When we launched CinnamonTeal Design earlier this month (July 2017), our repertoire included a whole bunch of services that we were already offering our authors previously as part of our self-publishing portfolio. Hitherto hidden behind a curtain of self-publishing services, a nomenclature that did no justice to everything else we offered besides publishing-related services, developing a “graphics and web division” helps us showcase some of the “other” capabilities we have had for long now. Like our website designing service, for instance.

Going forward, therefore, you will find us talking about issues and trends that perhaps a “normal” publisher won’t. Like digitization and archival, or app development. Or the need to have one’s  own ecommerce-enabled website.

This blog will enumerate the benefits of “going it alone” and having a stab at developing an ecommerce infrastructure that is managed and monitored by one company, usually the producer, alone. Most businesses already have a website, but sell their products through “marketplaces” such as Flipkart and Amazon. It is not a bad idea to sell through these marketplaces but having the option to sell through your own platform is a big advantage (disclaimer: we develop ecommerce websites for clients, so there is an ulterior motive to this blog).

Here are the pros and cons of having your own ecommerce-enabled website. First the pros:

a. You set your own terms: When you have your own website, you are allowed to choose your own payment and return policies. As a seller of books, we found that Amazon’s return policy, that allows buyers to return books, even a week after they have been purchased as a big source of revenue loss for us. Not only have we found instances in which the book was photocopied, the returned book was, for all practical purposes, unfit for selling again.

b. You are your own competitor: For the time a customer is on your website, you have no other competition. It is then your business to lose and up to you to ensure that the customer does not walk away without making a purchase. For that time, however, there are no deep discounts and other gimmicks by other sellers to worry about, nor the fact that a customer can compare the price of your product with those of other similar products. This also presents an opportunity to ensure that the customer leaves your website feeling good about her experience during her time browsing through it.

c. There is little by way of fees: There are no listing fees, or storage and handling fees, or those gazillion fees charged under quite innovative names. Having your own ecommerce platform allows you to keep costs down. You have, of course, to pay for the hosting and maintenance of the website, and, depending on the payment gateway you choose, also pay a transaction fee, or an annual fee, or both.

d. You get to set your own image: An ecommerce website must be viewed as a digital asset you can use to extend your brand. Therefore you must be very careful of the “image” you portray, how you deal with privacy issues, and how you solve problems faced by your customers. The design of your website must also reflect your brand. You can set up your website to match your “style”.

e. Your website can be tailored to suit your business processes: While selling off a third-party website means tailoring your business processes to meet their requirements, you need not do this if you have your own ecommerce platform. In fact the processes followed during and after an ecommerce transaction, like the way the customer is informed of the purchase and the shipment made, for instance, can be integrated into your way of executing this processes.

f. Your website acts as an additional marketing tool: That means, if properly coded, you can get your products to appear in search results, use your product detail page to highlight the main features of your products, and give your customers a detailed explanation of your products, and use your “about us” and “faqs” pages to properly “explain” your company. Similarly, allow customers to review your products; nothing works like customer testimonials to sell a product or service.

g. You have information regarding your customers’ buying habits: While this is information you have to use carefully (especially taking care to ensure that customers’ privacy is not violated), this information allows you to understand your market better, in turn allowing you to market certain items, understand any seasonality in sales, and cross-sell.

h. You can determine your own geographical reach: Many online platforms, due to restrictions they have placed on themselves, do not ship abroad or ship to only certain countries. Having your own ecommerce platform allows you to sell goods and services to all corners of the globe (unless restricted by the government).

i. You can complement a physical store nicely: An ecommerce-enabled website complements a physical store, if you already have one, very nicely. You can use it to attract customers to your physical store, and sell your stock lying there. For items bought on the website, the store acts as a perfect pick up point, yet another way to tell people there is a store they can visit.

Next, the cons:

a. The upfront costs are substantial: You will have to spend to register your domain name, spend on hosting (which can be paid as a lumpsum or annually), and spend to actually have your website developed. In addition, there will be recurring costs, like the payment gateway cost, the hosting fee (if you choose the recurring option) and the cost of maintaining the website.

