When Will It Be OK For You To Use Bitcoin? When This Person Says So.
(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
Is it safe to use Bitcoin? How will you know? Who will legitimize it?
Not the noted economist Nouriel Roubini, who, as it was reported over the weekend, said some very pessimistic things like “…Bitcoin isn’t a currency. It is (by the way) a Ponzi game and a conduit for criminal/illegal activities. And it isn’t safe given the hacking of it.” Roubini declared Bitcoin to be a “lousy” store of value.
It’s not even Marc Andreesen, the well-known venture capitalist and investor in Coinbase (a service that enables easier payments using Bitcoin), although he’s trying. In a January opinion piece for the New York Times Andreesenoffered a number of reasons why Bitcoin matters, and sees the technology evolving in this way: “Eventually mainstream products, companies and industries emerge to commercialize it; its effects become profound; and later, many people wonder why its powerful promise wasn’t more obvious from the start. What technology am I talking about? Personal computers in 1975, the Internet in 1993, and – I believe – Bitcoin in 2014.”
It’s not Ben Bernanke either, although he sees “promise.” It’s definitely not the government of China. Nor is it Dorian S. Nakamoto, the guy who purportedly invented Bitcoin but denies it. Could it be companies like Overstock.com, Virgin Galacticand WordPress who have already accepted the currency? Or others who have bought in like Tesla Motors, OKCupid and Reddit? What about eBay?
Nope. These are not the ones who will legitimize Bitcoin. These are not the ones who will convince you to start using it. There is, in my opinion, only one person who can do that. And he has been the silent elephant in the room. You already know who that is. So let me quickly remind you of his influence.
Jeff Bezos runs the world’s largest online retailer, with revenues greater than the GDP’s of more than half of the world’s countries. He’s the one.
Bitcoin is a virtual currency tailor-made for online retailing which means it’s tailor-made for Amazon.com. Jeff Bezos is marketer, a salesman, a PR genius. He brought the world one-click shopping, free shipping, e-books and the image of thousands of drones magically flying in the sky to seamlessly deliver Amazon.com products to its happy customers. Bitcoin is a PR person’s dream. It is interesting. It is news. And Bezos loves making news, particularly when the news promotes Amazon.com.
He’s trying to make some news with Amazon’s own digital currency. Ever heard of it? It’s called Coins and since its launch in May, it’s available exclusively for Kindle Fire tablets (and now Android devices) and can be used to buy certain items on the retailer’s site. The company seems to be happy with the results so far: “Since the launch of Amazon Coins, we’ve been amazed by the number of customers using Coins, as well as how many Coins they’re spending on apps and games,” Amazon Appstore Vice President Mike Georgesaid in a statement. “Because customers can earn Coins when they buy apps in Amazon’s Appstore, and because they can buy Coins themselves at up to a 10 percent discount, customers love the extra value they get when shopping in our Appstore.”
This is nice. But it’s not that interesting. Or very newsworthy. It’s no Bitcoin.
And that’s what perplexes me. Jeff Bezos is the one guy who is all about service, all about making things as easy as possible for his customers, all about creating the best online retail experience at the lowest possible cost. He’s a salesman and a lover of great PR. Bitcoin brings this all together. Which is why Amazon.com’s embrace of it seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Sure, there will be challenges. But the benefits, as Andreesen noted, are enormous. The connection is natural. The future is not hard to predict.
If done the right way and supported by the kind of infrastructure that Amazon can provide, Bitcoin would quickly be legitimized as an easy way to pay for anything online. It would expand the opportunities for the company’s resellers. And most importantly it’s virtual, fee-less and not subject to tax. It will enable all of Amazon.com’s customers’ to save money. It can do the kinds of things that “Coin” cannot because there are no limits to its market. And the community, the infrastructure and (take note Mr. Bezos), the media attentionis already in place and waiting for the next big thing.
Of course, Jeff Bezos knows all about Bitcoin. He has his reasons for waiting. I’m just hoping he eventually gets behind it. Backing Bitcoin would be great for the thousands of small businesses, like mine, who are tentative about it and would like to use it more. But most importantly, Amazon.com’s backing would provide a much needed stamp of credibility. It would encourage millions to start using it. And that seems like the kind of news that even Jeff Bezos couldn’t resist.