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Another Way to Understand Twilight and Authors

Apparently Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, started writing a version of the series from a different character’s (Edward’s) point of view and the early, incomplete draft was leaked onto the Internet. Jacqui Lipton’s post about Stephenie Meyer’s “reaction to the unauthorized release” of her partial draft reveals another way to think about what is going on here. I followed the link to Ms. Meyer’s post about the problem. I was quite surprised to see that Ms. Meyer has posted the draft on her web site while also expressing her view about reading the draft:

I’d rather my fans not read this version of Midnight Sun. It was only an incomplete draft; the writing is messy and flawed and full of mistakes. But how do I comment on this violation without driving more people to look for the illegal posting? It has taken me a while to decide how and if I could respond. But to end the confusion, I’ve decided to make the draft available here (at the end of this post). This way, my readers don’t have to feel they have to make a sacrifice to stay honest. I hope this fragment gives you further insight into Edward’s head and adds a new dimension to the Twilight story. That’s what inspired me to write it in the first place.

Why post the draft? One could simply ask readers not to read the draft floating around the Internet. Note that Ms. Meyer explicitly does not want to drive people to the unauthorized work. To me this move seems like a way to re-capture the attention that might have gone the sites with the download. In that sense, she may be using her reputation and attention power to undercut the benefits that may flow from unauthorized distribution. Of course there may be sales problems here as some may have been willing to pay even for the rough draft. But that idea probably does not cut off the usual claim that leaking will harm the final market. I would be surprised if those who read the early manuscript will not be more than happy to buy the final draft. In other words, the law often claims that the harm in such leaking or copying is that the unauthorized version is a substitute for the full work which I don’t think is the case.

To be clear, I think Ms. Meyer doesn’t want people to read the draft. But faced with the draft being out there, her response is simply a wise strategy. She tells her fans 1) Don’t read it 2) If you have to read it, read it from my site, 3) Reading from my site is a way to stay “honest” and not “sacrifice” (I am not sure what is being sacrificed but I think it is integrity or loyalty to the author) which means not fueling those who are taking value away from her.

There is an extra point here. When Ms. Meyer says she can’t continue with the book, she is giving honest information to her fans: certain acts (i.e., unauthorized copying and distribution of her work) upset her. In fact, they upset her enough that she will not finish the work in question. I don’t think this point is a threat. And, regardless of motivation, the move tells fans how she wants to interact with them. Insofar as there is relationship with her fans, Ms. Meyer has communicated what she expects. A Rebecca Tushnet pointed out in the comments to Jacqui’s post, there are already “over 100,000 Twilight stories–some of them from Edward’s perspective–available at fanfiction.net. How Ms. Meyer feels about those stories may differ from how she feels about her draft being distributed without permission. So as Jacqui points out this one is personal, but I think it may also be professionally wise.

P.S. Those interested in more on how reputation and attention will be a key asset in an online world may want to read my essay Individual Branding: How the Rise of Individual Creation and Distribution of Cultural Products Confuses the Intellectual Property System.