Bitcoin may no longer be a niche currency. A growing number of merchants, seeing the advantages of Bitcoin's near real-time, low-cost payment network, are beginning to accept the digital currency.
Bitcoin originally gained an audience among niche merchants, such as beekeepers and Alpaca-wool sock makers. But over time it started to attract the interest of mainstream merchants, such as the Wordpress online publshing platform.
Soon, many more merchants could start drinking the cryptocurrency Kool-Aid.
- Sacramento Kings. The California basketball team is working with BitPay, a company that provides e-commerce, business to business and enterprise services for virtual currency, to accept Bitcoin. Majority team owner Vivek Ranadive, who purchased the Kings in the summer last year, is focusing on technology investment and community partnerships. Ranadive told ESPN people will be able to buy team gear and tickets with bitcoins.
(What about Bitcoin for the Super Bowl? It's unlikely this year, since MetLife Stadium was once dubbed the "greenest stadium in the NFL" and the process of mining new bitcoins through the use of high-powered computers is a known energy hog.)
The Chicago Sun-Times. The ninth largest newspaper in the U.S. is testing Bitcoin on its site for 24 hours on February 1. The newspaper is using BitWall, a content monetization startup that lets readers purchase individual articles with bitcoins. Micropayments are one of Bitcoin's best bets for success, since small transactions are inexpensive to handle on the Bitcoin protocol.
Overstock.com. The company began accepting Bitcoin in early January, making it the first major online retailer to adopt the digital currency. Overstock uses Coinbase, a Bitcoin exchange and merchant services provider that works with Silicon Valley Bank in San Francisco. Bitcoin purchases amounted to about 4% of the retailer's average daily revenue, with 840 orders, many from new customers. Some suspect Overstock's move may push Amazon to accept Bitcoin as well.
- Zynga. The social game developer behind the popular Farmville game announced its acceptance of Bitcoin in early January. The company is working with BitPay to test bitcoins as an option for users buying virtual goods in its games. Many online games have their own forms of digital currency, such as the gold used in World of Warcraft. Last year, Amazon also created a digital currency, Amazon Coins, for use on its Kindle Fire tablets. But other companies have pulled out; Microsoft Corp. eliminated Microsoft Points when it launched the new Xbox One.
Even the nation's biggest banks are entertaining discussions on the digital currency.
Wells Fargo. The fourth largest bank by assets held a meeting on Jan. 14 with digital currency and payment systems experts to obtain a better understanding of Bitcoin and other alternative virtual currencies.
- Bank of America. Although banks in the U.S. have been reluctant to work with Bitcoin businesses, Bank of America published a research report in December that said digital currency could potentially become a "major means of payment for ecommerce."
(In December, CNN Money rustled up some controversy in the Bitcoin community, with a video on JPMorgan Chase's Bitcoin-killer patent. The patent application originated in 1999 but was recently renewed, causing one to wonder if Chase, already savvy on the advantages of a system like Bitcoin, might be willing to join the digital currency fray.)