NFT Vending Machine

· 4 min read
NFT Vending Machine is for sale!

An NFT vending machine in Manhattan's Financial District allows people to buy them using credit cards instead of cryptocurrency. Photograph: Wilfred Chan/The Guardian. An NFT vending machine in Manhattan's Financial District allows people to buy them using credit cards instead of cryptocurrency.

Buying a NFT is becoming as easy as buying snacks. At least in New York City. Neon, a marketplace and gallery built on the Solana blockchain, has launched an NFT ATM in New York City's financial district, which it deems “the world's first NFT vending machine.”

It’s easy to miss the storefront that is home to the “world’s first NFT vending machine” in Manhattan’s financial district. Squished between a sandwich shop and a tailor, the windows are bathed in pink neon light, with glowing letters that announce “NFT ATM.” When you walk through the entryway, you enter a tiny booth with the vending machine, filled with rows of little paper cartons, looking almost like cigarette packs. There are only two products: a “color” for $5.99 and a “party pigeon” for $420.69.

I was here to spend some of the Guardian’s money on an NFT, or non-fungible token. NFTs are based on a blockchain feature called the “smart contract,” which is kind of like a virtual vending machine. Send some of your crypto to a smart contract, and it’ll print a unique token – basically a digital receipt – that says you now own this cat pic. Anyone else can still right-click-save and share Mr Whiskers, but you’ll know, and anyone else looking at the blockchain will know, that the image is yours. Or so the logic goes.

The main problem facing users is that blockchain is too complicated, according to Jordan Birnholtz, the Chicago-based co-founder of Neon, the startup behind the vending machines. When he called me, the 30-year-old introduced himself by telling me he was using a skillet to heat up green tea, because he doesn’t have a pot or a kettle. (“I think my ex took them when we broke up,” he explained.) And just as you can boil water in a frying pan, Birnholtz is determined to prove you can buy NFTs without crypto.

Birnholtz, who used to work in progressive politics (a “totally different” side of his life), said Neon’s target customer doesn’t want to get into “19th and early 20th century lessons about economics,” they just want to support artists they like, and in return get a little token of “conspicuous consumption” they can show off, like a digital version of a band T-shirt. Neon’s stated goal is to make buying an NFT “as simple as buying a toothbrush” – which means using an old-fashioned credit card, and instead of fiddling with smart contracts: a literal, physical vending machine.

I didn’t think my editor would be thrilled with the pigeon, so I bought a color. This, it turns out, meant a piece of paper inside the carton with a randomly generated code that would allow me to “mint” an NFT, claiming ownership over one of 10,000 different colors. Birnholtz tried to clarify: “It’s impossible to own a color. What you own is a ledger on the Solana blockchain that represents that particular color. And we allow people to collect those colors to trade them, and sell them.”

in New York

Vending machines dispense all sorts of offbeat things these days — like hamburgers and pizza — and now it's time to add non-fungible tokens to the list.

Why it matters: While most people would be hard-pressed to define what an NFT is, the tokens were all the rage at SXSW this year, and their arrival in an ATM in New York City's Financial District may mean NFT-dispensing machines could grow as ubiquitous as cryptocurrency ATMs.

What they are: NFTs are "unique digital assets — often works of art, game characters and other creative products — that are recorded on a blockchain, or persistent digital ledger," writes Axios tech editor Peter Allen Clark.

  • "Think of them as digital collectibles."

How it works: The ATM at 29 John St. in lower Manhattan was put there by Neon, which calls itself "a marketplace and gallery built on the Solana blockchain." Neon sells unique digital pieces of art, in familiar forms like Baby Yoda.

  • "The NFT ATM works very similarly to traditional ATMs,"  according to Cointelegraph. "You can purchase NFTs through the machine with your credit or debit card, and it will dispense boxes that contain unique codes that you can redeem through Neon’s platform."
  • "Much like Easter egg capsules, buyers will not know what NFT they’re getting until they redeem it."
  • Prices range from $5.99 to $420.69 (a tongue-in-cheek number derived from 420 — a marijuana reference — and a sex joke).
  • Once a QR code inside the box is scanned, "the user can see their new piece of art on any smartphone, laptop or tablet," Reuters says.

"As an NFT collector, over time, one of the things you love is the randomness of, 'Which one are you going to get?'" Kyle Zappitell, CEO of Neon, said in an interview with Reuters.

  • The target customer is "the crypto curious, the people who tried to buy cryptocurrency or they were interested in buying an NFT, but they just hit too many barriers."

What's next: Neon plans to add more artists to its platform and open more NFT ATMs in different cities, Jordan Birnholtz, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Neon, tells Cointelegraph, a news outlet that covers fintech, blockchain and the future of money.

  • "NFTs are going to let a variety of visual, multimedia and performing artists create new ways to build relationships with and monetize their audience," Birnholtz told the publication.

by Jennifer A. Kingson