Using Generative AI For Digital Collectibles And NFTs With J. Thorn

How can generative AI tools augment and amplify your creativity? How can digital originals/collectibles (NFTs) add value to authors and readers?

In the intro, my solo episode on Creativity, Collaboration, Community, and Cash: NFTs for Authors (also in video); Midjourney v4 [Ars Technica]; Deviant Art launches their own generative AI tool [Engadget]; Rumors of GPT-4 [Robert Scoble]; The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly; Other futurist episodes on AI and NFTs; The AI-Assisted Author, The Creator Economy for Authors.

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J. Thorn is a bestselling horror and dark fantasy writer, and he also writes nonfiction for authors. He’s a podcaster at Writer’s Ink and the Music NFT Show. J and I have co-written several books together, including Risen Gods, Co-writing a book, and American Demon Hunter’s Sacrifice.

  • How J is using generative AI tools for NFTs featuring music and images
  • The creative appeal of generative AI and how it augments and amplifies the direction of the creator
  • How J’s opinion on generative AI has shifted
  • AI prompt generation as potentially a new job
  • Web 3 = general wave of technology that is going to transform our lives in a way that hasn’t happened in decades
  • NFTs as digital collectibles, and how we see them being applicable for authors, and how they might fit as a new layer on top of the existing digital market for ebooks and audiobooks
  • An attitude of playfulness and creative experimentation, rather than commerce

You can find J. Thorn at and, and on Twitter @jthorn_

Transcript of the interview

Joanna Penn: J. Thorn is a bestselling horror and dark fantasy writer, and he also writes nonfiction for authors. He’s a podcaster at Writer’s Ink and the Music NFT Show. J and I have co-written several books together, including Risen Gods, Co-writing a book, and American Demon Hunter’s Sacrifice.

We also share an interest in NFTs blockchain and Web 3, which we’re talking about today soon.

Welcome back to the show.

J. Thorn: Hey, Jo, it’s weird for me to hear you introduce me prior to us talking. It feels odd!

Joanna Penn: I know. And for anyone who hasn’t been listening to the show a long time, you’ve been on lots of times and we’ve done lots of things together, but I feel like this is like the latest thing we’re doing together having worked together on and off on lots of things.

I will have recapped in the intro what NFTs are, so we don’t need to go into that. But we talked in February 2022. It’s nine months later as we record this in November 2022. And it’s really important to timestamp it because lots of things have changed and moved on.

What’s changed for you in terms of your own NFT projects and what are you doing in this music scene and everything? What are you up to?

J. Thorn: Well, yes, the last time we talked feels like a lifetime ago in this space. I’ve fully embraced the future and we’re going to talk about several of those aspects in this conversation as far as.

Specifically what I’ve been up to, I started a podcast called The Music NFT Show. I’m doing it with my youngest daughter who’s 17 and we’re focusing on music. And that’s been great because she’s very into music, writing her own and that’s been a wonderful thing to do together.

I started creating some generative music pieces on a platform called Async and I’ve just been immersed in the culture. I’ve been purchasing NFTs. I’ve been following the industry, more so on the music side than publishing, but also just always straddling that line and seeing what can I take from the music industry and bring it into publishing and vice versa.

Joanna Penn: Well let’s get into that a bit more. You mentioned generative music pieces on Async. So, for people listening, we are going to mention language that might need a bit of explaining, but one of your things was Nosferatu — with funny spelling! What are your NFTs like?

J. Thorn: So I’ve minted two projects and the third one will be live by the time this episode airs. They are generative music projects. And what that means in plain speak is that — generative art is not new, generative art has been around since the sixties — but we now have the technology in web 3 for basically everyday people to create generative art.

So essentially the artist or the creator, we’ll make certain aspects of the art, but then the final piece is determined by an algorithm and in a lot of generative art, that means that the algorithm is developing a unique piece of art.

So, for example, Nosferatu is a generative music piece that was inspired by the movie Nosferatu, which is having its 100 anniversary this year, which is one of the reasons why I chose it.

I made this for j on midjourney! It’s a robot making thrash metal music with a long-haired musician!

But essentially what I did is I wrote a song and instead of recording say one guitar part or one vocal part, I recorded and produced multiple. I think of these as layers as you might have in Photoshop.

And so essentially I load all of these layers or what’s called ‘stems’ in the music industry up to the platform. And when someone purchases one of these digital collectibles, the algorithm will pick a guitar track, one vocal track, one drum track and assemble them, and then present that as the collectible to the owner.

