Best Selling Author Actively Pirating His Own Book — Finds It Helps Sales Tremendously

from the the-benefits-of-free dept

We’ve been seeing more and more examples lately of content creators recognizing how they benefit from giving away their content for free. What’s most amusing, however, is that every time we point out an example, people work extra hard explaining why that case is a special case. When we discussed less-well-known musicians giving away music, we were told that it would never work for megastars. When we discussed megastars giving away music, we were told it would never work for indie musicians. The same is true in other areas as well. When we recently wrote about an author giving his book away for free, someone angrily emailed to let us know that this only made sense because no one had ever heard of that author — so it was purely a promotional effort by a new author.

Yet, apparently, it also works for well-known authors. TorrentFreak points us to the news that Paulo Coelho is such a fan of giving his book away for free that he’s even set up his own blog called Pirate Coehlo where he points to where you can download various translations of his best selling book The Alchemist. Coelho explained all of this in a recent talk he gave:

What Coelho quickly discovered was that the more his book was available for free, the more sales of the actual book increased. As an example, he cites the Russian translation of his book, where it went from only 1,000 sales to well over 100,000 in a period of two years, and has only continued to grow since then. It’s yet another good example of someone embracing how giving away content for free can help them earn more money. And, it highlights (again) that, whether you’re well known or a nobody, you can use these tactics to your advantage.

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Comments on “Best Selling Author Actively Pirating His Own Book — Finds It Helps Sales Tremendously”

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Joey says:

just a thought

While I don’t disagree with you at all, I do want to play devil’s advocate on one aspect here.

I can see that this structure works quite well for authors as the majority of people absorb the content through reading of an actual book. So, people find the author online, view the pirated material, realize that they would like to read the book at their own leisure (and not tied to the screen) and then purchase it.

As I have been typing this and thinking it through further, I wonder how much the model benefits musicians. Does one side of the business model (electronic distribution) get hampered while helping the other side (cd sales)? Or are both helped by the process?


Mike (profile) says:

Re: just a thought

As I have been typing this and thinking it through further, I wonder how much the model benefits musicians. Does one side of the business model (electronic distribution) get hampered while helping the other side (cd sales)? Or are both helped by the process?

With music, they need to adopt a somewhat different set of business models, as we’ve described.

R. H. (profile) says:

Re: just a thought

With music I could see giving away 64 or maybe 128kbps mp3 files, possibly with ads at the beginning and/or end and then anyone who wants to listen to the music at a higher quality or without said ads would have to buy it somewhere. I understand that the ads could be easily removed however, how many people will do that rather than simply paying for a higher quality, ad-free version?

Geoffrey Transom (profile) says:

Re: just a thought

The point is, artists are NOT the ones who profit from copyright – LABELS profit.

The internet is a terrific tool for undermining the parasitic shitbags who interpose themselves between creators of content and viewers of content.

Every industry, every political system has a layer of bullshit artists – parasites whose job is to raise prices in order that they can pocket the difference between the cost of production and the (rigged) final price.

There are any number of examples of musicians who create content, provide it at whatever price the viewer is willing to pay (including “zero”), and make more than enough to cover their expenses (Nine Inch Nails are the most-cited example).

The marginal cost of a digital copy of a CD or DVD is ZERO, or as near to zero as makes no odds. Under a competitive system, prices equal marginal costs.

If artists can find people who are prepared to pay more than marginal cost, then that is perfectly alright – effectively, some consumers are prepared to voluntarily donate some of their ‘consumer surplus’ to the artists as a gesture of goodwill.

That is fine (noble, even) and I have done that myself from time to time. But I understood what I was doing: paying more than marginal cost, and giving up (part of) my subjective evaluation of how much it was worth TO ME.

To insist that everyone pays more than marginal cost undermines the fabric of a genuinely competitive economic system. It is the behaviour of monopolists, and monopoly is always and everywhere subject to being ‘undermined’ by the market… which is why the first port of call for any monopolist (when they face market pressure) is to call in the state and its goon squads.

Caedite Eos.