You also need to keep in mind that there are costs you might not always be able to track. Like the cost of the time you spend on packaging and shipping, and the cost of packaging material and shipping by post or by courier.

b. Your website will have to be marketed: Just like other websites, ecommerce-enabled or not, you will have to market your website so people know about it and visit it. This translates both into a cost, and into slow pickup (which might mean, that initially traffic to the website will be low).

c. You are your own support staff: You have to take the calls when people have issues navigating and buying on your website, and make sure that the buyer’s problems have been addressed. This is important because it might mean the difference between the buyer returning to your website or forever deserting it.

It may now no longer be enough to have a website that simply displays your products and services. The new paradigm of business implies that you give the customer everything she needs to make a purchase at one point. Having an ecommerce-enabled business might help you achieve that.

photocredit: stocksnap.io

It goes without saying that a book cover plays a very important part in how your book is received. Yet many authors, especially those who self-publish and have a role to play in the design of the book cover, consider it an inconvenience that comes in the way of getting their book out into the market. Given the freedom to do so, many would use freely available templates or images downloaed from the net and slap it onto the cover. Nothing could be more harmful to the success of your book than such a hastily (and badly) designed cover.

Here is a quick checklist to consider while designing your cover:

a. Stick to one element: Choose an element (or feature) of your book that is perhaps its best selling proposition. Resist the temptation to include everything within the cover. Usually, with covers, less is more.

b. Design for the full cover: Cover designers sometimes forget that a cover is made of the front cover, back cover, and spine (and the flaps, if those exist). The cover should therefore be designed in toto. A cover whose front and back look distinctly different does not sit well with many buyers, and conveys an impression of bad design.

c. Design for the genre: The book cover should convey the genre of the book, to the extent possible. Using a good mix of typography and imagery, an accurate metaphor of the book (and its genre) must be conveyed.

d. Pay attention to the spine: On many bookshelves, it is the spine that holds out so pay attention to what you include in it. At the least, try to incorporate the author and title. You should be able to read the title left to right when the book sits on its back cover (with the front cover pointing upwards). Like we mentioned above, unless you have good reason, the spine should blend with the rest of the cover.

e. Do not crowd out the back cover: Use the space on the back cover to include a synopsis of the book, a small bio, perhaps, of the author, even some blurbs from people who are easily recognized (or provide an introductory line from them). However, you should resist the temptation to include too much text. Adequate space should be left for the publisher’s logo, the barcode and the price.

f. Pay attention to bleed and type safety: This ensures that sections of the cover that you wish to retain do not get cut off during the trimming process (while the cover is made).’

g. Typographic covers can leave a lasting impact too: While most designers are tempted to use only images for their covers, a good typographic design can have an equally powerful impact.

Here are a few of the covers we have designed:

  • The Vanishing Stripes

Check out the Book Cover Archive for good ideas on how to develop a book cover. Or read this article for a deeper understanding of book cover design.

Here are other examples of book covers on Flickr and Pinterest.

Among the many questions that we receive from authors wishing to self-publish is one that compares apples to cars: “What is the difference between self-publishing and print-on-demand?”

There is a world of difference between the two processes although one often encompasses the other. First let us consider self-publishing.

Self-publishing is when the author takes it upon himself (or herself, although henceforth, for convenience sake, only the masculine pronoun will be used) to publish his own book. Unlike the traditional mode of publishing, where the publisher invests its money into a book written by the author, here the author invests his own money. Consequently, he has to ensure that the book is properly produced, and distributed.

During this production process, the book, should the author choose to have printed copies of his book, needs to be, well, printed. Here’s where print on demand, a technology that allows as many copies as needed, even one, to be printed, can be employed. An alternative to printing on demand is to print a large quantity of books (print in bulk).

So when would one choose to print on demand? Consider the following instances:

a. An author, unable to meet the costs of printing in bulk, decides to list his book for sale on a web portal and gets the book printed post-sale.

b. An author employs a digital-first approach (i.e. primarily producing the book as an e-book) and prints only a few copies to promote the book, or for family and friends.

c. An author decides to limit sale of his book to just a few bookstores in the vicinity (probably because the book touches on a very local topic) and prints only a few copies for that purpose.

d. An author, in order to avoid shipping, arranges for the book to printed in the buyer’s location and shipped to him.

e. More importantly, an author opts to print on demand because POD allows copies to be printed and distributed while still limiting investments. So while the unit costs of a copy printed using POD technology will be more as compared to the cost of copies printed in bulk, the total cost of printing will be lesser.