So essentially, I’ve created one song that every time someone purchases one of those songs, they get a unique mix of it.

Joanna Penn: Tell us more about Mission as well. Cause that one is going to be the new one that’s coming out as this goes out.

J. Thorn: Mission is the one I think authors might be most interested in because I’m calling it an audio drama. It’s essentially a short story that I wrote — JD Barker gave me a lot of help on the short story. We went back and forth with it about 12 or 13 times. It’s about a three or 4,000 word short.

And then I had David Lawrence the 17th who’s an incredible narrator. I had him do the narration on it, and then I took the narration and I built a sound bed underneath it. So with my guitar and some other tools, I created a soundscape and I put that all together, and that’s going to be called Mission.

So it’s sort of this blend of music and narrative storytelling in a digital collectible form.

Joanna Penn: And. I think it is quite hard to explain why we’re so interested in this, but like when I minted my 1 of 1s, and we’re talking about digital collectibles, really we’ll come back to other things, but when I minted my J.F. Penn 1 of 1 NFTs, which was a piece of AI-generated art with an ebook as extra content, I actually felt this kind of loss when it sold.

When I sold it, it was much more of an emotional experience than I expected, which I don’t feel when I just get some money for an ebook that is up there on Amazon or even on my own store because they’re not 1 of 1s, they’re not collectibles. I felt just as passionate about this digital-only product as I do when I’m proud of a book.

So tell us like, why are you so excited?

Why are you so interested in creating this way? What’s the emotional appeal? The creative appeal?

J. Thorn: Oh, I could go on for hours about this. I’ve always had a love of the intersection between art and technology, and I look back over my life and I see that recurring over and over again.

I’ve always been very optimistic. I’ve always tried to embrace new tools and try and do things that couldn’t have been done prior to the advent of those tools. And I think that, when we talk about web 3 or blockchain in the most general sense, That’s what has me the most excited about it.

I know that for you, that one of one piece was very personal because you were taking photographs that you took and you were manipulating them in a way that made them really unique and outstanding.

A cute robot writing, made by joanna penn on midjourney

I think that’s what I’m looking at. I’m looking at how can I use a new technology to generate art in a way that I couldn’t do before and at the highest level, that’s what excites me the most. It’s mostly generative art and it’s going to be both music and narrative storytelling, but it’s this concept of creating a new kind of art that just wasn’t possible before.

Joanna Penn: And it’s interesting because I distinctly remember you being pretty anti-AI when we first had a discussion about some of the possibilities. But now you are using these generative tools as part of your creative process.

How has your opinion on AI shifted?

J. Thorn: You were so kind to send me this question ahead of time, but I knew it was coming anyway, so I was going to be prepared for it!

I want to say this, this might sound defensive and I don’t mean it that way, but I don’t ever apologize for changing my mind. I’m constantly learning and growing and discovering and I find that people who don’t change their minds are difficult for me to engage with.

So yes, my stance on AI has shifted and I’m going to talk about how I use the AI tools.

I will also say though and this is something I think I said, although I didn’t go back and listen to it on, on the Writer’s Ink. But my stance on AI is I’m not going to use it to replace the aspect of creation that I enjoy the most. And I think this came up in the context of novel writing and I said that the first drafting and coming up with the words is the most enjoyable part of that process for me.

So I’m not philosophically opposed to people using AI in that context, but I wouldn’t do it. That’s what I enjoy. Now, that being said, yes, my mind has changed on AI. I think I was more resistant to it, at first, but I’ll give you a couple of examples where I’m really leaning on AI and again, I’m creating art that I couldn’t do before.

I am down the rabbit hole on MidJourney.

Joanna Penn: It’s super fun, right?

J. Thorn: Super fun. Oh my goodness. Yeah. I’ve paid for the monthly account. I’m using it to create the album Art for my music and that’s just not something I could do before. It’s incredibly inspiring. I mean, your talk with Derek was wonderful.

It really sort of jump-started my interest in it, I’ve used DALL-E 2, but MidJourney’s the one that I’m really enjoying. And more recently, literally just this week, there was a music plugin called Emergent Drums that was released and it’s AI drum sampling. So what it does is, if you’re a non-musician, don’t worry, I’ll explain this in basic terms.

