Fans of the virtual currency Bitcoin have organized their own version of the nightmarish American shopping tradition known as Black Friday, recruiting a coalition of 100 merchants and counting to offer discounts on November 29th.
"Supporters of the math-based currency are rallying the internet to solidify Bitcoin’s place in the most mainstream sphere: the holiday shopping season," reads a press release from Fight for the Future, a digital rights advocacy group coordinating the campaign.
The virtual currency, which approximates cash on the internet without a central authority or bank, has had a fresh round of attention as its price soared above $700 last week and a Congressional committee signaled it would not attempt to outlaw the four-year-old money. The US government has prosecuted creators of digital currencies in the past, including E-Gold and Liberty Reserve, arguing that they were used for money laundering. Bitcoin advocates were worried their currency would have a similar fate, especially because it was used on the underground drug website Silk Road.
The volatile price of Bitcoin, which is traded on a number of exchanges for almost every other currency in the world, has discouraged some from spending it in the hopes that the value will go up. However, people who bought Bitcoin at the beginning of the year when it was cheaper are now finding they have a lot more money to spend on Christmas presents, says Holmes Wilson, co-founder of Fight for the Future.
"The price of one bitcoin doesn't matter."
"If you want to use bitcoin right now and experiment with it to buy something, the price of one bitcoin doesn't matter," he says. "You can get as much bitcoin as you want — it doesn't have to be a whole bitcoin — just as much as you need to make a purchase."
If you do want to buy something with bitcoin, the virtual shopping holiday would be a good time to do it. Merchants are offering a wide range of digital and physical goods including organic coffee, jewelry, underwear, solar panels, web hosting, handmade Moroccan carpets, and tax preparation services. The exact discounts have not been decided yet and vendors are still signing up, but GSM Nation will be offering unlocked phones and Reddit will have a deal on Reddit Gold.
The organizers are calling it Bitcoin Black Friday, a phrase that may evoke memories of market crashes. But the effort will bring positive attention to the fledgling currency, Wilson says. "People are going to need to band together around Bitcoin to make it mainstream if it's going to successfully overcome all the political challenges it faces." Perhaps it will have more success than Bitcoins for Christmas.