So, imagine you have written a book and have decided to take the self-publishing route. You get your book edited, lay out your text, design your cover and approach the printers. You see a market for only 100 copies (for argument’s sake) but your printer says you must print a minimum of 500 copies. The cost of each copy is small, say Rs. 40 per book, but having to print 500 copies means a total investment of Rs. 20,000/- upfront. You are not sure if all the copies will sell but that is a gamble you are forced to take. Besides the money for printing, you also have to pay for its transporation and have sufficient space for its storage. And hope to God all copies sell.

Or imagine your book is made available for sale on a few online bookstores. When a book is sold on these platforms, the book is printed (on demand, POD) and dispatched to the buyer. Because the buyer has already paid for the book, you, the author, do not have to spend on its printing. In this case, the same book that cost Rs. 40 when printed in bulk might, for example, cost around Rs. 120/- when just one copy is printed (using POD technology). But because 500 copies have not been printed, the author has to spend lesser (Rs. 120 instead of Rs. 20,000/-) and not have to worry about shipping and storage costs, or about whether or not the remaining copies will get sold.

To exercise the option of printing on demand or not, is a choice that you, as an author, has to take very seriously, as your decision will impact the MRP of the book. While POD is a term sometimes used to denote small quantities (“print runs”) upto even 500, note that a company promising POD should give you the option of printing even one copy (maybe a maximum of two) at a time. The cost of this one copy should then dictate your MRP, even if you choose to exercise this option (of POD) at a later date. That means, if you print 500 copies at X and plan to print one copy at a time at, say, 3X, after the 500 copies are exhausted, your MRP should be governed after factoring in 3X as cost of printing.

POD, when used judiciously, can prove to be an excellent tool to get your book to market fast and at a low cost. You can make it work well for you.

picture credit: www.unsplash.com

If you have decided to opt for the self-publishing route for your book, chances are there have been many people who have advised you on how you should proceed. If you asked us, for example, we would have advised you not to adopt a package-based approach. And to make sure your book was edited.

But what about things you should not do? Things vital to the process that you should not miss out on? Here’s a small list we put together, of what not to do if you are self-publishing.

a. Do not underestimate the value of “learning how to write”: Yes, you heard it right. Writing is a craft that must be developed, then honed. A good writer understands that and seeks to improve at every step, without assuming that writing “comes naturally.” A lot of effort goes into developing a good narrative, then writing a good book, and an author would do well not to take this task (of writing) lightly. Moreover, the nuances of syntax and grammar have to be correctly understood so as to be able to communicate your thoughts and views accurately.

It is always advised that you complete your book and put it away before you approach any publisher. This is your book, there will always be the temptation to make a change here or correct a sentence there. Resist that temptation unless the suggestion comes from an editor (see point f. below). We therefore suggest you put away the book after making all the changes and reading it one last time.

Completing your book before submitting it to a publisher not only means that the publisher has a completed product to work with, it also allows the publisher to work unhindered. Repeated changes during the process introduce the possibility of delay and the possibility that some of your changes are not reflected in your book, given the many versions that might be floating around. Many self-publishing service providers now charge for changes in manuscript if they are introduced after the publishing process has begun.

b. Do not assume you cannot do it yourself: While there are many self-publishing service providers who can help you publish your book, you should not assume you cannot have the book published yourself. These service providers help by aggregating all services at one place, making it convenient for you. But if that is your style, you can get a book edited, its cover and interior designed, and the book printed all by yourself. You won’t be the first one doing it.

c. Do not skip on the research: Assuming that you have decided to engage a service provider to assist you with the publishing process, do not settle for the first one you have heard about, or the first in the list when you search for one on Google. Once you have found a service provider, look for many reviews of their performance, not just one. Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of questions you should ask any service provider before you engage them. In any case, you need to know what are the costs involved (and decide for yourself if all costs have been explained to you), what are the estimated timelines involved, what level of marketing and distribution will be provided, and what is the general image of the company among its authors. Ask them to show you their portfolio, so you can make an informed decision on the quality of their work. Browse through their website to understand if they are transparent about their processes.

