The craze for cryptocurrency ICOs shows no sign of abating. Case in point: Kodak announced on Tuesday that it intends to launch a cryptocurrency called KodakCoin as part of an "image rights management platform" called KodakOne. The company's stock price immediately tripled, going from $3.15 to $12.40. (Currently it's at $10.82.)
Kodak is not the first legacy company to make noises about deploying a blockchain and immediately receive a surge of investor enthusiasm. Long Island Iced Tea did the same thing in December, and Bloomberg remarked, "It's the latest in a near-daily phenomenon sweeping the stock market, where obscure microcap companies reorient to focus on some aspect of the mania sparked by bitcoin's 1,500 percent rally this year."
Here's the problem: KodakCoin is nonsense. None of the functions of the KodakOne platform require a decentralized, immutable record.
Kodak's website says that KodakOne will "create an encrypted, digital ledger of rights ownership for photographers to register both new and archive work that they can then license within the platform." While the KodakCoin cryptocurrency "allows participating photographers to take part in a new economy for photography, receive payment for licensing their work immediately upon sale, and sell their work confidently on a secure blockchain platform."
Remove the word "blockchain" and that sounds a lot like... Getty, a normal centralized company. Regardless, the problem that photographers face is not proving it when they own the copyright of an image. And there are a wealth of photo marketplaces. The problem is that digital image files are trivial to reproduce, and furthermore that competition for the production of those images has exploded since the advent of digital cameras (incidentally, that's also why Kodak went bankrupt).
Kodak:-- Robert Graham, HODL HODL (@ErrataRob) January 10, 2018
* had market cap of $30 billion in 1997
* went bankrupt (market cap of $0) in 2012 due to digital camera boom
* sold off most all its patents
* current market cap worth less than its assets with declining revenue every year
** so of course it's going into Bitcoin business
Most usages of photos are fungible -- there are numerous suitable images, so any given specific image can't command a high price. Nothing about KodakCoin or KodakOne will transform those underlying market realities.
Contrast KodakCoin to another upcoming ICO, that of encrypted messaging startup Telegram. Like Kik before it, Telegram is a messaging app that wants to use cryptocurrency as the bedrock for a full-fledged payments ecosystem. "Telegram aims to develop cryptocurrency-based utility akin to WeChat," TechCrunch succinctly explained, "which has blossomed into much more than a chat app and acts as default payment mechanism for many in China."
As it happens, Telegram is already wildly popular in cryptocurrency communities, and has 170 million monthly users overall (as of October 2017). In other words, the product has underlying value. Does its own proposed token really need to be a token, rather than a system like WeChat's centralized one? No, not in terms of functionality, but Telegram is explicitly built on libertarian principles, and is actually structured as a nonprofit.
The startup's leaked ICO whitepaper emphasizes a desire to make cryptocurrency usable for the average person. It says, "The current state of blockchain technology resembles automobile design in 1870: it is promising and praised by enthusiasts, but inefficient and too complicated to appeal to the mass consumer. As a result, no cryptocurrency or decentralized platform has gone truly mainstream, and centralized solutions continue to dominate the market."
Telegram launching a cryptocurrency makes sense because the goal is to make money by popularizing decentralized technology, not merely to make money. Crucially, Telegram also has a product and proposed use-case that make sense: Cryptocurrencies are already used to exchange and store value (mostly through speculation at the moment) and there's no reason why a fast, scalable cryptocurrency, which Telegram says it has designed, couldn't be used similarly for WeChat-like payments.
The challenge will be reaching comparable scale in markets that are already dominated by other companies, such as Facebook. The opportunity to easily speculate on a cryptocurrency that might rapidly rise in price could conceivably drive adoption among users and serve as a competitive advantage for Telegram. Of course, that's speculation on the speculative value of speculation itself.
Now, remember KodakCoin? Kodak is just blockchain-washing a product that cannot solve the problem it purports to address. (In related news, Kodak also debuted a bitcoin mining machine that is available to rent, as long as you don't mind handing over half of your profits.) Meanwhile, Telegram is a robust startup (as robust as any startup can be) pursuing a risky strategy. The two companies exemplify the state of cryptocurrency ICOs, which is split between laughable cash-grabs and laudable pushes into the future.