It uses an AI to generate drum samples. So if you want, say a certain, like a kick drum or a snare, you click a button and it generates it, and what that means is instead of using, say, pre-recorded samples or using someone else’s drum recordings, the AI creates things that are unique to you, and every time you click generate, it creates a new sample.

And then as a musician, I can take those samples and I can alter them and change them much the same way you did with your photograph. and so I really see AI becoming more integral and yes, it is going to eliminate some tasks. And yes, that is going to put certain people out of work.

But that’s always been the case, from the printing press on.

Every time there’s a new technology, it shifts the skillset and some jobs go away and others are created.

Joanna Penn: I think the same thing. I mean, like you mentioned with the drum there, I think it’s exactly the same with text. It’s exactly the same with images.

And I see this as a sort of world where there will be even more digital abundance than there is now.

So there are already more images than we can ever see. But what this does is, I mean, since I had that talk with Derek a few episodes ago, each of my podcast episodes have had show notes with an image generated by AI.

A cute robot playing rock music, images generated by joanna penn on midjourney

In the past, I would buy custom stock art for the shareable image, for social media, but now I just generate a custom piece for each show.

It’s my piece and it’s like the drum thing you mentioned. But the key point if people still haven’t tried these tools, is you have to to understand the AI tool, the creative direction.

But like it does not come up with this stuff itself. And even if it does at some point, you know, there are these things called GANs (generative adversarial networks) where you can kind of go backwards and forwards, but with this stuff, we are giving it a creative direction.

And then we are, as you mentioned, altering it, changing it, curating it. You could just press spin and if you didn’t like that drum thing, it would just generate something new.

To me, that’s the human part. It’s our creative direction and the altering, changing, and curation because it just doesn’t do it on its own.

J. Thorn: No, it doesn’t. And it’s going to force us to redefine what an artist is and it’s going to force us to redefine some of the creative processes.

And I think that’s okay. When I have conversations about people who are not following this space as closely, the question I always ask is, “Do you consider photography an art form?”

And almost everyone I ask that question to says, ‘Well, yeah, absolutely.’ I say, ‘Well, if you study the history, there was a lot of resistance to photography. It was going to put painters out of business and it’s not a ‘real art form’ because all you’re doing is clicking a button.

But we know now that photography is an art form because you as the photographer, you have to frame the shot. You have to understand lighting, you have to understand filters, you have to understand all of these inputs.

It’s not just as simple as clicking a button.

And I think that’s the analogy I’m trying to use now with these new AI tools.

Joanna Penn: And in fact, let’s talk about Photoshop. I mean, Adobe has announced their own AI generative image possibilities and all of the image tools that we already use are going to import these types of generative AI tools. They’re just going to become part of the normal creative process.

I guess I feel like that is something that we’ve done as authors and obviously you as a musician as well. We’ve adopted these technologies into our processes and just continued along our way, creating the things we want to create and using the tools we want to.

It’s interesting you mentioned Midjourney more than DALL-E 2, and I completely agree. I find DALL-E 2 is actually is a bit stock-photo-y, whereas Midjourney feels artistic. Is that what you think?

J. Thorn: Well, yes, and I know this is very timely, and we’re in the weeds here on Midjourney, but they just rolled out version 4 of their AI and it’s unbelievable. It’s stunning.

I mean, I have another generative art project probably coming out in December called NOLA.

And it’s going to be historical, it’s going to be music, and it’s going to be based on late 19th century New Orleans. And so I was creating images of women at Mardi Gras in the 1850s in the French Quarter. There’s no other way for me to make that, And yet, through prompts, I’ve created these images that are just, I mean, they’re jaw-dropping. They really are.

Joanna Penn: That’s very cool. And yes, prompting. I mean, you can sit in these Midjourney newbie channels and watch people prompting and I’ve seen prompts that are like 300 words.

J. Thorn: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. And like, this is a good point that you’re bringing up because, like for the AI drum samples, does that make me a drummer in the traditional sense? No, not at all. But I’m still a creator.

I see AI prompt developers as a new artistic expression. It could be a new industry for all we know, but you’re right, it’s not as simple as just clicking a button.

Like you really have to direct the AI and there’s nuance involved. And even changing one word can radically change the results.

Joanna Penn: Yes. And in fact, playing with those words, it’s so interesting. It is like learning how to talk a new language, depending on the way you put things, the order you put words, and sometimes the image that comes out will be nothing that you expected in your kind of human mind, but it might be even cooler.

