Why web3 has done little for writers (and how we can change that)
Finn Lobsien
November 27th, 2021

Web3 has done little for writers (so far)

On my first Shiny Object Social Club community call, I was nervous. After 55 minutes of talking about the future, I heard what I was waiting for:

"Any other questions?"

I unmuted with shaky fingers and stuttered:

"All of these projects list developers, illustrators and community managers. I have a copywriting/content marketing background. Is that not valuable in NFTs? Do I have to learn new skills?"

If you're a (copy-)writer, you may have felt the same way. It's easy to feel misplaced in web3:

NFTs and crypto have transformed the business models of artists and software engineers. Their art or (d)apps are now an asset that earns while they sleep.

None of that has happened for writers.

Sure, you can get freelance clients, earn tokens in a DAO or be employed at a web3 company. If you're exceptional, you may even make your living from a paid newsletter. Don’t get me wrong. It’s fantastic to work with great people in a space you believe in.

But none of that's groundbreaking—it's existing writing business models with crypto sprinkled on top.

What about NFTs? Have you ever heard someone say "I loved that article so much I bought it as an NFT!"? My guess is no. To find out why writers seem underserved in web3, let's figure out why nobody buys written NFTs.

Why are there no writing NFTs?

Writing NFTs don't happen consistently. Packy McCormick sold some Mirror pieces as NFTs. But even those were connected to their title images, not words. So if even one of web3’s most popular writers doesn’t sell writing NFTs, how big is the opportunity for others?

Although I'd love a golden era of written NFTs, I'm bearish in the short-term. Why? It doesn't happen in the real world.

Reason 1: Consumption time of writing

Everyone's been to an art museum, but almost nobody's been to a book museum. That's because you judge a painting in a split second: You look at it, have an emotional reaction and get an overall vibe.

Contrast that with writing: A book takes hours to finish. You bond with characters over hundreds of pages, feel for them and learn from them. That takes time.

You can't consume books immediately. Ask someone what they think of a painting and they can tell at a glance. Ask the same about a book or article and you have to be lucky they've read it to get a response besides "Sounds interesting".

How soon can you love something?

You'd only buy an NFT if you love the piece, the style or the project. Before you can love the art, you need to consume it. So you can love a piece of art in a split second, but you can only love a book after hours (less for articles, but still orders of magnitude longer than visuals).

That makes the written NFT market tiny compared to the visual art market.

That's one reason we haven't seen writing NFTs take off. The market is much smaller. But that's not all—because generative projects give visual artists so much more leverage:

Reason 2: There is no generative writing

Few people appreciate this, but generative art gives designers, painters and other visual artists gigantic leverage.

Generative art creates leverage for artists.
Generative art creates leverage for artists.

They don't have to paint each piece of work individually, they draw a few dozen things and let an algorithm create thousands of art pieces.

That's why you can get work by popular artists for relatively cheap:

Doodles weren't cheap at a minting price of 0.123ETH ($519 at the time of this writing). But Burnttoast's (the artist) 1/1 NFTs go for as much as 12,5ETH ($52,790 at the time of this writing).

Why were Doodles 101 times cheaper than the 1/1 work? Because Burnttoast didn't have to draw thousands of times, but let computers to the work.

For now, this type of leverage is impossible in writing.

You can't write 50 sentences, have a computer assign them a random order and sell people word salad.

It would be ridiculous to for me to take this article and randomize the sentence order to create 10,000 articles.

Writing process. You write one piece, then you publish one piece.
Writing process. You write one piece, then you publish one piece.

That’s why the absence of writing NFTs can be explained wit simple economics: If the best artists can create a supply of 10,000 pieces in the same time it takes the best writers to create a supply of 1, the attention for art NFTs drowns out the attention for writing.

While writing AIs exist, they can't (yet) write intricate, cohesive long-form stories humans enjoy. That sounds like a lot of FUD for writers in web3. But we'll be needed, big time. In this article, we'll explore why that's the case and how writers are gmi in web3.

An important caveat: NFTs don’t make anything more valuable. They let creators directly benefit from the value they create (the great thread linked below calls it “unlocking frozen assets”).

So it’s worth asking: What makes writing valuable?

Why some writers get rich, influential and independent.

J.K. Rowling is estimated to be a billionaire. David Ogilvy, Claude Hopkins and Gary Halbert made fortunes from writing ads.

Why? Good stories have value. They're necessary for new movements, products and companies to succeed. And stories are where writers shine. Neither companies nor fictional characters thrive without stories.

Just like you've never been to a book museum, you probably haven't heard of a movie based on a painting. And you haven't seen a landing page without copy. That's because paintings and website layouts have constraints. They can't tell stories as well as a book.

All media have constraints.
All media have constraints.

To create any great media entity, visual elements and writing depend on each other.

You don’t get a movie without a script. But you also won’t get one without cameras and animations. So for any communication to be successful, you need both. As writers, we’ll contribute the stories.

And stories are valuable in two ways:

1. People enjoy stories for more than entertainment

Whether you indulge in rom-coms, read biographies to learn or dig through a technical whitepaper, you're consuming a story.

