Experimenting with Bitcoin Book Sales

Have you heard of Bitcoin? If you have, skip ahead to the next paragraph! For those who are unfamiliar with it, Bitcoin is a "digital currency" – an alternative type of money that is designed and intended for the modern digital age. Unlike a national currency (e.g., the US Dollar), there is no central issuer of Bitcoins. Instead, they are "mined" by computers solving difficult problems. The currency system is controlled by a peer-to-peer network. While the system itself is very complex, you can use (obtain and spend) Bitcoins without worrying about all of the underlying details. Of course, this blog is about writing, not techno-geeky topics like digital currency, so I won't delve into more detail. You can always learn more on Wikipedia. Otherwise, it should be sufficient to say that Bitcoins are digital coins that you can use to buy both digital and physical products and services.

You might be yawning right now if you read the part above about Bitcoins, so I'll jump right to the meat of this blog post: As of a few days ago, you can now buy an electronic copy of Journey to Yandol, and other stories using Bitcoins. I've toyed around with the Bitcoin system for quite awhile, mostly just thinking about it but not actually using it other than trying – without success – to "mine" some Bitcoins. Recently, I found some ways to get free Bitcoins (actually, tiny fractions of Bitcoins, but because it's a digital currency it's not really a problem to work with tiny fractions), and by playing around with it more I've become more curious about its potential for real use in everyday transactions. What better way to try that out, than by trying my hand at accepting Bitcoins for payment for books?

To avoid going out on a limb too much, it seemed sensible to start small and with little or no overhead to minimize the risk. Since my other books are currently exclusive to Amazon (for the electronic editions), and since paperback sales and shipping would incur some potentially-not-trivial overhead, the only real option was to try this out on the electronic edition of the Journey to Yandol collection of science fiction short stories.

I thought this would be a simple thing to experiment with, and in fact I made a change to my bookshelf page for the book and then started writing this blog post. A little nagging voice in the back of my head gave me pause, so I did some research and promptly removed the changes I'd made on that page. Oops. Due to the nature of the system, certain precautions need to be taken to avoid having someone claim falsely that they bought a book. Simply posting a Bitcoin receiving address on a page will not work, not even if I have the buyer send me specific details of the Bitcoins they sent, because those details are out in the open. This means each transaction needs a unique address. Again, as a digital currency, unique addresses aren't a problem for the Bitcoin system, but they can be challenging for a merchant to handle.

In the end, I decided that my time was better spent on writing than on building or implementing a Bitcoin online commerce system on my site. The alternative? Outsource it! And that's exactly what I did. I set up an account on CoinDL and that is where you will find Journey to Yandol, and other stories available for purchase using your Bitcoin balance. Although this means I don't get the full purchase price, I still get a higher percentage than I earn on US Dollar sales through other online retailers.

The exchange rate changes often, as is true with other currencies, but as of this writing the book would cost about 0.089 BTC. If you have a Bitcoin balance built up and you're looking for ways to spend it, I hope you will consider getting an no-DRM electronic copy of Journey to Yandol, and other stories through CoinDL, where you will receive a ZIP file containing the book in PDF, ePUB, and .mobi formats.

By Stuart Whitmore