The Internet was a very different place a decade ago, as this piece illustrates. The public was still wrapping its head around the concept that you could produce something enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people and not get anything for it. While services like YouTube have gotten better about sharing the bounty, we are still seeing the big social media services hoover up profits that used to go to creative individuals.
Speaking of which, this was the last piece I wrote for Forbes, unless I'm missing one. When I tried to track down the editors I had worked with, they had all been fired. That sort of thing used to happen a lot.
Judson Laipply's act has been seen by nearly 100 million people. Matt Drudge boasts a daily audience of 25 million. Sen. Dick Durbin's mail from constituents in Illinois shot up 700%.
Those huge audience numbers impress us. There is strength in numbers because they exude a power, implying fame, wealth and significance. Nothing testifies more to the popularity of an entertainer, the success of a Web site or the significance of a cause than counting the millions of people who are paying attention.
But how much should they impress us? What do those big figures mean in a digital age, and do we tend to give them more importance than they actually deserve?
Take Judson Laipply. His name probably means nothing to you, but odds are you've seen his "The Evolution of Dance," a six-minute clip of the trim, balding Clevelander gyrating to 30 snippets of songs that long topped the YouTube chart of most-watched videos of all time--viewed a staggering 99,451,300 times and counting.
If those were record sales, it would be equivalent to the splash the Beatles made in 1964.
But 100 million YouTube views are not record sales or movie tickets or a network TV audience. Laipply makes no money from his online success, at least not directly.
Someone does profit from all those eyeballs--YouTube runs ads for Revlon and Circuit City and other top companies. But its split with content providers such as Laipply remains 100/0, so the only benefit the motivational speaker received was indirect.