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NFTs Explained: An Introduction to Non-Fungible Tokens

Last Updated June 23, 2023 11:28 AM
Andrew Kamsky
Last Updated June 23, 2023 11:28 AM

Key Takeaways

  • Non-fungible tokens are unique digital assets that validate the ownership of a specific digital item.
  • NFTs offer enhanced security, trustworthiness, and authenticity through blockchain technology.
  • NFTs have opened up new opportunities for artists, content creators, and businesses to monetize their digital assets, particularly in the fields of art, music, gaming, and sports. 
  • While non-fungible tokens have benefits, including versatility through smart contracts and distinct ownership rights, there are also disadvantages to consider, including unpredictability of profits, fraud and scams.

Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs), represent a revolution in the digital ownership paradigm. NFTs are a kind of digital asset built on blockchain technology, most commonly the Ethereum blockchain, that validate the uniqueness and ownership of a unique digital item in question. 

Each NFT carries specific information or attributes that make it original and non-fungible.  Unlike cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum, which are identical to each other, NFTs cannot be exchanged on a like-for-like basis making them non-fungible. Originating around 2017, NFTs are having a profound impact on several sectors, particularly the digital art space. Offering artists new, innovative ways to monetize their work.

What Are Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)?

NFTs began to go mainstream in 2017 and gained popularity as a means to securely and uniquely represent digital assets on a blockchain. Let’s first understand what fungibility means. Fungibility refers to an asset’s ability to be exchanged or substituted for something of equal value. 

For example, a $100 bill is fungible because it can be exchanged for five $20 bills or two $50 bills. On the other hand, a painting, a house, or a rare vintage car is non-fungible because it has unique attributes that make it different from other assets in the same class. Such as a house with a view of the beach versus a house with a view of the mountains. 

In simple terms, an NFT is a digital certificate stored on a blockchain that represents a one-of-a-kind digital asset which can extend to artwork, music, virtual real estate, amongst others. Beeple, a long-established artist, became an NFT trailblazer whereby on March 11, his “Everyday’s — The First 5000 Days” NFT sold for a staggering $69 million  at Christie’s auction, thrusting NFTs into the limelight.

This groundbreaking sale caught the attention of global media, paving the way for more high-profile NFT sales like Edward Snowden’s piece, Stay Free, which fetched $5.4 million  in April.

Unlike fungible tokens, such as Bitcoin (BTC) or Ethereum (ETH), NFTs cannot be exchanged or substituted, as they represent unique assets with distinct attributes that make them non-interchangeable. This uniqueness has sparked new opportunities for artists, content creators, and businesses to monetize their digital assets. 

Bitcoin has championed the concept of digital scarcity among crypto enthusiasts over the last decade. Ethereum’s significant role in its technological support for numerous NFT initiatives has significantly boosted the NFT market’s growth. These progressive steps have firmly established NFTs as transformative players in the digital asset sphere.

Benefits Of NFTs

Some benefits that NFTs bring to the table for creators, collectors, and users alike include: 

  • Enhanced security and trustworthiness: NFTs provide a secure and reliable method for establishing ownership and authenticity of digital assets, ultimately fostering trust among users.
  • Distinct digital signatures: By using unique digital signatures, NFTs enable clear ownership, easy transfer, and authentication on a blockchain, ensuring a seamless experience for users. This means that once an NFT is transferred to another holder there is no opportunity to copy and ownership is transferred wholly and fully.
  • Uncompromised protection and public verifiability: NFTs are tamper-proof and can be verified publicly using blockchain technology, adding a layer of security to digital assets.
  • Versatile smart contracts: NFTs leverage the power of smart contracts to create highly customizable tokens with specific rules and conditions, granting various rights and usage options to their owners, such as royalties and access to exclusive content.
  • Programmable: An NFT can be programmed to give its owner certain rights, such as the right to  showcase it publicly or the right to sell it. These rules and conditions are written into the smart contract and are enforced automatically when certain conditions are met.

