it on purpose. She’s nobody’s fool.)

There are clear financial reasons to avoid projects that engage in this sort of inorganic marketing: it can inflate an asset market, but also makes it more fragile. In the case of crypto-assets, it can mean winding up with a lot of low-conviction holders who don’t actually understand the value proposition of what they’ve purchased.

At the same time, inorganic hype tends to encourage speculation rather than participation, which makes a market weaker. A market rooted in cultural value is far more enduring when individual holders had individual journeys to genuine affection for some object, rather than just seeing a commercial for it.

And when a Bored Ape pops up on a talk show, someone with deep pockets may buy a dozen of them instead of just one for themselves. But this simultaneously raises the barrier to entry for new holders, and creates concentrated points of market failure for the asset.

This was illustrated in April of this year when a major Bored Ape holder sold dozens of the NFTs in just a few days, pushing markets to a five-month low. A healthy NFT ecosystem has broad organic demand and an engaged community of predominantly individual holders – not a critical mass of speculators with heavy bags, poised to dump when the wind starts blowing the wrong direction.

3. Don’t leverage speculative assets

The most mortifying stories coming out of the BAYC community right now are of people who used their Apes as collateral for loans, and are now getting liquidated as BAYC values drop. In just one instance, BendDAO, as spotted by Protos, is selling off dozens of Apes that have been seized as collateral for un-repaid loans. Bend is just one of a few similar services, and these liquidations may even be driving BAYC values into a downward spiral.

The entire idea that NFTs were viable as financial primitives this early in their asset lifecycle is deeply questionable, though offering the service seems perfectly valid (and potentially quite lucrative). But, oh my god, is it ever a bad idea for a borrower to go into debt against a volatile asset, crypto or not. Now these borrower’s Apes are being force-sold at the bottom of the market, instead of waiting for a better moment.

4. If you’re not first, you’re last

The Apes in real trouble right now, of course, are the ones who bought at the top of the market. Some of them are down even worse than Justin Bieber, and a lot of that money is never coming back.

There’s no easy metric or standard for knowing when you’re buying into an overheated market. See above re: aggressive marketing for a start, though: whether you’re seeing an Ape pumped on late night TV or an AI startup CEO making hyperbolic claims, tread carefully. That very messaging is probably helping inflate the asset in question beyond its actual underlying value.

Perhaps the most conservative way to think about this is that if other people are already “making” crazy amounts of money on a bet, it’s almost certainly too late for you to catch even the crumbs of that surge, whatever the asset in question - and you’re at risk of being the one who gets dumped on.

That goes double for community-oriented NFTs, because if you’re aping into a rising asset in the expectation of future returns, everyone around you is probably doing the same thing. Even more than in most markets, in other words, an NFT bubble is self-defeating because it poisons the earth in which an organic community can grow.

In other words, the Bored Apes are now simply reaping what they sowed: that is, not very much.

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David Z. Morris

David Z. Morris was CoinDesk's Chief Insights Columnist. He holds Bitcoin, Ethereum, and small amounts of other crypto assets.