I want to be Napstered.
I want millions of people to exchange this column peer to peer. I want them to burn me on CDs and read me at parties. At even a few cents per column, I want to lose millions, make that billions of dollars in potential income to “pirates” who read my stuff without the publisher’s permission and even sample it into other works.
Now I’ll admit that ClickZ’s publishers, Andy and Ann, may disagree with me on this. If y’all are trading copies of this column among yourselves, there’s no way to count the ads on it. The circulation is lost. (Remember Alan Meckler’s desire for a tool to count “pass along” email readership? He’s worried, too.)
David Broder may not be amused either. The Washington Post pays Mr. Broder quite well, and if it can’t monetize his work, its shareholders will be very unhappy. Worse, if you Napster one of his classic books, such as “Democracy Derailed,” he’ll lose royalties directly. He would much rather you go here and buy the thing.
Now you see the whole Napster issue. If you’re unknown, Napster holds the promise of making you known. If you’re already well known, Napster may keep you from making all the money you might earn from being known.
Might I hypocritically change my mind, once Napster has made me very, very famous, and turn on the tool that made me? That’s not likely. Because if Napster made me famous, I know I could make a good living off that fame. If I were famous, my books would sell well, even if they were Napstered. If I were famous, I could make thousands of dollars for each “speech and greet,” the way other famous people do. If I were famous, I’d be on TV, I’d have an agent, and that agent would make me a ton of money (or I’d get myself a new agent).
So whom does Napster really hurt? It hurts established publishers and those whose fame and fortune are tied to established channels of distribution. Whom does it help? It helps anyone who is outside that system.
The fact is, moreover, that I’ve been Napstered, or, more precisely, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get Napstered ever since the web was spun. Anyone who deals in text can have his or her stuff downloaded, copied, and traded around in emails without compensation.
The border is reached when someone frames your stuff (and takes your ad revenue) or when someone republishes it without permission (claiming they own it) or when someone sticks their name on it (claiming they wrote it).
It’s not easy finding these thieves (some get away with it), but many are found, and such stealing isn’t a long-term business proposition anyway. It’s my ability to come up with these words, not the words themselves, that makes me valuable.
So Napster me, please. Burn me in a CD and package me. Quote me, copy me, and download me to your heart’s content. I’ll thank you for it.