The Sporadic Beaver

A Radical Idea for Selling Books

September 30, 2011

Tags: Paulo Coelho, free books

Paulo Coelho photo by Xavier González.
Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian novelist best known for his book The Alchemist, which has sold 65-million copies worldwide. What sets Coelho apart from virtually every other working writer on the planet is that he pirates his own work on his own website. Ideas, he believes, should be free, and books should be available to people who can't afford to buy them. The only thing Coelho asks of readers who download his free novels is that if they like the book, and can afford it, they should then buy a copy to send a message to the book-publishing industry that "sharing contents is not life threatening."

I’m a working writer who has an opinion about everything, but when I read about Coelho’s sales strategy in The New York Times the other day, it left me speechless. If I were to call any of my publishers, in any country, and tell them that I’d like to try increasing sales by making Beaver Street and Nowhere Man available for free, I don’t think they’d say, “Great idea! Let’s do it!” Even a radical, freethinking publisher like Headpress.

But I’m not about to make such a phone call. Because as often as I’ve proven that I’m willing to go anywhere and do anything to sell books, and as much as I like the idea of disseminating my work to people who can’t afford to buy it, the idea of making it available for free to anybody frightens me. I’m too cynical to have the kind of faith in the human race that Paulo Coelho has.

And yet, he’s sold tens of millions of books and I haven’t. Which only means I have something new (and frightening) to think about over this first weekend of the year 5772.