The experiment consisted of two parts. First, Fortune sold a set of 256 limited edition NFTs of its latest cover art, designed by the digital artist pplpleasr. Each “tokenized” piece was priced at 1 Ether, the basic unit of the cryptocurrency Ethereum, or around $3,000 a pop. The lot sold out in a few minutes, as I noted in Fortune's Data Sheet newsletter. The lowest price at which anyone is reselling a copy is now seven times the original listing—quite a bump.
The second part of the experiment involved a three-day auction for three special edition NFTs featuring more in-depth graphics. An hour before the planned closing time of 12 p.m. ET on Monday, I hosted a Twitter Spaces chat with Fortune editor-in-chief Brian O’Keefe, pplpleasr, our tech partner Richerd Chanof Manifold, and some folks whose avatars were featured on the cover of the issue, including the pseudonymous crypto influencers Loomdart (who represents himself as an anthropomorphic blueberry) and Mewny (a blob-like couch).
Unfortunately, the marketplace that hosted our auction, OpenSea, couldn’t handle the action. The site buckled under a crush of web traffic, and it started serving up “Error 504” pages to visitors. Many people were unable to place bids.
OpenSea let one of the NFT auctions run its course, despite these problems, and it paused the two other auctions while attempting to stabilize. “I really want to apologize on behalf of whole company for the downtime,” said Alex Atallah, OpenSea’s cofounder and chief technology officer, joining us on the Twitter Spaces virtual stage.
“We got flooded with traffic that appears to be somewhat related to the auction, but also related to a couple other changes on the site,” Atallah said. He added that the issues, which dropped bids, were “not fair to the auction rules.”
As OpenSea’s engineers worked to restart the company’s servers, we set a new deadline. The remaining auctions would conclude at 3:15 p.m. ET. Over the next couple of hours, bidding wars ensued. We watched the prices rise and fall as folks vied for control of the NFTs.
Eventually, another technical glitch caused one of the auctions to stop registering bids and to conclude prematurely. “[D]ue to DoS [denial of service] attacks that occurred during the auctions, we were unable to process some bids for Chad 1 and 3,” OpenSea later wrote in a statement on Twitter, referring to two of the Fortune NFTs by their codenames. “We take full responsibility for this breakdown in our auction mechanic.”
Even though the top bid on one NFT was 47.4 ETH—and it appeared only to be going up from there—the piece sold for 23 ETH, wiping out at least half the apparent value. (Congrats to the person with the alias “countertrade,” you got a steal!)
The final leg for the remaining NFT consisted of a heated battle between someone who identified as “lilyatty” and Jamis Johnson, a member of PleasrDAO, an investment club inspired by pplpleasr’s works. “ur not getting chad 2 assholes,” lilyatty goaded in a note. “i’ll extend the auction for days if i have to.”
For whatever reason, lilyatty did not succeed in prolonging the affair. Johnson won out, purchasing the final NFT for 105 ETH, or more than $300,000.
Despite all the hiccups, Fortune is pretty pleased with the outcome. Fortune and pplpleasr brought in 429 ETH, or more than $1.3 million, in proceeds. We plan to donate half that sum to nonprofit organizations (stay tuned for more on that) and equally split the remainder. When I asked Fortune’s chief financial officer, Anastasia Nyrkovskaya, about whether Fortune plans to cash out its share, she said we’ll plan to keep it in Ether, at least for now.
I guess that makes us HODLers, fam.