The Guardian points to a post on the blog of Paulo Coelho – multi-million selling author of The Alchemist and beloved of that guy you went to uni with who got this poncho when he went travelling in Peru on his gap year, thanks for noticing – in which he advocates heading over to Pirate Bay and downloading all of his books for free. Didn’t think of that one, did you publishing industry?
Of course, he couched it in the same mystical new age kablooey in which he dips his novels to ensure they carry the soothing scent of patchouli wherever the cosmos may take them:
‘Welcome to download my books for free and, if you enjoy them, buy a hard copy – the way we have to tell to the industry that greed leads to nowhere.
The Pirate Coelho’
How altruistic! How noble! How totally unaffected by having sold more than 100 million books worldwide and never needing to sell another one in order to continue living comfortably for the rest of your natural life! (Incidentally, don’t bother trying to fact check that claim – the footnote cited links to the biography page on Coelho’s own website which, hilariously, is now a link back to that same Wikipedia page).
That Guardian piece has some dubious reasoning from Coelho to back up his claim that free access to his books via piracy has actually seen physical sales spike: ‘The more often we hear a song on the radio, the keener we are to buy the CD. It’s the same with literature. The more people ‘pirate’ a book, the better. If they like the beginning, they’ll buy the whole book the next day, because there’s nothing more tiring than reading long screeds of text on a computer screen.’
Which seems specious, to say the least, without direct evidence of a causal link between piracy and future purchase. You could just as reasonably explain away the spike in sales by estimating that, of those 100 million sales, a fair percentage of readers liked Coelho’s books enough to recommend them to their friends, who then went on and bought them too, and recommended them to their friends, and so on, like the world’s most spiritual-but-not-religious pyramid scheme. You could also suggest that letting a song wear down your defences through a repetitious war of attrition until you acquiesce and just buy the damn album is not necessarily the mark of a music lover, and is a pretty strange comparison to draw with an entirely different method of consuming art.
Of course, most of all, you could take issue with who’s saying all this. It’s easy for Coelho to say that this business model is the future, just like it was easy for Radiohead to say that the ‘pay what you like’ method they employed with the 2007 release of In Rainbows was the future: they’ve made their mark, and their millions, and have a secure, captive audience. There’s no consideration made for those who’ll follow in their footsteps, or ideas floated of how to make a living in the arts when audiences are now conditioned to get everything they want for free.