Online Sports Betting (profile) says:

Re: Re: just a thought

Labels are evil, I agree, but your argument omits the fact that people steal works of all artists, even from independent artists. Take Nine Inch Nails example. They might sell their sons or albums elsewhere on the internet for a nominal price that they feel is fair; yet on a P2P network people exchange that same music for free without the consent of Nine Inch Nails. Is it fair for them? Of course not.

What is needed is a revolutionary concept, one centralized online market place where artists can sell their work. This place must be free or based on donations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: time for a new arguement?

“It’s a bit like arguing with creationists, really..”

Actually it’s worse. Because

“widespread and open P2P sharing across all forms of media would almost certainly be detrimental”

is already here.

That’s what I don’t get about idiots touting they can’t compete with free. You’re doing it right now every day.

drummer says:

Baen Free Library

On the first page of the Baen Free Library, sci fi author Eric Flint boldly explains why they have the free library and why it has worked to many many authors’ benefit. Both Baen and the authors have made quite a bit of money from giving books away for free. Why is this so difficult for some people to understand….

I personally read a lot of books on my PDA as do many of my friends – and, no, we are not “youngsters” per se, as we’re in our 40’s & 50’s.

As a consequence of reading several of the free books and getting exposed to some different authors, we have all purchased quite a few books.

I have found myself doing something similar with music sites that let me listen to free samples and list suggestions of similar music.

The model really does work.

Iron Chef says:

Agreed, here's a usecase...

Recently I found this book called “The Areas of My Expertise” by satirist John Hodgman. It’s definitely satire, and his type appeals to the “well read”.

During my search, I was a little dissappointed when I found that Apple had posted the audio version of it online for free for a week or two.

The process that ensued thereafter was interesting- I bought the audio version, and also picked up the print version (to proudly display on my desk at work next to my growing library of HBR-published works.)

So yes, it worked out well as a promotional item. Probably better than any other way…

I can’t wait until the Writer’s Strike Ends. Neither can Colbert.

Jim Yiapanis says:

Why books will always reign...

As much as people will continue to consume snippets, exerpts, summaries and more online, there are a few practical considerations as to why bookshelves will always be in demand…

Electronic devices continue to have robust energy requirements, be susceptiple to damage and simply not as user friendly as a physical book. Books are indeed the ultimate mobile platform, accessible anywhere anytime.

Electronic content will augment and compliment well into the foreseeable future…


Allen Harkleroad (user link) says:

I too went the Free Book route

Last month I began giving away the digital version
of my search engine book,
Confidential SEO
. I have been quite happily surprised at the number of voluntary
domains I have received. I made it very easy for visitors to download the book
(no registration) and it is the complete book, not just a couple of chapters.

Anonymous Coward says:

You can’t pirate your own content.

Is free a business model? Of course it is, many have been using it for years. Hell, there is a famous razor company that gave away the shaver while selling the blades. Free is nothing new.

I have no problem with the free issue, I do have a problem with taking the content of those that choose to not go with that business model. Techdirt does seem to support the taking of that content.

I look at it like this. Walmart has a business strategy of selling at low prices. Nordstroms doesn’t. There may be the exact same items in both stores (although I doubt it) but do I have a right to walk out of Nordstroms while only paying Walmart prices? Seems to me that could get you thrown in jail.

Alimas says:

Books and Music

Its not really comparable.
The simplest reason being books are still typically enjoyed most in their paper form than an electric form by the typical person, for a variety of reasons. (Light reflecting off paper is easier on the eyes than a screen, can’t carry the computer to bed for a quick read before sleep or to the breakfast table, etc..)
Music on the other hand has only gotten better and more popular with the advent of recent technologies making it more mobile. Its carrying cases (MP3 players vs. CDs or tapes, etc..) are smaller, lighter, more organized, hold more, etc..
Even if you got a copy of a book for free on the web, most people would still be motivated to go buy the physical books to enjoy the rest of the story or others by that Author.
With music however, you get the song you want, then you’ve got it. Done. Like an artist specifically? You can typically download the entire album of a popular star near effortlessly a week after its released, maybe earlier.
I don’t even know anyone personally that actually buys CDs anymore.
I think the small time artists are the musicians that can really benefit from doing the releasing of some tracks to the public for them to sample.
Music for small time artists is harder for to find. You find one track they’re spreading but not the rest. What do you do? Go buy the CD.
It won’t even come with the stigma of Metallica whining about not making as many millions as they used to.

