Exclusive: Paulo Coelho at Davos – on SOPA, piracy and life as an artist

Paulo Coelho, the world famous author of The Pilgrimage, The Alchemist and many other works which have in many ways become an inspiration for entrepreneurs, gave an exclusive and rare interview to TechCrunch at the World Economic Forum in Davos last night, the recording of which is published below. Coelho and I had previously been moderators at a dinner curated by Loic Le Meur on the future of social status and the interview took place in a taxi to another venue. (My write-up from the dinner will come later, suffice it to say that it was most entertaining and enlightening).

Coelho last gave an interview to Mike Arrington in 2008 where he said “MySpace Is My wife, Facebook Is my mistress”.

Coelho has oft-repeated his view that artists and artistic works do no suffer when they are copied, quite the opposite. Their distribution becomes greater and the artist comes off better as a result. Coelho has even taken to pirating his own books on The Pirate Bay.

What is interesting about our interview is his continuing vehement repudiation of the traditional book publishing industry’s response to the new platform of the Internet.

He discovered this when in 1999, a novel of his was first published in Russia. The publishers didn’t have enough paper to publish his books and meet the demand so the book ended up being shared on the Internet by enthusiasts.

He initially sold 3,000 books. After the pirated copy came out online in 2000 he sold 10,000 books, then 100,000 in 2001 – and in 2002 over one million were sold in Russia.

“You cannot be greedy, ignorant. Good content does not need defence. People want to support you,” he told me.

He said people bough the printed books after sampling the electronic pirated versions. But, I asked, what if e-readers like the iPad became as good as paper to read from?

He explained:

“This will happen sooner or later… it’s not about quality. The book business is in a transition point, they should realise. They keep having reunions, meetings. Content is hanging for every writer. But you write books, you write blogs, you write tweets, posts for Facebook. And this is a new way of seeing literature, and not only printed books. The problem with the industry is that they still don’t realise that. They try to stop something that is happening naturally.

“They [traditional print publishers] can’t [stop technology], because at the end of the day what gave us the Renaissance? It was technology. It was Gutenburg with a new technology. The same is happening now – a new Renaissance. And people are scared like the Church was in the 16th century with the invention of the book because the first the people did was to print the Bible. From the moment that the Bible was printed, well – there are no more hidden secrets. Everyone can read, everyone can interact with the Bible, everyone can have his or her own interpretation. So, a gigantic revolution in arts and the way that you see the world was thanks to a technological invention.”

“What I’m not sure [of] is that people are realising this… They try to romanticise the past and live in a very romantic present. We are living in a turning point where technology can really make a difference for culture, for art, for a lot of things.”

He referenced his recent blog post: My thoughts on S.O.P.A. where he talks about the legislation’s threat to the Internet.

He says people say he is rich enough now to have such views on online piracy. His response is that he does not write for the money. He writes because, an an artist, he must write.

“People say ‘you are rich enough.’ But I say ‘No!’ – when I write I do not think about making money, because nobody thinks about making money when they write a book. We want to be heard. [In the] Soviet Union they used to publish their books for free because they wanted to be read and to express their values. The artist wants to be understood.

“The artist is going to be paid as a consequence. But this is not the main goal, the main goal – why you paint a painting or why you write a book or why you create music – you ant to express your soul. Then if it is good, it is going to prevail.”

Interview with Paulo Coelho by mikebutcher