As the world changes, so does the nature of the footprint we leave on it.
Many of us now spend significant parts of our lives online, whether working, socialising or unwinding. Because of this, it’s becoming more common for us to create or purchase virtual things.
Though these new belongings are collected, stored and valued differently to traditional belongings, they can be worth more than you might think.
What are digital assets?
‘Digital asset’ is a term that covers a wide category of things. Generally speaking, a digital asset is anything we own that’s in a virtual format rather than a physical one.
Digital assets can include:
Your email account and all emails it contains
Files saved on your computer, smartphone or tablet, or in a cloud storage account
Ebooks, software and digital music files you’ve paid for and downloaded
Your social media accounts and all the content you’ve posted there
All online accounts you’ve set up and any content or credit they include (including loyalty points and game credits)
Websites and domain names you own
Any cryptocurrency you’ve invested in
Many of the digital assets we collect over our lifetime have little to no value. Every time you buy something online and have to sign up for an account, that account technically becomes a digital asset. However, these accounts usually have no value to anyone else, and we may not even remember we have them ourselves.
However, though many digital assets have very little significance, others can be hugely valuable. This value can be measured in three key ways: sentimental, practical and monetary.
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Many of the digital assets we own have a great deal of sentimental value. The most obvious examples of this are the digital photos and family videos stored on computers or smartphones. Though these photos are very precious to us and our loved ones, in the majority of cases they would be of little use or monetary value to anyone else.
Most social media accounts, emails and personal websites/blogs also fall into this category.
Digital assets with practical value
Many of the digital assets we own may not have any particular monetary value in themselves, but they have significant practical use. For example, a Kindle filled with ebooks, a digital collection of purchased knitting patterns or licensed Photoshop software all represent something you have invested in for a practical return.
Digital assets with monetary value
Some digital assets have a very definite monetary value. The obvious example here is cryptocurrency such as bitcoin or online gaming credits. Digital gift cards also fall into this category, as would loyalty points and outstanding balances in Paypal accounts.
However, lots of other type of digital assets can have significant monetary value too. Certain domain names can sell for a lot of money, as can social media handles. Social media accounts and blogs may also be valuable if they have a significant following, especially if that following is not necessarily dependent on the personality of the person running the account. For example, a monetised Instagram account run by an influencer who has thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of followers is likely to be highly valuable.
Documents and files stored on a computer or device could also have significant value, especially things relating to a successful career such as unpublished manuscripts or graphic designs.
Digital artwork can also be very valuable. The concept of NFT digital art is relatively new, but allows collectors to buy what can essentially be considered the ‘original’ of a digital piece of art. An NFT can be a still image, but it can also be a video or gif. The family behind the viral ‘Charlie bit my finger’ video originally uploaded to YouTube in 2007 recently sold the video as an NFT for £500,000.
What if you’re a business owner?
If you’re a business owner, you may have a wider range of digital assets to consider the value of. You’re more likely to own things like websites, domains and multiple social media accounts, all of which might have value in relation to your business as a whole.
Online selling accounts on sites like Ebay, Etsy or Amazon Marketplace can also be valuable, especially if a company like Amazon is holding stock on your behalf.
Copyright and intellectual property
It’s important to recognise that the concepts of copyright and intellectual property very much still apply when valuing digital assets.
This is particularly important when considering digital files saved on a work computer. Some employment policies state that anything saved on a company device automatically belongs to that company.
Equally, documents saved on a personal computer might be the intellectual property of an employer, a client or the original creator.
How can you safeguard digital assets for the future?
Whether your digital assets have sentimental, practical or monetary value, you might be keen to ensure they would be protected in the event of your death.
Legally speaking, all your digital assets would be considered part of your estate and the ownership should pass to your beneficiaries. However, if you don’t leave clear instructions on how to manage or access your digital assets, your loved ones might not be able to fully assess them.