Entertainment, education and marketing are stories in different formats, each with dozens of subcategories.

  • Entertainment tells stories with gaming, movies, books, TV shows and plays.
  • Education tells stories with case studies, research papers and essay assignments.
  • Marketing tells stories of customers, products, companies and industries.

Because stories determine the success of media entities, companies and products, they make money.

2. Stories create value for companies

If you're a copywriter, you know a product's (or company's) story makes money.

You could buy Nike Air Jordans for $150 in the store or game-worn, autographed ones for $560,000 at Sotheby's. That 3733x increase isn't because one pair is more comfy.

It's the story.

The same is true for companies: The $GME pump wasn't a subreddit agreeing to buy a stock. A story catalyzed that movement: "Rich hedge fund folks are getting richer while we're suffering, let's get revenge!" That story took Gamestop from a $1.3B market cap to a (short-lived) $22.6B. Look at their stock chart:

There are countless examples. From tiny businesses to nation states, the story you tell decides how people perceive something—and influences what they buy, hold or sell.

So whether you write fiction or non-fiction, your work creates value. But you don't need web3 for that. You could've been a screenwriter, novelist, copywriter, etc. 100 years ago.

So how does web3 help you as a writer? I think I've found a way us writers can make it in the NFT world. Let's dive in.

A new way writers can win in web3

NFTs let Visual artists transform their entire business model. 18-year old FEWOCiOUS used to sell an occasional print until he discovered NFTs and sold $27M (6400+ETH) worth of NFTs and has his own Sothebys auction:

A few changes enabled this dramatic shift:

  • Resale royalties let artists earn while they sleep.
  • Digital ownership lets liquid, affluent art collectors anywhere buy and trade art without logistics considerations.
  • Discord and Twitter allow direct relationships with collectors.
  • Marketplaces and crypto wallets remove necessity for an agent.

Besides the ease of collaboration, none of that is true for writers. But it could. Here's how:

Could Fiction Writing become copywriting?

A big opportunity for NFTs is the "decentralized Disney" idea: The next Star Wars-level media franchise won't be corporate-owned, but community-owned.

Instead of a corporation owning the rights to all of Star Wars characters, the respective holders of Master Yoda, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader could license the characters to a movie studio.

At the same time, Darth Vader's holder could license the character out to LEGO, Gucci and IKEA—without needing permission from the movie studio or anyone else.

The point is that any organization, individual or mix thereof can hold the IP rights to media franchise. That lets them license character out to anyone, collaborate with anyone, monetize them any way they want to—you get the point.

This probably won't happen with the actual, Hollywood-owned Star Wars franchise. But if NFT projects achieve that level of clout, decentralized Disney could become reality.

And the only way NFTs achieve Star Wars-level cultural significance is with captivating, compelling and convincing stories. Because stories are the thread that weave a random set of drawings together into a valuable whole.

We’re seeing early signs of this with Punks Comic, which expands Cryptopunk identities into comic form, but we’re very early here.

Sound like future talk? It's present talk:

Jenkins the Valet, the world's first decentralized celebrity?

Jenkins the Valet is signed by Hollywood talent agency CAA. What sounds like Larry The Cable Guy's little brother, is really a cartoon monkey popularized by a media company.

When Tally Labs purchased Bored Ape 1798, they called him "Jenkins the Valet" and started selling NFTs, which gave varying levels of access to a mysterious writer's room.

Those NFTs let you contribute to a crowd-written book which tells Jenkins' story. If you hold a "Writer's Room" NFT, you co-write the story.

Some tiers let you license your BAYC/MAYC for the book and earn a commission from every sale. Others let you vote on plot twists. You can see details here.

Now, you don't need a Hollywood talent agency to sell some NFTs and let holders pitch ideas. But you probably need an agency to get 10x NYT bestselling author Neil Strauss to write that book.

So an affluent blue-chip NFT community, a Hollywood talent agency, and a bestselling author convene to write a story together. The setup couldn't be much better.

If the book becomes a success, the next steps are obvious—movies, TV shows, etc. These prospects skyrocket Bored Ape 1798's value.

If you offered the floor price of an ape with similar features for Bored Ape 1798, Tally Labs would ignore you. The promise of a successful story attached to this NFT skyrocketed its value.

The idea isn't unique. NFT roadmaps are littered with (often hollow) promises of screenplays, novels, movies, video games, cartoons etc. The Bored Apes community has been incredible at this:

But Tally Labs are first to do it without the project's creators—and to show real promise to succeed in mainstream media.

Neil Strauss is the linchpin here. Without a writer, the project falls apart. But the project doesn't have a starting point for the characters with the Bored Ape Yacht Club visuals.

In successful media franchises, words and visuals depend on each other. Static images need the writing to become a story. But words are too ambiguous to create a recognizable vision.

We wouldn't have 5 Harry Potter theme park areas in the world if the movies hadn't created a canonical visual representation of the books' stories.

So you either need a great story to visualize or a great visual to base a story on. Most NFT projects need the latter, which is a giant opportunity for writers.