Free Sharing:
Megastars: Bad idea.
Small bands: Good idea till their mega stars.
Books: Good idea.

aarthilal says:

I’m a big Paulo Coelho’s fan and I don’t know if you heard about his blog
I’ve started as a fan and now I’m collaborating with him and thought that you would like to enter his universe.
Check the blog.
if you want, or subscribe to his newsletter
You’ll see a community of warriors of light sharing ideas, dreams and most importantly following their personal legend.


A responsible Warrior is one who has proved able to observe and to learn.

(Manual of the Warrior of Light)

Have a nice day!


Morgan says:

Not sure what the point is

Everyone’s been free to do this for a goodly long time, Bruce Eckels did it like 10 years ago, Seth Godin as well. That it is a good idea for some people, or even if, theoretically, it made more money for every writer in the world, means nothing in regards to stealing. It’s the writer’s decision how they sell their work, and someone’s perception of whether a business model is worthy or not does not give anyone the right to copy a work without the creator’s permission.

So if it’s not another in the litany of stories here written to say “stop trying to control your works and stop trying to prevent stealing,” then I don’t know what this story is other than about a decade old news.

Keith (user link) says:

Pirating own content

Well, for Paulo Coelho to do this is one thing! He is already an established writer, so he can afford ($$) to wait…and see if such activity really helps his book to sell copies…but for the average person out there…many writers need the revenue to stay afloat…so this gets back to my supporting collaboration…this way writers can keep on writing…
Regards, Keith Johnson, Author “365 Great Affirmations”

Nameless Face in the Crowd says:

It’s my understanding that “most writers” aren’t full-time writers, and can’t be until they “make it big.” Free content speeds up the “make it big” part, because more people will have access to your content and be able to decide if they like your style or not. It’s better to have people demanding more content from you than to be another nameless face in the crowd.

Stephen Nier (user link) says:

RE:Pro Writer: Paulo Cuelho,Matt Groening's "Simpson's" Cartoon Series, & N.A.S.A.'s science symposium on recent discoveries on Saturn's moons

This “seven load” web cast was fairly interesting regarding
Paulo Cuelho’s “The Alchemist” marketing of e-books and general sales statistics on an international scale.
It seems to me that the book business can get ” very hairy
(complex) very quickly” when dealing with the legal realm
of copyright law and DRM [digital rights management] while
dealing simultaneously with translator’s pay percentages on
the overseas sales.
The Paulo Cuelho pointed out a remarkable phenomena that
I would like to call the ‘avarice & apathy’ factor of the
market place. He mentioned casually the fact that people by
the thousands were downloading his e-books ,yet apparently
NOT READING THEM!!…since there had been NO COMMENTS,CRITICISM, OR COMMENDATION of his literary work!!!!

– Go into all the world & preach The Gospel of CHRIST
to all!

-Your Fellow Keeper of Torch of Truth,
The Holy Grail, The Holy Double-Edged Sword,
The Holy Arc of the Covenants, & other various
assorted objects d’art!!,

s. c. n. … as … while owning & operating
two websites:

Sports Betting Online (profile) says:

This doesn't work for audio/video

I agree with one of the previous comments that this free distribution type of online promotion works best for books. People might download complete digital copies of books online but if the book is too big it’s a lot less strain on your eyes to read it in print.

With music and movies the situation is different – once people download and listen to the song or watch a movie, they most likely will not buy the original product, unless they absolutely loved it.

Just my two cents based on personal experience.

premji says:

Literary investigation

dear friend,

paulo coelho is a publishing phenomenan. but he is not an original writer. his magnum opus ‘the alchemist’ itself is a stolen treasure. he knows from where to stela and how to hide. please read the blog to find out from where he copied and created ‘the alchemist’.

truth is always bitter…

premji, india

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