As company after company goes bust and even the strongest cryptocurrencies flounder, life goes on in a surprisingly resilient NFT market. The Society of the Hourglass is not an average NFT project, though, partly because it’s not a project that begins and ends with digital collectibles; it only begins with them. A proposed ecosystem spanning publishing, television, and merchandising, Society of the Hourglassis a media brand—NFTs are merely the entryway to a wider world of hands-on development in its burgeoning IP landscape. Crypto Briefing spoke to the project about balancing decentralization with traditional business, the nuances of intellectual property distribution, and of course, cartoons.
A Time to Build
As the crypto market continues to languish amid rising interest rates, looming recession, high-profile bankruptcies, and increasing regulatory scrutiny, NFTs have shown surprising resilience. This will likely come as no surprise to those who saw the potential in the technology early on, but for everyone else, it’s stunning. If bear markets are the “time to build,” you could do worse than doing so in the NFT space.
One project seizing on the disruptive potential of NFT technology is Society of the Hourglass, a kids’ entertainment media brand incorporating NFTs into its community bootstrapping process. Set to span books, games, and television, Society of the Hourglass is an early-stage project onboarding users to its writing room by minting NFTs. Here, the community can collaborate with professional screenwriters and animators to brainstorm ideas, pitch stories, and influence the show’s creative direction.
Where many NFT projects build their “community” out of fandom, whether that’s around a particular project (like Bored Ape Yacht Club or Azuki) or an artist (like Tyler Hobbs or FEWOCiOUS), Society of the Hourglass has a more ambitious goal in mind. The NFT series—a collection of 8,888 historically-themed characters minted on Ethereum—is but the backbone of a series of larger projects such as books, merchandise, and an animated series in the style of classic Saturday morning cartoons.
The first half of the collection has already been made available for minting across two initial “chapters,” with the rest set to be rolled out in two further batches of 2,222 NFTs each. Most of the tokens represent minor personalities within the Society of the Hourglass ecosystem, but a few will represent the show’s primary characters, the eponymous Society of the Hourglass, a team of historical do-gooders who travel through time, setting right the wrongs of the past. These historical figures—named Blackbeard, Sacajawea, Nikola Tesla, Joan of Arc, and Harriet Tubman—are also available as unique 1/1 NFTs, making them the five rarest pieces in the collection.
Owning a Society of the HourglassNFT grants participation rights to the show’s exclusive writers’ room on the project’s Discord server, where community members are invited to share ideas and brainstorm the story’s direction. Ultimately, however, professional writers with industry experience are charged with crafting the narratives.
Crypto Briefing sat down with Joe Payne, CEO of the company behind Society of the Hourglass, and he discussed the team’s ambitions to create a fully-fledged media brand in Web3. “Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is build a media brand and entertainment IP,” he said. “We’re launching through NFTs; it’s a combination of social experiment, but also a way of building a really engaged community that is not only interested in what we’re doing, but has incentives aligned with what we’re doing where we share commercial ownership over the characters.”
Taking Care of Business
If all this makes Society of the Hourglass feel more like a straightforward business venture than a community-led NFT project, that’s because it is. Society of the Hourglass is a business, and it’s run like one. Founded by a group of experienced serial entrepreneurs, many of whom honed their business acumen under the iron sway of local behemoth Walmart, Inc., Society of the Hourglass is led by Payne, who is also the co-founder and partner at Gravity Turn Holdings. Payne, whose previous experience as a COO at a data technology firm gave him a background in making things happen, has brought his creation to life methodically and carefully.
Society of the Hourglass has a four-stage rollout process, with each stage building on the previous one. The first is the NFT minting, which will take place in four chapters throughout the year and will grant holders exclusive access to the IP’s creative process. The team is currently storyboarding its first book (the next stage in the rollout), a Where’s Waldo-style iteration featuring the project’s multitudinous characters and distinctive art. Thirdly, Society of the Hourglassis hiring writers and working with Jumpcut Studios on the flagship product, the television series. Payne says the series is likely to be released within the next year, but as with many Web3 projects, nothing is set in stone.
And of course, that is in part because there are logistical issues to hammer out. Although Society of the Hourglass values community input and allows it to steer the creative direction of the project, it is nevertheless a centralized entity (in this case, a limited liability company) that reserves the right to make final decisions on, well, everything.
This is partly due to the necessity of protecting the project from imploding on itself because of unforeseen external factors. For example, the nature of the project’s IP raises interesting legal issues, and rather than taking the “move fast and break things” approach, Payne and his team are opting to “move slowly and be careful.” When asked about if any rewards mechanisms for active holders had been sketched out, his reply reflected that of someone who’d spent his professional life around lawyers. He said:
“We’re very mindful of and cautious of anything that would even flirt with securities law. And the last thing we want to do is create a scenario where not only do we get, you know, some kind of hand slap or repercussions, but the community potentially experiences that. That’s why we went with the shared IP ownership over the characters.”
The “shared IP” Payne refers to an arrangement in which both parties— the company and the NFT holder—claim the right to use the image of that character for personal or commercial purposes without needing the other’s permission. A holder of a Society of the Hourglass NFT, for example, could use that character’s likeness for their own “spinoff” series using that character’s persona if they so desired.
However—and this is a big “however”—they could not use the trademarked name of the series without permission, nor could they market under the Society of the Hourglass brand without an approval process that involves putting it to the community first. In other words, holders can do whatever they like with their NFTs’ likenesses, but they cannot simply claim association with the overall project without the company’s say-so.
The reasons for this should be clear: distributing the IP rights of a kids’ brand could lead to exploitation in darker corners of the Internet, and certain veto powers are appropriate for protecting young Web3 users. And Payne thinks that’s worth protecting given that it’s rare to see such a consciously kid-friendly project emerge in the NFT space. A far cry from the crass scatology of goblintown.wtf or the ironic bile-spewing of God Hates NFTees, Society of the Hourglass is a family-friendly project with a target audience of kids aged between 5 and 12. Degens these kids are not—yet—but they are a market nonetheless, and one that’s almost entirely overlooked in Web3 today.
The Way of the Future?
Some Web3 natives may be discomforted to learn that a team is using decentralized technology for unabashedly centralized business interests, but to see it that way would be to miss the forest for the trees. It was always going to be the case that mass adoption would look more like the commercial culture we’re used to than any revolutionary movement.
It’s for that reason that Society of the Hourglass might be a project worth keeping an eye on. It demonstrates what mainstream NFT adoption could look like: an incremental improvement on an old way of doing things. If successful, it would be a winning proof-of-concept for a novel, Web3-enabled twist on the screenwriting process. It’s not attempting to revolutionize anything; it makes few abstract promises and tracks its progress in deliverables.
Finally, it takes intellectual property laws very seriously, and could very possibly set standards for how IP is divvied up on the blockchain going forward. NFTholders shouldn’t expect any token rewards or financial interest in the project—to do that would be begging to go before a judge, which may yet be the fate of many projects that decided to “move fast and break things.”
To be successful, Society of the Hourglass must do one thing above all else—it has to be good. Much has been made of the “radical potential” of decentralization in the creative process using Web3 technology, but it remains to be seen if that is an effective way of writing. It would be hard to imagine 12 authors trying to write the same novel and actually getting anywhere, so it will be interesting to watch Society of the Hourglass’ progress with an eye toward how fruitful decentralized writing turns out to be.
Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author of this feature owned ETH and several other cryptocurrencies.