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Is This Man a Thief or a Do-Gooder?

Some interesting e-mails turn up in the Freakonomics in-box. Here’s a recent one:

I downloaded your book FREAKONOMICS on Limewire. Can I pay you something for this great book? Call it guilt or trying to use file sharing in an honest way, but I’d like to pay you something.

This is also an experiment in how accessible famous people are. I guess that makes you famous. I am not. I may not even get past your spam filter. I hope I do.

If you feel it is worth your while to respond, let me know if Paypal would work for you.

If you can reveal what you get per book from the publisher I want to better that amount.

Good luck. Keep writing and let’s hope that distribution gets better and authors get rewarded.

Victoria BC

Here’s how I replied:

Hi [NAME]. Thanks for asking. The combined share that Levitt and I receive from a hard copy of the book is a bit under $4; I think it’s less, however, for the electronic version. But if you were to pay *us*, why shouldn’t you pay the publisher? After all, their costs are just as legitimate as ours, right? That would bring the price to roughly $14. And then what about contributing to the distributor who got excluded — that’s got to be another $2 or $3. In other words, why should we be the only ones to get the offer of your generosity — are we simply more appealing b/c we’re the creator of the work? Adam Smith wouldn’t have liked that thinking. 🙂 Anyway … If you really want to give $4 to us, I’d suggest you make a charitable donation in the name of Freakonomics. That would make everyone really happy (except, maybe, our publisher). All best, SJD

Adam Smith probably wouldn’t have been very happy with my reply either — who am I to surrender $4 so willingly, to some charity I have no interest in? If 100 people wrote in the same week or month, I certainly wouldn’t have forfeited all of their offers. But it hardly seemed worth it to cash in just this one. Remember what happened to Jerry Seinfeld when he took the trouble to endorse all those tiny Japanese royalty checks?