And that’s what I think I love about this. If people are interested, you can follow Instagram or on Twitter or on any of these platforms, like #midjourney or #generativeai, and there’s some incredibly beautiful art coming from generative artists. So, we’ve talked about creativity. We should probably get more into the business.

I guess just to be clear, when we talk about web 3, you and I, we’re not talking about blockchain and NFTs, that’s not web 3 to me.

Web 3 is all of these things coming together. So these AI tools, they’re not blockchain, like Midjourney is not blockchain. It’s a generative tool. DALL-E, these are new AI tools, but to me, the kind of web 3 phase of the world includes AI as well as things that might be built on blockchain, NFTs, that kind of thing. What do you mean by web 3?

J. Thorn: I’m in a hundred percent agreement with you. I wish there was a better term because all the terms are confusing.

Blockchain, web 3, NFTs, most people don’t know what any of those mean. And, they’re a bit hard to understand. I’m just looking at this new technological wave. I haven’t felt a wave like this since the late nineties and that was really when the internet started, web 1.0 when that started to emerge.

human and ai mind collaborating, created by joanna penn on midjourney

So, that’s what I’m thinking about. I agree with you. I’m not necessarily talking about Ethereum. I’m not talking about AI, or I’m not talking about NFTs.

I’m talking about web 3 as this general wave of technology that is going to transform our lives in a way that hasn’t happened in decades.

Joanna Penn: Totally. I would say that from an author’s perspective, it’s a bit like 2007 when eBooks really started to go mainstream with the Kindle, and then digital audio. Podcasting really started to take off then, like that early sort of 2008 to 2012, that was a while ago now as you and I talk, which seems crazy — we’re so old!

But that was a web 2 situation, and just to be clear for people listening, we are talking about, as you say, a wave of new technologies, and surfing this wave into the future, as I always talk about, and not drowning in it, which is the hard bit.

So we’ve talked there about creativity and both of us are incredibly passionate about creativity, but we’re also business people. We like to make a living. We want to make some money.

And we’ve been to a couple of conferences this year. One together, the Creator Economy Expo in April. Then you were at the Crypto Business Conference and I was at NFT London, And you were at NFT NYC.

What have you found interesting in terms of the potential business side of web 3?

J. Thorn: I have a high-level takeaway and I’m really curious to hear what yours are since you just came back from NFT London very recently.

For me, I think what I’ve learned this year and what I think is most relevant to authors and creatives who might be listening is that regardless of how you feel about this, it’s not going anywhere. It’s not a fad.

The genie is out of the bottle, and so you have to decide how you’re going to engage with this new technology.

I just don’t see it going away. And that’s a really important distinction to make.

You can love it or hate it or feel emotional about it, or feel like it’s a Ponzi scheme, but the underlying technology is here and it’s just not going away.

Joanna Penn: Were there specific takeaways from Crypto Business about what people can be doing now or soon, or was it a case of this is what’s coming, or this is what’s here?

J. Thorn: Yeah, especially from the Crypto Business Conference, as opposed to NFT NYC, which was more mayhem. Michael Stelzner did a great job with the Crypto Business Conference in that it was a single track, small event and with a lot of opportunity for engagement. And what I heard over and over from every speaker was just the importance of community in the future.

And even not even necessarily related to web three, but just in general that the future of business is going to be built around community. That we’re joining smaller groups of like-minded folks and that is really is the future, and I think that the reason that kept coming up at the Crypto Business Conference is because the technology that’s emerging really facilitates that.

Joanna Penn: That’s interesting. I’d say that’s also partly because of the need for curation in a world of absolute digital abundance, where every single person can create everything new every day, multiple times. Like we said, every time you want a new image, you just go on Midjourney and make it.

The exponential number of images created at the moment is kind of crazy. But to me, being part of communities and leading communities is that curation aspect because it’s just all too big. Like it does feel like everything is exploding in a good way, but yet it’s hard enough for you and I to keep up with this sector and we are really interested in it.

So I feel that part of that community aspect is paying attention or finding people you want to pay attention to, but in a way, I don’t feel that’s any different. Like I feel that’s been true for a long time.

J. Thorn: True, true. It has. I mean, I would love to hear what did you distill out of NFT London?

Joanna Penn: So as we speak, I was only there like just a week ago and it was a multi-track event and I think what I really got out of it was there was so much energy. There are so many people who are building, and as we speak now, it’s a bit of a down market for a lot of this stuff.

