This summer, some 30 years after the publication of his bestselling book, The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho is back with a new work. Hippie will be launched in Brazil by Companhia das Letras in May, and by Knopf in the U.S., in September. The autobiographical novel tells the story of a train journey that Coelho took from Amsterdam to Istanbul in 1970. PW caught up with Coelho ahead of the London Book Fair to ask about his new book, and to get his quick take on the publishing industry today.
Your new book, Hippie is a novel written in third person but also very autobiographical. Tell us a little bit about the creative process for this book?
Writing Hippie in the third person allowed me to give voice to other characters that were on the Magic Bus in 1970, going from Amsterdam to Kathmandu. My idea was to recreate a time that I lived intensely, and the values that we shared back then—solidarity above all. Back in that September of 1970, women were free, and empowered; money was a consequence; respect for nature was basic, not a goal. And we had better music. Today, we see a political correctness that is more oppressive than liberating.
In a talk at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair, you challenged publishers on e-book prices, telling them not to be “greedy.” Now almost four years later, the e-book market, for the major publishers, at least, has stagnated. Do you believe e-book prices are still too high?
Very much so. Not long ago, HarperCollins U.S. did a promotion, a Kindle Daily Deal, where my books were priced at $1.99. The results were extraordinary, an increase close to 900% in sales. And the halo effect lasted for at least a week. That being said, part of the stagnation in e-books is a reflection of the market as a whole. If a publisher compares sales 10 years ago with sales today, they would feel totally discouraged. Therefore, it is better not to visit the past.
At that same talk in Frankfurt, you said that bookstores were “temples.” And publishers over the last few years have been talking about a print revival—while e-books have declined, print sales have inched back up. Do you think bookstores are safe for a while?
It is my understanding that [the rise in print sales] is more a public relations movement than a revival. The booksellers, the true heroes of the book industry, are still not as supported as they need to be.
Social media is having a huge impact on the book business, everything from promoting books to the nature of storytelling itself. What is your take social media?
Social media is a great tool to promote, but it is bad to sell. I don’t know what will be the next big thing, but I am sure that it will not be Facebook. Maybe audiobooks, since they are showing a significant growth. We appear to be going back to the way the ancient Greeks used to share their ideas—aphorisms. Short sentences with clear and limpid stories, with no more long descriptions of anything. As for books, they were, they are, and will always be a movie that takes part in the mind of the reader.