amazon coinsAmazon launched its first digital currency today with a giveaway: 500 free Amazon Coins for every Kindle Fire customer. The coins, which are worth $5, can buy games, apps, and in-app purchases.

Kindle Fire customers who wish to buy apps or make in-app purchases can purchase Amazon Coins at a rate of 100 for every $1, but they can also get up to a 10 percent discount. Buying 10,000 coins earns you the full discount, and will cost Amazon customers $90.

One caveat: Amazon Coins are only available in the U.S. right now.

“Today is Day One for Coins,” Amazon VP of apps and games Mike George said in a statement. “We will continue to add more ways to earn and spend Coins on a wider range of content and activities.”


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Amazon Kindle Fire

Above: Amazon Kindle Fire

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Amazon announced the virtual currency back in February, when the company also said it would give away tens of millions of dollars worth of free Coins to customers. That’s a hint about the number of Kindle Fires sold — 10 million Kindle Fires would account for $50 million in free coins — as Amazon has never given device sales figures.

Virtual currencies can be useful for gift purposes, for children’s allowances, and for, perhaps, making it easer for customers to spend actual money since they may feel they are only spending virtual money. However, it is another layer of complexity, both for people and for the company issuing the currency, and mobile competitors Apple and Google have not released virtual currencies.

One of Amazon’s biggest goals is expanding the sale of digital content.

A full 12 of the 15 business highlights the company chose to include in its first-quarter 2013 annual earnings release were digital-content related. And that’s what Amazon Coins is all about: increasing the sale of virtual goods, which don’t have to be warehoused, packaged, mailed, and delivered.

As Mike George said:

“We are giving Kindle Fire owners $5 worth of Coins to spend on new apps and games, or to purchase in-app items, such as recipes in iCookbook, song collections in SongPop or mighty falcon bundles in Angry Birds: Star Wars.”

One important point for developers: They’ll receive their full 70 percent revenue share when customers buy items with Amazon Coins, even if the users earned a 10 percent discount on their initial coin purchase.

Image credit: Brian Sawyer/Flickr

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