Even just the wider tech industry, there’s a lot of layoffs, so there’s a lot going on and the people who are building at this downtime are the ones who were really passionate about it.

And I tell you the other thing that was really encouraging is there were young people there, so there were people who were 19 to 25, like you mentioned your daughter.

I heard a couple of young musicians speak who were just saying, ‘we are building the future of music.’ And they were like ‘screw the labels.’

This is the way we are going. And they were articulate, they were creative, they were passionate, and they were mostly people from more marginalized communities, certainly here in the UK.

So I thought that was really interesting. But also there were people our age and older. So I saw one panel chaired by a woman who was specializing in blockchain for the environment and was looking at the agricultural sector. So that’s what was interesting.

We talk about this in art and music and it is literally a tiny piece of what this all means. I mean, they’re using blockchain to track agricultural products into the land. And there were so many applications and so it was multi-track and it was a huge program and the talks were only like 25 minutes each. There was something like 900 speakers at NFT London.

I spent a whole day going from room to room and just got a sense of it. And this woman who was doing the environmental stuff, she must have been in her sixties and she’s been in this space since the beginning because she sees it as the way to fix the environment, which was a lovely talk to go to, because of course a lot of people say, Oh, blockchain or whatever is going to destroy the world, but people are fixing it in order to use the good stuff well. And so I just came away feeling like, Wow, this is great.

The other thing I felt was, like you mentioned, a chaos. I really felt like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is still early.’ There are so many questions and in every talk people would bring up some of the problems that need to be solved.

But I was listening to one of the A16Z podcasts [Why technology still matters] with Mark Andreesen from Andreesen Horowitz who invests in a lot of this stuff. And he was saying what he sees as an investor is —

If there are still problems to be solved, that’s where the business opportunity is.

So I thought that was really interesting and we only have a sustainable platform if people are interested in building businesses, because it’s all very well having a free for all — Let’s all do it for the fun of creativity.

But people have to make some money in order for things to carry on for the long term. So yeah, I felt like it was all new, but I also felt the sort of energy of excitement, like we are building the next iteration of the internet, basically.

J. Thorn: Yeah. That’s, that’s wonderful to hear. And I felt that at every conference I’ve been to this year, it underscores how important this is because it’s a really tough market right now, whether you’re talking crypto or NFTs, like , this is a bear market, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.

And yet there’s a core group of passionate people who can see through to the other side and they’re kind of pushing it forward. To me, that’s really inspiring.

Joanna Penn: There are so many reasons why some of this technology and some of these projects are going to go ahead. I feel like we can’t really tell what will emerge as winners.

I mean, I feel like there’s a utopian view, which is we’re going to be the new Amazon in web 3 or whatever. And it’s like, well partly that’s not the point, right? With decentralization, I don’t need that.

So to give an example, I built my Shopify store earlier this year —

The reason I went with Shopify is because they have crypto payments and NFTs in beta, and at some point, presumably soon, let’s say the next year, I’ll be able to sell NFT products, whether that’s my art or my books, or your music or whatever, in my normal store alongside my ebooks, my audiobook, my print on demand, they’ll just have a hook into that, whatever that is.

And so I’ll be able to sell that direct on my own. And there were quite a lot of talks from platforms who were trying to build like a KDP or a Draft2Digital on blockchain. I was challenging them and saying, Well, why do I need that? You know, it’s interesting, isn’t it?

Why do we need some of these platforms if we’ve built our own communities?

J. Thorn: Yeah, you’re right. And I’ve had the same head-scratching thoughts about it, and I’m not going to name them, but I was trumpeting some of them just six months ago, but there’s a tendency to gravitate towards web 2 technologies and transplanting them into web 3.

And I think you’re right. I think we’re in a moment where now we’re saying, well wait, is that what we really want?

Do we want another centralized platform or do we want to have creators to have the ability to sell things directly?

I think it’s the latter of the two, but it’s an evolution, it’s a process and I think mimicking the web 2 platforms was probably where we started.

Joanna Penn: Completely. And at the moment, the only thing we have in our heads, so when I say NFT ebooks, in people’s heads, it’s just an ebook. So they say, Why would I do that? But what you discussed earlier with your Mission is music. I mean, it could just be, well, just by the ebook short story, but you’ve created more, a different experience that combines different levels of art and creates a one of one generative piece that becomes more interesting to own than just downloading your ebook and reading it.