Disadvantages Of NFTs

While NFTs have gained considerable attention and offered unique opportunities in the digital world, it’s important to consider the significant drawbacks and risks that come along with them:

  • Unpredictability of profits: The profitability and scalability of NFTs are uncertain, with some selling for millions, while many others failing to generate substantial revenue.
  • Fraud and scams: The NFT market is heavily susceptible to fraudulent activities, as scammers create fake NFTs to deceive buyers into purchasing worthless assets. Therefore, it is important to carry out due diligence on NFTs under consideration before purchasing them.
  • Lack of regulation: The absence of clear regulations and guidelines makes it challenging to hold bad actors accountable for their misdeeds and ensure transparent and fair transactions.
  • Accessibility and exclusivity: Because NFTs can be pricey, they may impose entry hurdles that restrict access for some people or groups. This exclusivity could exacerbate wealth inequality in the market for digital art and collectibles by concentrating ownership and wealth in the hands of a select few.
  • Navigating intellectual property (IP) rights: While an NFT purchase implies ownership of the token, it does not necessarily mean IP rights of the digital asset are transferred between owner and the anonymous party during a transaction. This may create complex issues surrounding ownership, especially when transactions involve said anonymous parties.

In light of these risks and uncertainties, potential investors and creators should carefully evaluate the pros and cons of NFTs before venturing into this emerging market.

Popular NFT Platforms

The NFT market has exploded in recent years, with new marketplaces popping up every month. For those looking to buy and sell NFTs, it can be overwhelming to sift through the endless options. Some include:

  • OpenSea: It offers a variety of NFTs including art, music, photography, trading cards, and virtual worlds, OpenSea is a great option for beginners looking for a straightforward platform.
  • Rarible: It is another popular marketplace that allows users to buy and sell art, collectibles, video game assets, and NFTs. Rarible created its native token, RARI, which allows holders to vote on organizational decisions.
  • NBA Top Shot: It allows users to buy NFTs of great moments in basketball history, including video clips, play highlights, and art for both the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). The NBA manages this NFT marketplace, which allows users to purchase NFTs using credit/debit cards or selected cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and USDC. 
  • Binance: One of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges, Binance, added Binance NFT marketplace  in 2021. It is a user-friendly platform offering artwork, gaming items, and collectibles. 
  • Nifty Gateways: This marketplace focuses on artwork, especially from celebrities and top artists, and uses open edition systems to boost demand. Nifty Gateway accepts credit card purchases.
  • SuperRare: SuperRare is a high-end NFT art marketplace that  prides itself on being super-selective about which NFTs on its site are being sold, ensuring each NFT is truly one of a kind and screened to be high quality.

Cryptocurrencies vs NFTs 

NFTs and cryptocurrencies are both digital assets that operate on a blockchain, but they differ in several ways. The main difference is their fungibility. Non-fungible Tokens are a type of cryptocurrency that represent exclusive digital assets or unique artworks. Cryptocurrencies are mutually interchangeable and share a uniform value. A digital artwork’s worth can fluctuate once it is sold, while 1 BTC exchanged for another 1 BTC retains the same value. The cost of a digital artwork can change as the original purchase price changes, unlike Bitcoin, which keeps its value constant when traded for an equivalent sum.

For instance, if you sell someone a digital piece of art, that piece’s market value may rise or fall over time. Price-determining elements include market demand, trends, the reputation of the artist, and the artwork’s perceived value. As a result, the artwork may increase in value and become more costly than when it was first purchased, or it may decrease in value and become less valuable.

To validate transactions on the blockchain, cryptocurrencies are created  via “mining” or “staking,” process. NFTs, on the other hand, are created through “minting,” which entails transforming data or assets into distinctive tokens on the blockchain. In both cases, the blockchain records all transactions, ensuring easy verification of authenticity for either NFTs or cryptocurrencies. Below is a table outlining the differences between the two:

Cryptocurrencies vs. Non-fungible tokensUse cases of NFTs

NFTs in Art 

Non-fungible tokens have prompted a comparison between their unique value and traditional digital art forms by introducing a new dimension to the art world. Ownership and authenticity are two important differentiators. To establish verifiable proof of ownership and guarantee the uniqueness of each token, NFTs make use of blockchain technology. This gives digital art a higher level of authenticity and gives artists and collectors a clear record of ownership.

