Amazon Gift Certificates: A New Currency?

Via Ars Technica:

Blame it on inflation or the prevalence of credit and debit cards, but it's getting hard to find places that still take loose change. Even some parking meters and slot machines have moved to paper money or contactless payments. Despite the coin's lowly status, Coinstar's made a name for itself with its automated coin-counting service, and online retailer's taken notice. Starting this week, both companies will team up on the Coin to Card program, which lets customers exchange money into gift certificates redeemable at Amazon. Amazon will provide its gift certificates to Coinstar at a volume discount, allowing the processor to recoup its normal 8.9 percent cut of each transaction.

People used to consider airline miles basically an alternative currency. That is, until they started placing restrictions on what you could use miles for and changing the mileage you had to use to pay for a given trip on a whim. Still, credit cards that provide airline miles are quite popular.

I noticed that starting a couple years back many open source developers started asking for people to buy them stuff off their Amazon wishlist instead of payments with Paypal. Now I have an Amazon wish list that I keep up to date and I just point people there when they ask me what I want for my birthday or Christmas or whatever. I've even convinced my sister to put up a wishlist. For once in my life, I'm buying people birthday presents *before* the day before their birthday! I'm also spending less money because I don't have to "pad" quite so much to know I'm getting them something they want.

Amazon has had a credit card for quite a while that pays you back in Amazon stuff. I'd have one if the interest rate weren't so high (not that I keep a balance on my credit cards, but you never know when you'll have to). Now, with Coinstar paying people in Amazon gift cards, it seems like Amazon dollars are becoming more of an alternative currency than airline miles. Now if only they would denominate their gift cards in gold grams :)

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Everything seems to remind

Everything seems to remind me of Hayek these days.

You get $1, as it says in

You get $1, as it says in the article I linked to. Amazon pays Coinstar their cut as a marketing expense. Also, I'm surprised you read Catallarchy and call something like Coinstar's fees "embezzling." It is not theft because your use of the service is entirely voluntary. Obviously many people share your view that Coinstar's fees are too high, though, hence the innovation. I used to think their fees were too high until I thought of the extra time that I was taking in making exact change to get rid of my excess change. Now I leave it at work and use it in the vending machines. If I accumulate too much I'll use Coinstar.

If I put in 4 quarters

If I put in 4 quarters ($1.00), how much is the amazon credit? $1.00, or something less? I don't like coinstar because it embezzles - if I have 20 nickels, I want $1, not 0.92.
I was at the laundromat last night, feeding my quarters into the machine, when i got one that wasn't a quarter. What is this?, I thought. Turned out to be a Lewis and Clark nickel, first one I'd seen.
Next to paypal, which some people don't like for whatever reason, maybe including a lot of spam that pretends to be from paypal, maybe because they have restrictions on porn or bazookas or elephants or something,
Amazon is the most popular net currency. is a distant third.
1913 to 2013 was an odd time historically in that people tended to use government-issued currencies instead of private sector ones. (I'm treating FRN's as government for this purpose.) It's been a disaster most of the time, with hyperinflation or mere inflation robbing people of the value of the currency they hold over the long term. Short-term, it usually works pretty well, so people keep falling for it. Paypal and Amazon tend to be still dollar-denominated, although I think there are some options. At some point, if and when somebody comes up with an online currency that is seen as a more reliable medium of exchange than the US dollar, then the US will get a shock when people dump the now less-useful dollars. Sure, the float from issuing dollars is only a small part of the money supply, which is mostly about credit, but it's a factor.