Are we separating the concept of an ebook or an audiobook and making NFT special editions new products?

J. Thorn: I’ve taken your idea and used it.

Even when I speak in generalities, I don’t talk about NFTs, I talk about digital collectibles.

NFTs are a terrible term. No one understands what it means, but a digital collectible makes sense and I think it gets to talking about the use case for NFT books.

I don’t think we necessarily disagree. I think there’s some nuance in how you and I are viewing this. I think what I’m seeing right now is I think NFTs are going to be more like merchandise and that they are going to be something new, a special edition, something unique, something you can’t purchase in other ways.

Will NFT ebooks become mainstream the same way they are on Amazon? I don’t know. I mean, I might change my mind on that, but I just don’t see NFT ebooks becoming a mainstream technology. I see them more so as becoming collectibles, special editions, that kind of thing.

Joanna Penn: I tell you what has made me really think about this is Amazon Prime. Again, we are recording this at the beginning of November 2022. Amazon Prime just introduced pretty much an unlimited music catalog as part of Prime. You saw this right?

J. Thorn: Well, Yes, but there’s a catch. They did do that, but it’s only on shuffle play unless you pay them $9 a month.

Joanna Penn: Oh, how interesting. So can you create playlists?

J. Thorn: I don’t know because I haven’t used it, but I’ve heard some pushback on it and said like, yeah, if you want to listen to 100 million random songs, you can do that for free.

Joanna Penn: Ah, okay. That’s interesting. I heard an interview about it and well, let’s just remember that —

Every time we think we know what the hell’s happening, the platforms just change the rules anyway.

Right. So, we were talking about Twitter before we started recording, I mean, again, there’s no point in talking about Twitter and because it’s in so much flux. It’s very hard to nail down what the hell might be happening in a month’s time.

And it’s the same right now, like with Amazon Prime and my feeling when I heard that they essentially, that’s a lot of musicians whose music is now in a different form of royalty.

A flamenco dancer spinning toward her death, created by joanna penn on midjourney v4

Is the future three different levels of digital offering?

So in my mind, I see that these big platforms, whichever platforms, because there’s a lot of subscription platforms, it’s not just KU for eBooks. It could be that the future of digital reading and listening, there’s like a big chunk which will be unlimited subscription, whether that’s through a Prime model, whether that’s through a monthly unlimited payment for ebooks and audio.

So there’s that one chunk that I believe will stay like that, and more and more people will just go into the digital abundance model. Like I pay Spotify 10 bucks a month and I get unlimited music and podcasts and all of that kind of thing. Then I think there’s a strata which is like where people buy eBooks and audiobooks from my Shopify store every day.

Thank you everyone for buying from!

People do that because they’re supporting me as a creator, so they want to buy their ebook or audiobook from me directly, but that is a direct relationship, so they know that they’re getting the ebook or the audiobook from me, but it’s no different to the one they get on Amazon.

Then there’s a layer of special editions which NFTs could fit into, which is again, maybe I sell on my store or I sell on these other platforms and that is for the even smaller group of people who want this digital collectible or ticket or royalty fractionalization or that kind of thing.

So I almost see it as, like you said, this is not replacing what we have. This is almost another strata on top.

J. Thorn: Totally agree. I have been thinking a lot as I know many people have about Kevin Kelly’s legendary post of A Thousand True Fans, and I really see it now as a hundred true fans with web 3.

I think that’s the potential, and it’s not because NFT ebooks are beginning to go mainstream. That’s not where the hundred true fans are going to matter. It’s going to be the people who want to support you as an artist, who want to have something special, who are willing to pay for something special. That’s where the hundred true fans come in. So, I agree.

I don’t think NFT ebooks are going to replace what you get on your Kindle, but they are going to open up an entirely new paradigm of collectibles in a way that can be authenticated and tracked and monetized for many years to come.

Joanna Penn: Mm. And I do think that some of the royalty fractionalization models like, which we’ve talked about before, where it’s essentially a crowdfunding mechanism where people can buy into a song or potentially a book project, a bit like a Kickstarter, but when you actually get royalties later on.

So, like with the Brandon Sanderson example, his 41 million —well, not 41 million people —but the people who joined his Kickstarter, me included, we will get a book, but we don’t see any of the future money. Whereas what this will enable is the potential to buy into an author and get a percentage.

