May 14, 2013

A user’s guide to Amazon Coins


Amazon coins: can you afford NOT to mortgage your home to buy them?

As we discussed back in February, Amazon has been working on a digital currency specifically for the Kindle Fire, and now it’s finally here. Only three questions remains: how fast can you cash out your IRA? Is there somewhere I can pawn my children before they are conceived? Is there a possible downside to selling my hair (don’t ask) to buy more Amazon coins, and if so could you point it out to me because all I can see over the glare from my silky smooth scalp is potential gain.

Amazon coins are meant to be used in the Amazon app store and for in-game purchases. If you’ve ever played one of the new breed of mobile games you know the score: players are rewarded for doing some endless not-even-fun-why-am-I-doing-this task with some kind of reward, which they can then use to buy items to assist in or expand that repetitive what-have-I-done-with-my-life-I-went-to-college task. The price points for the in-game items—usually a new pixel radish or sword or something—are often set high enough to encourage players to take the always-available shortcut of using government currency to buy in-game currency. Developers are already incorporating this type of currency in many of the most popular games. Amazon would just like those currencies to bear their branding when used in Kindle Fire apps.

I anticipate many questions about this fantastic new currency/raison d’etre, so let me see if I can provide some answers below.

Yes, you’ll want to flush your old lame currencies a few bills at a time so as not to clog the toilet. If you opt to burn all of your cash instead, please stay safe and remember to have a fire extinguisher handy. Don’t try to give it to those less fortunate than you: even the homeless will only be accepting grainy .jpgs of Amazon coins by this time next week.

Yes, you may think that these in-game currencies are strictly predatory and a confusing thing for Amazon to want their name associated with. But remember that Amazon just hired neo-Nazi guardsmen to keep underpaid migrant workers imprisoned in barracks in Germany. They are being sued here in the states for forcing employees to stand, unpaid, in security lines for twenty minutes after long days of grueling demoralizing work. I don’t think being associated with virtual wage-slavery is going to tarnish their image.

No, I don’t know why their mock-up of the coins have a mythical Amazon warrior on them, a loaded bit of imagery the company has shied away from until now. Maybe Scary Uncle Jeff has been reading Herodotus?

No, you cannot actually use Amazon coins to buy, for instance, Tuscan Whole Milk or our books, or even this book you can only purchase with Bitcoins. And as there is no Amazon-backed marketplace for the coins, they are less of an investment and more like tickets to a raffle, the prize for which is a wasted life. But just wait. When the singularity comes, I’ll be laughing atop a mountain of gleaming dosh and you’ll be wishing you’d jumped at the chance. Virtually, I mean. In reality we’ll both be gray goo. The singularity is pretty scary, you guys.

Oh yes, years of very technical research have been put into the topic of in-game economies. CCP, the company behind the ten-year-old MMORPG EVE Online, has a staff economist whose entire job is to study and report on that game’s deep and deeply interesting virtual economy. But these economies are not like that. At this point the Amazon coin seems to be pinned to the U.S. cent.

Yes, reading David Graeber’s Debt will help you understand currency, even this kind, in an entirely new light.

Sure, if you really want a few more pixel radishes, go for it. Jokes aside, I don’t know how people justify buying a Kindle let alone putting more money into the thing, but do what makes you happy.




Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.