Friday, October 13, 2006

The Diet of Worms, Q and Wu Ming

I love the BBC's In Our Time, podcast. This week's topic - the Diet of Worms:
Nestled on a bend of the River Rhine, in the South West corner of Germany, is the City of Worms. It’s one of the oldest cities in central Europe; it still has its early city walls, its 11th century Romanesque cathedral and a 500-year-old printing industry, but in its centre is a statue of the monk, heretic and founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. In 1521 Luther came to Worms to explain his attacks on the Catholic Church to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and the gathered dignitaries of the German lands. What happened at that meeting, called the Diet of Worms, tore countries apart, set nation against nation, felled kings and plunged dynasties into suicidal bouts of infighting.
I thought of Q right away. The story dynamics take on an overly Marxist tone, but unsurprising given the interesting authorship -- Luther Blissett was an Italian writers' collective that professed adherence to socialist principles. They've since made "Luther Blissett" commit literary ritual suicide, added a fifth member and returned as "Wu Ming" with another historical thriller called 54.

Believing that current copyright laws restrict creativity and enrich publishers at the expense of the public, Wu Ming has made their work available online for free, non-commercial use. To them it makes business sense too: if you make the work as widely available as possible at negligible cost, you could improve the chances of someone shelling out money for a copy. Even if readers don't buy a copy, they are more likely to say good things about the work to others i.e. word of mouth advertising. Does it actually work? Consider that hundreds of titles flood bookstores everywhere every month. Bookshelf space is scarce and highly contested. In a competitive market desperate for eyeballs, Wu Ming's approach doesn't seem as crazy.

(Downloading and printing Q out also allowed me to carry around just a couple of pages at any one time, lightening my bag.)

So here you go. Q is apocalyptic and engaging. I downloaded 54 today and have high hopes. You can download both copies off the Wu Ming website. Other than time, ink and paper, what have you got to lose?

Oh yes, and subscribe to In Our Time.

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