In their current stage, NFTs don't have built-in stories. As Mario Gabriele pointed out here, most projects give no starting point beyond the visual.

As Mario pointed out:

Each NFT has become a kind of protagonist to its owner, but a protagonist with no defined personality, no depth. They source material is flat, which may give them broad appeal, but presents a problem for storytellers.

Even the simplest of questions are made difficult. Is CryptoPunk #7560 good or evil? Are they smart or dumb? Are they introverted or extroverted? Are they kind or cruel?

Someone will have to fill in this narrative vacuum. Will NFT makers take this on themselves? While that might preserve the project’s spirit, the skillset needed to create a compelling pfp differs considerably from constructing traditional narratives.

Writers will have to fill those gaps in narrative. And project creators/NFT holders will pay those writers or give them a cut of earnings from the story—in other words, turn their writing into an asset that keeps earning while they sleep.

If you're a writer in web3, this should inspire you as it inspired me. Now, I haven't written 10 NYT bestsellers. And you probably haven't, either (if you have, hey Neil👋🏻).

So that begs a question:

How would you get those gigs?

Expansion beyond static images currently happens through conventional channels. Jenkins the Valet signed with CAA, Larva Labs with U2's manager.

To make a Cryptopunks or Bored Ape Yacht Club movie, they'll probably find a proven screenwriter, not a volunteer in Discord. It seems antithetical to web3, but hiring a writer for a full book, screenplay or other long-form story is risky.

Establish the narrative of your fictional world is a bigger commitment than finding a freelance writer for a blog article:

A book might take years from outline to print. If the result sucks, you've burned money, lost everyone's trust and paid opportunity cost. So it doesn't matter how much you love decentralization, there's no incentive to hire a pseudonymous cartoon animal person over a proven writer. The risk is too big.

So writers in web3 face the classic college grad dilemma:

You need experience to get the gig. But to get experience, you need the gig.

The solution: Proof of work.

One of web3's advantages is permissionlessness. Nobody is stopping you from telling a story about an NFT you hold—and proving to everyone that you're great at telling stories and thus creating value with your writing.

If a story you tell gets attention, you can branch out into additional media, sell your own NFTs or collaborate with others storytellers.

This might sound crazy, but it's what Tally Labs is building with Jenkins the Valet. BAYC's cultural clout, their affluent community and Hollywood connections let them execute at light speed.

The team will expand Jenkins to TV, podcasts and movies. They're not only expanding to different media: the FAQ reveals they're talking to NFT projects beyond BAYC.

If Jenkins is successful, other companies, DAOs and individuals will replicate the model or iterate on it.

Why shouldn't you be one of them? You can start writing today, publish and build a following. You'll need more stamina and compete harder for attention.

But if you're a great storyteller, build a community and start doing the same thing, you could turn your NFT into a celebrity—and capture all the value it generates.

If you've read up to this point, you're probably excited about the idea of telling your pfp's story. And you might be wondering how to put this into practice.

3 Steps to making your NFT famous

I'm not aware of anyone actively telling stories like that. That makes it hard to recommend a step-by-step roadmap to NFT storytelling success. But here's 3 ideas based on timeless marketing principles:

1. Start with your community

“The key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
-Seth Godin

Unless you have a large audience already, you probably shouldn't try to appeal to all of NFT/Crypto Twitter. Great businesses start with hyper-specific target audiences.

For NFTs, I'd start with the community of your project. That's powerful for two main reasons:

  1. You get the community's vibe and can create something that resonates with them.
  2. Holders have an incentive: If your storytelling makes the project itself more popular (and the NFTs more valuable), everybody benefits. That's why community members are most likely to promote and share your stuff.

That doesn't mean you hide your stories in Discord channels. It means you create for the community in public. That way, others can tag along, but you always have a core audience that loves your stuff.

2. You can do anything, but not everything

Similar to focusing on one audience at first, you should probably choose a medium as well.

Trying to draw, write, paint and animate at the same time is distracting.

And people they wouldn't know how to tell others about your project because it's so far-reaching.

3. Don't to it all yourself

The Jenkins the Valet novel may have been successful if they wrote a Bored Ape book and promoted it to the NFT community.

But they almost ensured success by involving the community and getting thousands of people to buy in. To tell your NFT's story successfully, involve your community (whether paid or for free). If someone contributed a plot twist to the story, they'll come back to see how it plays out.

Wrapping up: Web3 Writers are GMI

So there you have it: Writers can make it in web3 by telling stories for companies, protocols, DAOs or individual NFTs. As NFTs grow in value and influence, they'll expand to other media, which will require writers like us.

But we don't have to wait for clients. We can start telling our own NFT's stories permissionlessly by starting with the communities we're already in.

And now, let's make something happen! W3Wagmi.

If you found this article helpful, follow me on Twitter (below) and retweet the tweet about the article to let more web3 writers know how they can win.

P.P.S.: I love writing these articles for free, especially because they’re about messages I think more people need to hear. And if you really liked this article, feel free to send me a small tip to: 0xD785f783e24f71F7FA49dc2933C17bb20954548d

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