How publishers can exploit “virtual currencies”

Given that publishing economics are pretty topical at the moment, this video embedded in this post from GalleyCat last Thursday seems either alarmingly prescient or laughably silly, depending on your viewpoint.

Here’s the thesis in a nutshell: those mind-numbingly infuriating and spammy Farmville games your friends play on Facebook are surprisingly good at generating income for their creators, so publishers should take a leaf from the same book to spice up their own online offerings. The theory does come from the president of a company called Orca which specialises in developing virtual currencies for corporations, so a certain bias in favour of the idea is to be expected…

Here’s an excerpt (which I’ve excerpted in turn from GalleyCat’s post – yay, lazyweb!):

“They convert [virtual currencies] at prices that are not easily divided–one dollar gives you 33 credits [for example] … People don’t necessarily think, ‘it cost me 42-cents to send my friend a virtual beer.’ I think when the publishing industry starts thinking about how they chunk up content–whether it be articles or chapters–it shouldn’t be a debate of whether an article is worth one dollar or three dollars. An article should cost 43 credits.”

My immediate instinct is that this idea stinks, though that’s probably due to my kneejerk loathing of Farmville, Mafia Wars et al; maybe there’ll be a way to graft virtual currencies onto the publishing ecosystem without introducing the intrusive “social” aspects (read as “spamming”) and underhand pricing structures that seem to inform such games, which I suspect wouldn’t gel well with the book-buying demographic. But then again, if you get rid of those aspects of the system, you’ll probably never make a dime with it… so it’s back to the drawing board, I guess.