Traditional digital art, on the other hand, lacks a trustworthy way to prove ownership and is easily copied, shared, and reproduced. This distinction emphasizes how important NFTs are in providing a reliable, secure method of establishing ownership of digital works of art.

NFTs in Music

NFTs provide exciting opportunities to artists to monetize their work and build closer relationships with fans. The music industry has undergone a significant transformation in the digital age, with traditional revenue streams such as physical album sales and live performances declining in favor of digital streaming services.

By selling NFTs, musicians can offer fans unique and exclusive experiences such as backstage passes, meet-and-greets, and other special events. This not only provides a new revenue stream for artists but also allows them to create a closer relationship with their most dedicated fans.

NFTs in Gaming

In NFT games, players buy unique items that can be cashed or swapped for other assets, a feature absent in conventional gaming. NFT technology enables an in-game marketplace offering potential income for players. Players also enjoy absolute control, allowing them to buy, sell, and exchange assets, unlike traditional games where items are restricted to in-game use. The rarity of NFTs can lead to increased value, making it possible for players to invest in valuable NFTs, potentially generating significant profits.

NFTs in Sports

Sports fans have always been passionate about their favorite teams and athletes, and now they can show their support by collecting digital trading cards and virtual memorabilia in the form of sport NFTs. While some NFT sport collectibles have seen success, many remain undervalued in the current market. As the NFT market continues to evolve, sports NFTs may present a unique opportunity for fans to own a piece of their favorite team or athlete’s legacy.

Whether the person is a die-hard fan looking to show support for their favorite club, athlete, or footballer, or an investor looking for potential opportunities, sports NFTs offer something for everyone and may experience growth in the future.

NFT and the Environment

NFTs themselves do not have any inherent environmental impact, and the process of creating them is not highly energy-intensive. However, as NFTs are based on blockchain technology, which uses a lot of computational resources and energy to run, they are primarily responsible for energy consumption.

It is crucial to remember that not all blockchains and NFT platforms have the same effects on the environment. For instance, Ethereum has switched to an energy-efficient proof-of-stake consensus mechanism, which eliminates the need for mining operations that consume a lot of energy.

Additionally, initiatives are being taken to create environmentally friendly blockchain solutions and reduce the carbon emissions caused by NFTs. In an effort to lessen the negative effects of NFT transactions on the environment, some platforms are looking into carbon offset programs or collaborating with green projects.

Sustainability must be a top priority for artists, collectors, and platforms in order to address the environmental issues raised by NFTs. Choosing blockchain networks with lower energy requirements, backing programs that support renewable energy sources, and offsetting carbon emissions are a few examples of how to protect the environment from the negative effects of NFTs.

Additionally, encouraging more responsible practices can be accomplished by increasing awareness of the issue and educating people about how non-fungible tokens affect the environment.


What exactly is a Non-Fungible Token (NFT)? 

An NFT is a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music, in-game items, and videos that are unique in nature and stored on the blockchain. They are bought and sold online  with cryptocurrency, and are usually created with the same basic computer programs that many digital currencies use.

How is NFT different from cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin? 

The major difference between cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens is the fact that cryptocurrencies are fungible (exchangeable) and can be traded on a one-for-one basis, much like fiat currencies. On the other hand, NFTs are unique digital assets that cannot be exchanged on a like-for-like basis.

Why are NFTs so popular? 

NFTs have gained popularity because they are seen as a way to authenticate and prove ownership of digital assets, thanks to their unique information that can be easily verified on a blockchain. NFTs have introduced a new way to buy, sell, and trade digital assets and have opened up new opportunities for artists, gamers, and other creators to monetize their work.

What are the potential drawbacks or risks associated with non-fungible tokens? 

While NFTs have generated a lot of excitement, they also come with risks. These include the volatility of the NFT market, the environmental impact of minting NFTs, and the potential for fraud or scams. Additionally, there is a lack of regulatory clarity which could lead to potential legal issues in the future.

Can anyone create an NFT? 

Yes, virtually anyone can create an non-fungible token. All you need is a digital wallet, some Ether (ETH), and knowledge of NFT marketplaces where you’ll be able to set up your NFT for sale. However, creating a valuable NFT that will sell for a high price can be a much more challenging task and may require a high degree of creativity, originality, technical skills, and marketing ability.