Now, didn’t you do something around this, or you had an idea around this?

J. Thorn: I had an idea around it, and then I backed off because there were legal implications. I don’t want to be flagged as a security, but yeah, I think like, the royalty sharing is on the philosophical level, I think it’s really interesting , and it’s something to watch.

On a practical level, the amount of volume of generated revenue for that to make a difference to the average person is pretty astronomical. So I don’t think it’s a bad idea. I think we’ll eventually get there, but you would need to be a JK Rowling or a Stephen King, and as a reader, to be able to benefit from a royalty share. I think you’d need some severe volume.

But I think it’s the secondary royalties where every author — independent authors, mid-list, trad pub authors — the secondary royalties are where I think it’s going to fundamentally shift the way we generate revenue and how we do that over the long term.


Joanna Penn: The other thing I think will happen is — and I hate to use the term — but flexing in the Metaverse — which is just an awful term, but you know, all the cool kids using it.

I think the Metaverse has just accelerated — I know Meta the company is an absolute nightmare — but by signing a deal with Microsoft, things might change.

My husband works in a company now and he is on Microsoft Teams. He works from home. A lot of people listening, they’ll be using Microsoft Teams as part of their job and Microsoft and Meta just did a deal with the headsets.

So Jonathan does all these meetings with digital whiteboards and at the moment they’re all on his flat screen and he can absolutely see putting on a headset, I mean he sits at his desk anyway with a screen in front of him and he has multiple screens because he does coding and everything.

And he sees the idea of putting on a headset and working in this metaverse space as a possibility. So that’s what I want people to think when we talk about metaverse. It’s doesn’t have to be Facebook, but that’s a Microsoft metaverse example.

Like you and I are in a Zoom metaverse at the moment. You could just say it’s like a branded world in some form, but let’s say, we go to an online conference, let’s say the crypto business conference online in some kind of metaverse space.

Then how I see NFTs also working is this connection with your avatar — a lot of the, the fashion houses are doing it — so instead of saying, Here’s my Chanel handbag or my Gucci handbag, or whatever, which is an NFT. I say, this is my special edition, Stephen King NFT.

I think it shows a lot about me as a person that my avatar is holding a Stephen King NFT special edition in a metaverse world.

I say, just holding, but I don’t even know what it would be. It’s like, here’s all my books and it’s like we would do a digital handshake and my bookshelf would appear behind me, and you’re like, ‘Oh, okay, cool. She’s into that and into that.’

And like I’ve always said, I want tattoos in the metaverse. My avatar’s going to be like fully goth with tattoos. You’re going to be like, Where’s Jo?!

Joanna Penn on midjourney with gothic tattoos
Joanna Penn image generated with Midjourney with gothic tattoos

But I feel like, I think that is really going to happen. Like I would collect things so that my avatar can demonstrate part of who I am.

I mean, a lot of gamers understand this, right? Gamers buy this type of weapon or this type of skin for their avatar. So gamers understand it, but a lot of writers might not understand that. What do you think about that idea?

J. Thorn: Yeah, it’s coming. It absolutely is. And it’s not as crazy as it sounds if you’re not a gamer, or you’re very skeptical of the metaverse as I am. Like I recognize how big it’s gonna be. I recognize the business applications.

I’m probably not going to want to go to a concert in the metaverse. I think I’d prefer to go to a real life concert with real people, but I think it’s not outlandish at all. Back in the day. I think CD shelves were another example, right?

You go to a friend’s house and you want to go look at their bookshelf, you want to see what they’re reading, you want to see what books they own. For me and my friends, we wanted to go through each other’s CD collection and pull things off the shelf and talk about it. So transferring that to the metaverse seems to be just a very natural thing for me. I think that’s absolutely right.

Joanna Penn: I mean even on Zoom people put a background and sometimes they’ll choose the holodeck or the deck on Star Trek or you know, people are choosing digital things to show aspects of their personality online.

And so I think that’s why I think this is another application. It’s almost showing something about yourself, but yeah, that might be a bit further away.

But can we even attempt to think about how this is going to play out over the next couple of years?

I mean, I usually am too early. I will absolutely admit that I am too early. Like this podcast, for example, when I started in 2009, I’ve still got a blog post up where I was like, I was howling into the wind for at least nine months before anyone even showed up, before I got maybe five downloads. I mean, seriously, that was 2009. It was really 2012 – 2015 when things really started taking off.

