“[Discovering Bitcoin] was totally as part of my job,” he says. “I found when researching Bitcoin, it was which wave did you get in on. And I got in on the one I think most people did, which was in the spring of 2013.”
Popper has become the de Facto authority on Bitcoin in the traditional press, covering several major stories as the nascent currency came to light. He’s been all over the world investigating Bitcoin-related news, including mining operations in China and Iceland, and more recently to Argentina. Speaking of how Bitcoin became his main topic, he says:
The Times had not really covered it at all up to that point. I think there was a sense around the Times that this wasn’t really serious, that it was, you know, some weird online speculative thing The first story we wrote was actually about the Winklevoss twins and their Bitcoin fortune, which they hadn’t previously gone public with. And so we wrote about them and, you know, how they built that up, and how much it was, but also that was right at the time where price was running up, so there was a lot of interest in, you know, sort of Bitcoin millionaires. People who’d gotten in early and made some money. […] I mean, people were just so fascinated by it. I hadn’t taken it that seriously, but, you know, it went on the front page and was the most read story. And people were so fascinated by it, that it kind of woke me up.
It wasn’t long after that, book agents began to approach Popper about writing a book on “the Bitcoin thing.” One may think it’d make more sense for them to approach an expert, a fact which Popper readily admits, but indeed when you write about the New York Times, especially on a new subject, you can quickly become the authority. At first, Popper felt unready to write such a book, and he told the agents as much.
It took many months for me to think that this was something that was going to last and that mattered in some way, that could matter in some way. […] For the first several months, [to the book agents] I said no, I just don’t want to tie myself to something that could disappear so quickly and so easily.
But, as time went on, Bitcoin sort of became his main subject. He decided that if he were going to write a book, it would be about the truly interesting part of Bitcoin: the people involved in it.
By the spring of 2014, I had covered it, and sort of dived in enough, that I realized this was just sort of an incredible world to explore. And, you know, for me, as a journalist, this wasn’t a matter of do I think Bitcoin should be worth X amount of dollars or, you know, do I believe in Bitcoin, it was, is there something interesting and important here? And I think that’s what I came around to and ultimately realized, you know, there is a real story to tell here. This is an important thing. The community that’s built around it and sort of what the technology is and what it stand for.
The book that Popper eventually produced is called Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money. It is published by HarperCollins and available for Bitcoin via Overstock, a point which Popper says HarperCollins took very seriously, knowing that many in the Bitcoin community would resent a situation where a new book about the subject couldn’t even be purchased by the currency. A portion of the audio interview with Mr. Popper will appear in today’s podcast, so be on the lookout for that.