Is blockchain technology the key to historical preservation? In mid-August, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) released a collection of 25 historical photos from their photojournalism records as collectible NFTs with what is now Artifact Labs – their third NFT drop with the project since 2021. This drop, titled Hong Kong 25 Moments, follows a two-part NFT drop of a collection of front pages from the Post, titled the 1997 Premium Series.

We spoke with Gary Liu, former President and CEO of the South China Morning Post, now founder and CEO of Artifact Labs, about the future of Web3 media as NFTs continue to diversify, extending beyond art and gaming into news, fact-finding, and informative industries.

What inspired the South China Morning Post to begin creating and selling the various ARTIFACTs NFTs?

We believe in immutably recording these archives. We had been looking at blockchain technologies and how we believed it would disrupt the news media industry for several years leading up to the launch of this project, but it wasn't until early 2021, when the NFT marketplace took off around the world, that we at the Post believed that we found an application of blockchain that was immediately applicable for the news organization. So we started exploring how to “tokenize our archives” and build what we hope to be a new revenue channel leveraging under-exposed and under-monetized assets.

Were you surprised at the excitement surrounding the 1997 Premium Series?

I wouldn't say that we were surprised, but we were really encouraged. We didn't know for sure whether or not the NFT community would at this moment want to collect historical assets. And more importantly, we didn't know whether or not they were going to engage in the kind of community building and discourse that was important to us: conversations about the importance of preservation, conversations about personal connections, moments in history, collective community discovery, of things that may have already been lost to time, even though 1997 was only 25 years ago.

The 1997 Premium Series drops, both of which sold out in about two hours, [gave] SCMP the confidence to invest further into NFTs and to spin out the ARTIFACT project as an independent company, which is now Artifact Labs. We were encouraged that people bought and wanted to collect these things because they believed it would have long term value, but even more encouraged by the level of engagement in the community, especially on our Discord [channel]. These are collectors that join us every single week for AMAs, that are actively involved in discussions about Hong Kong's history and the history of Asia and China.

How did consumers respond to the Hong Kong 25 Moments drop?

There was a core group of collectors that were very engaged with the assets they bought, but at the end of the day, the overall sale of the Hong Kong 25 Moments drop was slower than the 1997 Series, and that was expected.

People who have already bought are going to get a lion’s share of the assets, because they're obviously people who care about these photos and we want them to be the guardians of these photos on the blockchain long term.

What made you want to step away from news media, and directly into NFTs?

[When] I stepped down as the CEO of SCMP to run Artifact Labs full time as CEO and founder, this was not just a corporate decision. This investment in web3, it was a personal decision as well. I believe in the mission of preserving and connecting history on the blockchain, I believe in the future of web3. And I believe it's important for the media industry that this technology is built and evolved.

...historical assets and especially verified historical truth and information should be part of the building blocks for the next internet.

Gary Liu

What value do you think historical NFTs have in society, in tech, or in news culture?

Let's start with the technology. If we believe that Web3 is going to be the next version of the internet and the difference is that it is decentralized, then we need proper building blocks for that next internet. I absolutely believe that historical assets and especially verified historical truth and information should be part of the building blocks for the next internet. The internet is about information exchange and transfer. If we shift to a new internet and lose all the information that has already been accumulated by humankind, that would be an utter shame.

I believe that historical entities play a massive role in transference of that knowledge from web2 to Web3.

For society, I think historical entities mean the democratization of knowledge in a way we've never been able to accomplish before. When we look at archives, whether it be museum archives or newspaper archives, the vast majority of the world's archival knowledge is hidden away in temperature-controlled lock rooms. Museums on average are only able to show 5% of their collections to the public at any given point in time, and newspaper archives are almost never accessible to the public, but NFTs create a business model for these assets to be made available for the public all at once, which I believe long term will increase access to information and knowledge and the democratization of truth. That is my hope for historical entities in society.

Finally, on news media, the internet (web1, web2) has fundamentally broken the business model for news because information, once published on the internet, has zero intrinsic value. NFT technologies changes that calculus: NFTs allow digital media to have intrinsic value. That's the big evolution, that's the paradigm shift, which means that for media companies, this is a whole new economy which can be built. These are new business models, new direct relationships with our readers and users around the world, and new communities for engagement and knowledge. That's why I think that media companies must pay attention to the evolution of Web3 and must understand NFT technology for the sustainability of the news industry long term.

What is next for you and for Artifact Labs?

Artifact Labs is now working with not only the South China Morning Post, but several other major historical and cultural institutions in Hong Kong to tokenize their archival assets and to build new communities of historical NFT collectors. We will continue to expand, but we're also exploring partnerships with museums, newspapers, cultural, and historical institutions that are global, that are outside of Hong Kong. Our goal is to build up an entire ecosystem of historical NFT collectors and communities that want help preserve and connect history on the blockchain.

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