Past, meet present

I’m headed to Frankfurt to speak at the Frankfurt Book Fair about What Would Google Do? thanks to Zeit Online which I’m visiting in Hamburg first. As I fly off, I read the the Publishers Marketplace Publishers Lunch newsletter reporting on Paulo Coelho’s talk at the Fair (Coelho’s a star in my book as the Googliest author I know):

Boos was followed by author Paolo Coelho, who is being celebrated here for sales of over 100 million books around the world and for his energetic efforts in sharing his work–and his time and attention in interacting with readers–freely over the internet in multiple languages.

“For fifteen centuries, as a media form, the book has proven unsurpassable. Of course, e-books are slowly claiming ground and it’s likely that, in due time, the digital form may override paper. But this will still take a few more years, which gives us – publishers, booksellers and writers – a precious moment before the Web makes its move.

“Yet what I saw as a writer came as a surprise, and a lack of understanding of the Web on the part of the industry. Instead of seeing in this new media an opportunity to invent new ways of promotion, publishers concentrated on creating micro sites, which are totally outdated, and a few of them complained about the ‘misfortunes’ of the other cultural industries, perceiving the Web as the ‘enemy.’

“…Given that books as media are still widely used, why not share the whole digital content of books for free? Contrary to what common sense tells us – and common sense is not always a good guide, otherwise publishers, booksellers and writers would probably be doing something more profitable – the more you give, the more you gain.”

That has certainly been Coelho’s experience, where freely available electronic files have led to increased print sales in territory after territory–including the US, where The Alchemist has been on the NYT bestseller list for a full year even though it was among the first of his titles to be available online at Harper’s web site.

Speaking to the larger paradigm of internet culture, Coelho said, “There’s an important element to this which most people are not fully aware of: people are sharing what they deem pertinent in a free way and they expect the same thing to occur in all systems of mass communication. The usual mass communication channels have a hard time understanding this.”

At the same time he acknowledged that Yet, “there are still two problems to tackle: copyrights and the sustainability of the publishing industry. I don’t have a solution, but we are facing a new era, so either we adapt or we die. However, I did not come here to share solutions, but my own experience as an author.”

In contrast to Coelho’s remarks, director of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association Dr. Gottfried Honnefelder followed Coelho and insisted that the real problem is a need for stricter laws to monitor and punish internet pirary. “We can’t treat the Internet as a largely lawless space for the simple reason that this creates difficulties in solving the problem of how to treat intellectual property on the Web.” He did, as the same time, acknowledge that “we are talking about new book-minded financial models which reward the publishers’ work in new, perhaps indirect ways.” But the governmental solution apparently still holds romantic appeal here in Germany. A local colleague told us that there is legislation pending to try and require that e-books be priced the same as print books and not discounted.

Compare and contrast.