Can piracy save literature? A bestselling author says yes
Paulo Coelho is one of the most well-known Brazilian writers; he sells millions of books all over the world yet surprisingly he’s a firm supporter of piracy. So much so that he even pirates his own books.
The entertainment industry will tell you that nothing is for free and that you must pay up, otherwise creators will starve. But will they, really? Is it that simple? Paulo Coelho might seem like an exception, but Game of Thrones, another juggernaut of the entertainment industry, further underlines his reasoning: as GoT grew in popularity more and more pirated copies of the hit show were distributed across the internet, yet ratings continued to climb.
How is that possible?
Piracy is, to some extent, a way in, an open door for consumers to get to know an author, a series, or artist. Game of Thrones is officially the most pirated TV-show in internet history, yet it also became one of the highest-rated shows in entertainment history.
In fact, piracy not only didn’t hurt ratings, but created a much-needed buzz for the show in the early days. Through piracy distribution you’re reaching people who maybe can’t afford to subscribe to cable or to HBO Go, but can turn into consumers of GoT merchandise or become evangelist for the show on social media, for example.
Researchers found that piracy can help a TV show by creating a “shadow competition” in which both manufacturer and distributor benefit, albeit in delayed fashion. That said, it’s not complicated to understand why: imagine 5 million people are watching a show. Only they will buy merchandise, buy tickets for a movie based on the show, watch a spin off, etc.
But if you have an additional 10 million or more people watching the show through torrent or any illegal streaming website, the buzz generated will be amplified. You may not immediately profit from viewings, but in the long run, it will be beneficial for the brand as a whole — and the resultant effect will be having to spend less on things like paid advertising.
In 2012, Paulo Coelho wrote in his blog that readers were “welcome to download my books for free and, if you enjoy them, buy a hard copy — that way we can tell the industry that greed leads to nowhere.”
There are studies that show that people who download music illegally are also those who buy more music, because piracy is a way to introduce the listener (or the reader, in our case) to a band, a musician (or a writer). Coelho agrees, for him “‘Pirating’ can act as an introduction to an artist’s work. If you like his or her idea, then you will want to have it in your house; a good idea doesn’t need protection.”
For someone who doesn’t read much, but who’s received an enthusiastic tip from a friend about a book, pirating can be a low-risk way to be introduced to a life-changing text, especially for those may not have the sufficient economic means to access the information. It’s an exclusion-free system.
This doesn’t mean that we should solely pirate and that everything is better off free, but authors like Paul Coelho and TV shows like GoT demonstrate to us that there’s social function in piracy and that anti-piracy speech is more complicated than corporate interests tend to layout.
About the author: Raphael Tsavkko Garcia is a Brazilian freelance journalist covering international politics, conflicts, human rights, culture, tech and entertainment. He’s also a Ph.D. candidate in human rights at the University of Deusto (Basque Country).