The Internet's Half-Million Dollar Man : The Record How singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton made big bucks without the help of a record company.
NPR logo The Internet's Half-Million Dollar Man

The Internet's Half-Million Dollar Man

On Friday, Alex Blumberg, one of our buddies over at Planet Money, reported on the story of singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton. Coulton's a former computer programmer who has managed to translate a love of office-based geek humor and an affinity for melodic folk pop into an Internet success story.

His success has been astonishing, actually, especially since Coulton's story isn't new — he broke in 2006 when the tech web site Slashdot featured one of his songs, called "Code Monkey." Blumberg reports that Coulton brought in almost $500,000 in 2010. Much of that money came in through his website, where fans can download songs directly from the musician himself.

On that website, Coulton calls himself — with his tongue somewhere in the vicinity of his cheek — "an internet superstar." But Coulton's done almost nothing that would make you call him a rock star. And he's stayed about as far away from the traditional record label model as a person who pulls in half a million dollars in a year for performing and selling music can.

That he's making this much money "is absurd," he tells Blumberg. But is it meaningful for anyone but Coulton? Or is his luck, and the preparedness that allowed him to capitalize on that luck, a feat that's impossible to replicate? Even if it is, his success means that other musicians will probably line up to try.