I was four years too early with translation. I wrote my first article about books in the metaverse in 2015, and that’s still not happened, and I said , it will only be like two years away or something. So I am ridiculously early with these things, but I have been talking about AI for a good number of years now.

I first started talking about AI in 2016, I think it was. So, what do you think, how do you think the next few years are going to play out? Cause yeah, I don’t know.

J. Thorn: I don’t know either. And I think my, my perspective is certainly biased by my age, as all of ours are. I think my approach right now would be very different if I was 21 instead of 51.

I think it’s extremely early. I am not in a position where I’m looking to make a 40 year career in web 3, so my approach is very different. , I think I am less risk averse.

I think I’m doing things more for the enjoyment of the creative process as opposed to the monetary gains.

And so that is definitely coloring my perspective. But overall, I agree with you. I think we’ve said there aren’t too many people in our lives we can have these conversations with because just most people aren’t even thinking about it yet.

I’ve never, in my experience, I’ve never been hurt by being an early adopter, I’ve always benefited from it and I’m taking that same approach.

Joanna Penn: Yes, I agree. And I thought I did have a handle on how fast this was going, but then just a couple of months ago when AI art blew up, like went mainstream, it basically just emerged into the main street almost overnight.

J Thorn: Yeah, it was really weird.

Joanna Penn: I don’t even know how it took off. It might even have been Midjourney or the release of DALL-E 2 or there was something that happened and now you’ll see articles about this everywhere. This is in the mainstream press, basically, and I didn’t think it would happen that fast.

It was only, was it April? I was minting my generative art pieces using what was DALL-E 1, I think. And the quality was so much lower than it would be now with Mid Journey, but I kind of love those pieces because they show you the time shift even within six months. I mean, it’s crazy how fast this is going.

I was literally just before we got on the phone looking at a new AI called Adept ACT 1, and it’s essentially it’s just crazy. Essentially, you can teach it to do anything on a web browser. So you can teach it to use digital tools and it’ll do stuff for you.

But it’s exactly the same as what we were saying with the art stuff. You still have to tell it what to do, like it doesn’t come up with something, you still have to teach it what to do. But I’m like, Whoa, okay, let me think about how I could use that.

My advice for people is still to be open-minded and have this attitude of curiosity and then go into things with a playful attitude.

Oh, this is fun. Like, how could I use this for fun? Not how could I use this for money? And then if you see how it might work in your business, then for sure. But to go in with an attitude of curiosity and play is probably more important at this stage.

J. Thorn: Absolutely. And that’s been my entire approach with music. I’m not trying to pivot into a career as a music producer or a performing musician. Creating this generative music has been so fulfilling and inspiring, and it’s reignited my interest in music and in music theory and in music production.

And I’ve totally let go of the result and I’m on the process and the amount of joy that it brings me and that’s really why I’m doing it. And I think that that’s what you’re saying is taking that approach right now and just being playful and inquisitive and curious, it will pay off in ways that you probably can’t even imagine.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. And it’s fun, right? This is why we’re doing it.

J Thorn: Absolutely. So much fun.

Joanna Penn: It’s so much fun. I mean the joy, like, we’re both laughing. You can hear the smiles in our voices and we get all giddy about this stuff because it’s really fun. I feel like in the author space, the fun has leached out a little bit at some point.

J. Thorn: Yeah, we’ve gotten a little too serious, I think in, especially in the independent author circles.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. But maybe that’s because it is our business, and this is not at the moment, this is fun, this is a hobby. But, but I mean, I, again, as you say, we are both paying for Midjourney monthly so that we can create more.

So we are taking it as a sort of a business step, in a way. But yeah, I feel like it’s going to be a couple of years before people are using the tools that we are talking about regularly, but equally —

I think they won’t even know that they’re buying an NFT or they won’t even know they’re using a blockchain tool because that language will just fade away.

J. Thorn: That’s right. I mean, we don’t need to know an IP address or understand https protocol to use the internet, and I think blockchain will be the same.

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. Well, interesting times. So where can people go to find your NFTs and then everything else you do?

J. Thorn: My main site is

And if you’re interested in any of my music production, that’s at

Joanna Penn: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, J. That was great.

J. Thorn: Thank you, Jo.

The post Using Generative AI For Digital Collectibles And NFTs With J. Thorn first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • November 20, 2022