PARIS (Reuters Life!) - The promotional power of piracy and artistic merits of blogging are among the themes to be discussed by bestselling author Paulo Coelho in his opening address to the Frankfurt Book Fair this week.
The 61-year-old Brazilian writer behind titles such as “The Alchemist” and “Eleven Minutes” is gaining a reputation as a digital pioneer for his enthusiastic embrace of online media.
Coelho maintains a personal blog as well as profiles across several social networking sites. He uses the mobile blogging tool “Twitter’ and regularly uploads videos to YouTube under the heading Privacy Zero. A few years ago, he even started distributing digital versions of his books for free over the internet. Reuters Television correspondent for technology, Matt Cowan, spoke to the author at his Paris home.
Q: What is the main reason you do all of this?
A: Fun. It’s such a pleasure to do this. I’m not a person that socializes very well. I don’t go to cocktail parties. I don’t go to parties in general. I discovered this fantastic world behind the web that helps me a lot as far as a professional, as a writer.
Q: How does it help you?
A: Not only is it a way to remain engaged but the basics of any writing is people and human conflicts. People are very reluctant to talk about their private lives but then you go to the internet and they’re much more open. Of course they have a persona. You never know if it’s true or not true but at the end of the day, even the persona has a good story to tell.
Q: Why do you think blogging is worthwhile?
A: If you asked the monks in Medieval times what they thought about Gutenberg and the press, they’d say “oh, what is the validity of having some printed books? We’re here, we’re printing, we’re designing every single letter with beautiful calligraphy. This is art. This is sacred and the printing process that Gutenberg invented is nothing.’ I think we are in the same situation now. People can show and express what they feel through images, text and movies. Everybody has a creative potential and from the moment you can express this creative potential, you can start changing the world.
Q: You didn’t set out to become a digital pioneer though.
A: At the very beginning it was to get information to write books and then you feel owe something, you’re getting but you’re not giving. And then you start giving, and then you realize how important it is to give away. If you go to my blog you’ll see a lot of free things. And does this keep me selling less or more books? Nobody knows. I’m going to The Frankfurt Book Fair to talk exactly about that. I don’t know if it sells books, but I know that I’m sharing my soul. This is the goal of any artist.
Q: Excited about multimedia as an alternative to books?
A: As a writer, I’m excited about experiencing everything.
I have just made a movie with my readers. For one year, I took one of my books “The Witch of Portobello” and I said “you have to choose one character and make a movie out of it. And we had over 6,000 people participate in this contest. And I had to select 15, and I selected 15 and we have a fantastic movie.
Q: Why are you so interested in social networking sites?
A: It’s not like I’m tired of writing books. But I am excited to write for new platforms because this challenges you to use new languages. You have to be direct. I am very direct in my books, but still the internet has a different structure of writing. And I’m learning. This is what excites me. It’s like I’m in a new realm now. Without leaving my book writing behind, I am expanding my universe.
Q: Tell me about the idea behind Privacy Zero.
A: The idea behind Privacy Zero is that privacy zero is a reality. You don’t have a private life anymore. So I started putting videos of things that happen to me (on YouTube). Of course the first reaction from the so-called marketing people in publishing houses is “this is wrong - you have to keep an aura of mystery. You should be in an ivory tower, nobody should know what you’re doing’ and I said okay but then I’m not going to have fun.
Q: Do you worry about your security or unbalanced fans?
A: John Lennon was killed before the internet. If you think about these things you don’t do anything. So, yes, you have to take risks.
Q: What is the significance of HarperCollins’s decision to make free electronic versions of some of its books?
A: I had this great CEO at HarperCollins Jane Friedman. I got a call from her and I said I cannot take it back (mentioning at a conference that he was making his books available for free through his website). I said let’s solve the problem, let’s not go back to the past. HarperCollins developed this browsing site where you can read the book but you cannot download the book. So I say, “phew.”
Editing by Paul Casciato