Coelho finds the perfect alchemy of print and digital

By Jeff Jarvis*

Paulo Coelho certainly has nothing against selling books. He has sold an astounding 100m copies of his novels. But he also believes in giving them away. He is a pirate. Coelho discovered the power of free when a fan posted a Russian translation of one of his novels online and book sales there climbed from 3,000 to 100,000 to 1m in three years. “This happened in English, in Norwegian, in Japanese and Serbian,” he said. “Now when the book is released in hard copy, the sales are spectacular.”

So Coelho started linking to pirated versions of his books from his own website. But when he bragged about this at the Burda Digital Lifestyle Design conference in Munich last January, he got in trouble with his US publisher, HarperCollins, whose then head, Jane Friedman, called him.
Friedman had caught Coelho red-handed – one of the supposedly unauthorised versions he linked to had the author’s own notes in it. “She said, ‘Paulo, come on, don’t shit me’.” He was pirating himself.

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For Coelho, digital is about relationships. The internet always is – and he is revelling in the new connections it gives him with his readers. He loves to meet them face-to-face. He mentioned on his blog that he’d like to invite a few readers to a party in a remote town in Spain and he was shocked that they were willing to fly in from as far away as Japan. Now he regularly invites readers to his parties.

“What should I do next?” he asked me in Paris. I was flummoxed because he’s doing so much. Then I suggested that the next time he’s in a cafe and bored, he should send a message to his fans via Twitter and his blog and I’ll just bet a few will be in the neighbourhood and will drop by to share a cup of coffee. For Coelho is not just an author to them now. He’s a friend.

*Jeff Jarvis is a journalism professor at the City University of New York and blogs at buzzmachine.com

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