Generative NFT artist Tyler Hobbs spoke with Decrypt about recent market shifts regarding honoring creator royalties.
Most notable Solana NFT marketplaces have made paying royalties optional, along with some Ethereum marketplaces.
The NFT space is changing amid the ongoing crypto bear market, as many marketplaces are choosing to either ignore or let traders choose whether to pay creator royalties. The debate over royalties has raged for months amongst artists and collectors, but now the trend is rapidly taking hold across parts of the NFT industry.
On Friday, the last major domino fell in the Solana NFT market as Magic Eden—the largest marketplace by far on Solana—said that creator royalties would no longer be mandatory, after it lost sizable market share to royalties-shunning upstarts. Nearly every Solana NFT marketplace with any significant market share has now rejected royalties or made them optional. This means NFT traders on Solana no longer pay between 5% and 10% in fees on each trade, which may boost profit margins for sellers but at the cost of revenue for project creators and founders.
Ethereum, still the largest blockchain platform for NFTs, has seen marketplaces like X2Y2 and Sudoswap gain steam as they push back on royalties to some extent. However, top marketplace OpenSea still honors creator royalties, as do others, so the Ethereum market hasn’t seen as widespread of a “race to the bottom” on fees as the Solana market.
Many artists are taking a stand against marketplaces that reject royalties. Tyler Hobbs is the generative artist behind the valuable Art Blocks: Fidenza collection and co-creator of the new QQL project, both minted on Ethereum.
He told Decrypt this week that while there’s a possibility that the Ethereum market could similarly reject royalties at a mass scale, he sees a different kind of sentiment amongst both creators and collectors compared to those on Solana.
“I think that the Ethereum space is really much more serious,” he said. “The serious artists and serious collectors tend to be in Ethereum, rather than on Solana. It’s a much better test of those systems, and I think creators will put up much more of a fight when it comes to Ethereum.”
Much of the NFT art market lives on Ethereum, which has a thriving scene thanks to platforms like generative art project Art Blocks, as well as single-edition artwork marketplace SuperRare. Solana doesn’t have as large or as valuable of an artwork market, and its NFT space is dominated by profile picture collections and video game NFT projects.
One Solana NFT artwork-centric marketplace, Exchange Art, has vocally repudiated the moves of Magic Eden and others. The platform tweeted on Saturday that a “social contract was broken” by marketplaces rejecting royalties, and said it would offer a tool that lets creators block their NFTs from being traded on such marketplaces.
Solana’s wider shift away from honoring creator royalties may be impacting future development in the space, as well. The creator of NFT project Taiyo Robotics, who goes by Tom, tweeted today that he’s spoken with project creators that are switching to Ethereum, citing higher average primary sale prices and that “people are mostly happy to pay royalties on secondary.”
“In my mind, this is the single biggest threat to the 0% royalty thing moving forward,” Tom continued. “What is the incentive for new creators to come to SOL when they already typically make less money from mint here for quality projects, and now there’s no royalties?”
Hobbs and his QQL collaborator Dandelion Wist have already demonstrated their resolve on the royalties front. The QQL smart contract—or code that powers autonomous, decentralized Web3 apps—includes a blacklist that prevents listed Ethereum marketplaces from interacting with its NFTs on behalf of owners. QQL NFTs can’t be sold through those platforms.
QQL launched in late September and racked up nearly $17 million in primary sales, adding over $28 million in secondary market sales to date. X2Y2 didn’t handle any of those latter trades due to the blacklist, which the marketplace complained about in a tweet thread, suggesting that Hobbs and Wist were compromising holders’ ownership rights via the coded method.
Hobbs told Decrypt that he’s otherwise seen widely positive reactions, not only from NFT artists who might consider similar tactics, but also collectors that see the benefits of supporting artists by paying a fee when they sell a piece on the secondary market.
“I think they understand also that giving artists that stability and giving artists a little bit more power is really in the best interest of the artwork, and that everybody will benefit from having that in place,” he said. “People have been very supportive.”
We believe there should be a “Fair Royalty” model (user decides what they want to pay, and creator decides who they want to serve).
This is something we fundamentally believe Web3 should be about.
Hobbs, of course, has a real stake in the debate as an artist. He became a central figure in the NFT art world with last year’s release of Fidenza on Art Blocks—a collection of 999 Ethereum pieces, each generated by an algorithm deployed on a blockchain. Fidenza has yielded several seven-figure sales, and the cheapest available NFT right now is listed at nearly $128,000.
Hobbs’ success in the NFT space—compounded by the recent QQL launch—has been larger than most other artists. But he still strongly believes that ongoing royalties are essential to the equity and long-term stability of all creators in the Web3 space.
“It’s one of the single largest, positive shifts that NFTs have opened up for artists compared to the traditional art markets,” Hobbs said of royalties. “I think it would be a real tragedy for those to slip away. It just makes such a difference in the lives of artists and how much opportunity an artist has to support themselves through their work.”
In defense of royalties
Currently, NFT royalties on both Ethereum and Solana cannot be fully enforced on a technical level, although developers are working on potential solutions to do just that. Hobbs acknowledged that even the QQL blacklist can potentially be overcome. But future innovations to NFT standards and smart contracts could enable more stringent royalties methods.
“One of the beauties of NFTs and Web3 is that a lot more power is in the creator’s hands. The approach that we took is not bulletproof. There are ways to get around it. There are always ways to get around these things,” he said. But he acknowledged that it was a “relatively easy” step that other creators could adopt to deter “behavior they disagree with.”
Ultimately, however, he doesn’t believe that NFT royalty enforcement purely comes down solely to the code. Collectors need to understand why artist royalties are important, he said, and platforms and marketplaces need to reach a similar cultural consensus.
“It is a cultural issue, not a technological issue,” Hobbs said. “The case has to be made culturally of why this is a valuable policy for us to commit to, and I’m willing to be part of that discussion, as well. I think it’ll take time for those cultural norms to really evolve and solidify.”
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