Weird Crypto Trends Example: NFT Creators Destroy Physical Items to Increase Value

3 min read

Some crypto enthusiasts and investors pool funds with the plan to burn a rare copy of the book Dune along with an early copy of the US Constitution, and then re-create them into NFTs hoping this will increase the value. 

Weird NFT trends: burn real-world items

Quick Take

  • A trend in crypto has seen people burn real-world items to recreate them as NFTs and then sell them for more money.
  • The latest proposal is to burn a rare copy of the novel Dune (a version set for screenplay) — and it’s quite rightly seen a lot of pushback.

NFTs have come under a lot of criticism for “destroying the planet”  — a debatable topic that should largely disappear when Ethereum switches consensus mechanisms this year and its impact on the environment shrinks.

But what’s definitely being destroyed are real-world assets as their owners recreate them using NFTs, in the hope of selling them for more money.

It’s a habit that, quite frankly, needs to stop.

The first major example of this was when NFT platform Burnt Finance literally burned a certified Banksy piece called Morons before recreating it as an NFT and selling it for $400,000 — four times more than the physical artwork was valued.

Then, the owner of a drawing by Jean-Michel Basquiat offered an NFT of the artwork for sale, with the option that, at the buyer’s wishes, the original could be destroyed. Luckily, this was duly cancelled after the estate said that the owner did not have the rights to create such a derivative piece.

A few months later, the founder of audiobook platform MySoundWise, Natasha Che, tweeted: “If you make a NFT of a real diamond, and the diamond itself gets destroyed in a fire tomorrow, you still have the same asset.” After much mockery of this idea, Che set out to do exactly that. She bought a diamond for $5,000, smashed it with a hammer and sold an NFT of it for $17,600. (Although the jury’s still out on whether this exactly proved her point.)

While there haven’t been too many victims of this tokenization trend, the idea is still present and keeps cropping up. The latest proposal is to destroy a rare book and it has certainly ruffled some feathers.

Destroying Dune & the US Constitution

In November, 2021, NFT collector Soban Saqib spent $2.9 million on a rare copy of the book Dune — one that was presented in order to sell the idea of turning it into a screenplay — according to Buzzfeed. He did so on behalf of SpiceDAO, a group of crypto enthusiasts pooling their funds together, in a similar vein to the plan to buy an early copy of the US Constitution. 

The group was excited by the purchase and had big plans for it. They intended to make the book public, produce an animated series inspired by the book and to support community-driven derivative projects based on it. 

Only there was a big flaw: they own the book but not the copyright. This means that the group will struggle to achieve any of the three presented ideas.

While the group appears to be continuing down its path regardless, one of its community members has proposed an alternative solution (although one not necessarily void of the same problems). 

As you may have guessed, he wants to destroy the book.

Plans to burn rare Dune book

The person who proposed the idea is a former electrical engineer who goes by the moniker Xatarrer. They’re known for trying to upload a 1 MB image to the Ethereum blockchain through a series of progressive uploads (with each successive image improving in quality). A project that’s so far about 25% there.

Xatarrer wants to apply a similar idea to the Dune book. Except that unlike most NFTs that simply store links to images stored elsewhere on the web, they want to upload images of every page of the book in their entirety to the Ethereum blockchain. 

It’s unclear how many pages there are in the book, but at Xatarrer’s estimates it will cost 18 ETH ($56,000) to upload each page in terms of transaction fees. So if the book has 200 pages, that would cost $11.2 million to create the NFTs.

Once the book has been uploaded to the blockchain in its entirety, it would be available for anyone to access. This would include all of the pages, which is slightly more than what is currently available online (uploaded to just the normal web) but not by a huge amount — begging the question whether it’s really worth it.

And then, Xatarrer proposed, the book could be destroyed as an “incredible marketing stunt” with the goal of enhancing the value of the on-chain images of the book.

They told The Block that in the DAO’s early days, many members joked about doing this and he thought he would create a serious proposal with the burning of the book as an option. “It is my belief that on-chain storage is more likely to survive than the physical object itself. Also it aligns well with a book about science fiction,” they said.

Only the proposal was not received well.

“And we wonder why people hate crypto. I’m ashamed to have enabled someone to even think about doing this,” wrote Ethereum tech lead Péter Szilágyi. 

Rotki app founder Lefteris Karapetsas agreed. He said, “Us non-normies here think that this is a really bad move. Some of the stuff you lay out in that post is really cool. Don’t let it be smeared by actually destroying the physical copy of the book.”

It seems that with this backlash, the proposal to burn the book is unlikely to catch hold. Xatarrer said, “It says (optional) in the proposal and so far the sentiment is quite negative, so I don’t think you need to worry about the book.”

So, at least this time, the rare artifact should be safe.

But perhaps it’s the idea of burning rare items like books — in the hope of making a bit of extra cash — that should be destroyed instead.

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