The free mint phenomenon

Give away your art at scale

Recently, low-cost minting has taken the web3 art space by storm. The phenomenon gained momentum with XCOPY’s time-limited mint of digital flies titled MUTATIO. For those who missed it, XCOPY over one million of these 3D flies for just 0.00069 ETH each (roughly $2.50 at the time of minting), netting the artist over $2MM in sales.

MUTATIO - SPORES by XCOPY

This remarkable success spurred a wave of derivative works as artists rushed to capture similar attention and capitalize on the hype.

A refreshed meta emerged, with newfound affordability on Base Layer 2. Artists swiftly migrated to Base, launching works on various platforms, including Foundation, which recently integrated Coinbase's L2 solution.

However, the surge in "free mints" on Zora—a blockchain and photo-sharing platform that became prominent during the Threadguy x Jack Butcher collaboration, Open Threadition—is particularly noteworthy.

On Farcaster, you’ve likely seen numerous Frames by artists promoting "free" mints via Zora, some of which have netted dozens of ETH. But how can a free mint generate revenue? The answer lies in the protocol fees. While minting costs nothing, Zora charges a fee of 0.000777 ETH, split evenly with the artist. Given the high gas fees collectors are accustomed to, a fee of approximately $2.70 seems negligible. It's common to see users "max mint" editions on Zora, generating roughly $150 in fees for the artist.

Sales glut fueling the phenomenon

There’s currently an undeniable slump in demand for digital art. Many artists are exiting the space, social platforms like 𝕏 are curbing artists' reach, and patrons are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of available works. While some artists have succeeded in chasing the latest narratives (e.g., Solana, Base), finding new collectors remains challenging. Thus, offering works for minimal cost and pushing for a more widespread collector base is becoming a popular strategy.

Other low-cost mechanisms

Besides Zora’s free mints, the industry has seen a rise in low/no-cost mechanisms to attract collectors. Editions (open, timed, and limited) are increasingly common as Layer 2 solutions and low-cost blockchains like Solana reduce gas fees. Additionally, low-reserve auctions are gaining popularity, making it more feasible for collectors to bid without excessive gas fees.

What should artists do?

There’s no definitive answer. Anything that draws more attention to an artist’s work is currently the most effective strategy. In January, I discussed the strategic choices between 1/1s, editions, and collections in a post (link below) that you might find helpful.

I always recommend that artists take charge of their releases using established platforms like Manifold and Transient Labs. Ultimately, while the artwork is crucial, it’s only one part of a complex puzzle in the web3 space—a game of attention where strategies vary widely.

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