“Can I buy your Bitcoin book with Bitcoin?” »: It turns out that it was more difficult than I thought

Ethan Lou: The company is not yet ready for cryptocurrency as a daily medium of exchange, despite our hopes and dreams

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Like supermarket cashiers who are asked if an item is free if it doesn’t scan properly, I get a question from people who think they are smart since my bitcoin book was announced: “Then I buy your bitcoin book with bitcoin? “

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Most thought it was a joke, but when I thought about it, I realized the underlying problem was big. So over the last couple of months I’ve been trying to make this happen.

Now I can say the answer is ‘Yes’: you can buy Once a Bitcoin Miner with bitcoin. But the ordeal I went through and what I learned from it makes this victory hollow. My experience shows how, despite the dreams of some, society as a whole is simply not ready for cryptocurrency as a medium of daily exchange.

My quest began in August, two months away from the publication of the book. El Salvador was one month away from officially adopting bitcoin as legal tender. It was a drastically different cryptocurrency world than the one I first experienced in 2013.

Companies like Coinbase Global, Inc., operators of exchange platforms, had deployed payment portals that were easy to use and little different from those for credit cards. Many such portals automatically convert coins to cash so businesses don’t have to touch the crypto. The fees for the business do not exceed those of a credit card company. Coinberry of Toronto had proudly announced that it had partnered with the Ontario cities of Richmond Hill and Innisfil to allow people to pay their property taxes with crypto. It shouldn’t be hard to find a bookseller who takes crypto, I thought.

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A monitor displays Coinbase signage during the company's initial public offering (IPO) on the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York, United States on Wednesday, April 14, 2021.
A monitor displays Coinbase signage during the company’s initial public offering (IPO) on the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York, United States on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Photo by Michael Nagle / Bloomberg

I knew PayPal Holdings Inc. allowed cryptocurrency payments wherever their payment system was accepted. But PayPal had limited this feature to people in the United States.

So I hired a journalism student to cobble together an email list from the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association directory. Then I bought a list of American bookstores. I got four responses out of 98 Canadian bookstores and nine out of 1,403 US bookstores. None said yes. Much later I thought about Indigo Books & Music Inc. It didn’t seem to accept bitcoin so I asked. He did not answer.

Meanwhile, I thought that instead of persuading mainstream booksellers to take bitcoin, maybe I could persuade companies that already use bitcoin to store my book. In 2015, for example, bookstores at Simon Fraser University made headlines by allowing bitcoin payments. Have they always done that, and if so, would they store some random guy’s book with no connection to college? I never had any feedback on this.

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My mind turned to El Salvador, where companies would in theory be forced to take bitcoin. In a small literary market of six million Spanish speakers, retailers are unlikely to stock my book at all. But I thought I would try. Before I could do it, however, I stumbled upon a breakthrough.

Through a chance encounter, I got to know QuickBit in Regina, a provider of Bitcoin ATMs. He also runs a physical store with cryptocurrency paraphernalia and was more than happy to store my book and accept bitcoin for it. I then pestered my editor, ECW Press, to add a “buy with bitcoin” button to the book page.

It’s kind of a victory. But QuickBit’s rather expected enthusiasm was overshadowed by my difficulty in engaging booksellers.

One caveat would be that my retailer listings included children’s and specialty stores and even a few publishers, companies that would never stock my book. So I wouldn’t read the low overall response rate too much.

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And it’s not that the booksellers didn’t like me. One store even invited me to go on their podcast. Two expressed some sort of cautious interest. It’s just that many have dismissed accepting bitcoin as being too complicated and not worth it. At the same time, at least three pointed to a common bottleneck: their point of sale and inventory management systems, to which booksellers are uniquely tied. Specifically, the popular Bookmanager.

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Diane O’Neill of Bookmanager told me the company could enable cryptocurrency payments if customers ask, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease, doesn’t it? It gave me hope. But it also shows that this is a chicken-and-egg problem, which says a lot about the cryptocurrency adoption that all global developments will never do.

Big names have entered cryptocurrency: Microsoft Corp, Time magazine, AT&T Inc., Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch, Coca-Cola Co., Mastercard Inc., Visa Inc., the list goes on. We hear about lofty promises and utopian visions, antics from the nouveau riche, booming coins and digital images sold by millions. Sometimes it spoils the image on the ground.

Below all of this, in Canada it is even difficult to buy a book with bitcoin.

Ethan Lou is a journalist and author of Once a Bitcoin Miner: Scandal and Turmoil in the Cryptocurrency Wild West.

To learn more about cryptocurrencies and the blockchain industry, sign up for the Financial Post FP CryptoDecoded free virtual event series presented by NDAX. Visit: CryptoDecoded.FinancialPost.com

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