While on the topic of research, if your book is based on events and occurrences, or people and places, make sure all your facts are checked.

d. Do not forget to sign an agreement, before work on your book commences: This is perhaps one of the most important “do nots” in this list. Before beginning any kind of work on your manuscript and before making any payment to the service provider, ensure that you are party to an agreement with the service provider. Read the agreement properly – it is very often an online agreement, that you just “agree to”, so make sure you read what you are signing up for. (We get queries from many authors who have, for instance, signed off their ability to publish elsewhere.) This agreement should, ideally, clearly spell out all the deliverables expected of the service provider, wherever it is possible to provide such clarity. It should also tell you what you can and cannot do with your book. The agreement should be signed by the person leading the company, not an employee who might soon leave that company and have no legal liability. You should keep a hard copy of the agreement, signed by both parties, for yourself.

e. Do not pay for all services at one go: Although you will not be able to do this with service providers who deal with packages, it is wise to pay as you go, each time for the next service down the process. This means you pay for editing, and only after the manuscript is edited pay for cover design before that process begins. That way you have a handle on expenditures and you will know if you are being charged extra. If there is a request for extra charges, make sure you understand why you are being charged (it would have been better if you had anticipated this and asked beforehand if there would be an extra charge).

If you agree to pay all at one go, you should have a more compelling reason than to say “they asked me to”. You should want to pay all at one go, not be forced to. There are reasons for authors wishing to pay a lump sum amount but these are exceptional cases rather than  the norm. For example, an author might be going abroad for a while and wish to make all payments before he leaves. Or an author has crowdfunded the book and must pay it all together. But whether to pay together or in staggered amounts is your decision to make; it cannot, and should not, be forced upon you.

f. Do not skip on editing: This is advice you will hear often, and if you are serious about ending up with a good book, we think it is advice you should take. And it’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look at the manuscript. Nothing turns away a reader, or makes a lasting bad impression, than a book that is badly edited and, therefore, is replete with spelling mistakes and bad grammatical usage. Take all your time during the editing process to ensure that your book is rid of all errors. In the self-publishing process, you, as an author, are required to approve of the changes that are being made. Take the time to read and understand why a change is being suggested, and only after you are convinced, approve of it.

g. Do not agree for a cover that’s not specifically designed for your book: A cover template might do when you wish to cut costs but otherwise make sure you have a cover designed that reflects your tastes and accurately represents the book. In any case, don’t settle for a collage of cliparts or other “pre-fabricated” graphics. Pay a lot of attention to the back cover text. Here too, make sure the back cover text is edited. This is the first text a potential buyer will read and you don’t want a spelling mistake or grammatical error turning her away.

h. Do not ignore copyright concerns: This starts with you – do not give in to any temptation to mimic or imitate writing styles or copy conversation snippets when writing your book. If you are using borrowed texts (whether quotes or speeches or song lyrics), make sure you have the permissions to do so. Ditto with images and other graphical elements that you may use within the book, or on its cover. Remember, Google images are not all copyright free. Similarly, when you are getting your cover designed by your service provider, make sure they are sticklers for copyright guidelines too. In matters like this, it is better to be safe than sorry. In fact, a well-written agreement will ask authors to testify that all material in the book is their own.

i. Do not be pressured into printing a fixed number of books: As an author, you should be able to decide how many copies of your book should be printed. Do not allow yourself to be coerced into printing a certain number of books. Since the quantity of books printed (print run) will affect the price of the book, it might be a good idea to print a quantity that allows you to have a low price. Nonetheless, the various costs and their impact on the price should be explained to you so that you can decide what quantity to print.

j. Do not be coerced into buying a marketing package you cannot understand: It is a fact that a marketing outcome cannot be certain, and cannot guarantee sales of a certain quantum. However, if you are being offered a marketing solution, ask what it will do for you and how it will help your book particularly. You might be told that it will attract a certain number of views or click-throughs. That’s fair enough. These are good metrics to go by and, in fact, you should be worried if someone is promising you a definite sales volume. In any case, make sure you know what you are getting for the money you are paying.

At the end of the day, it is important that you enjoy the publishing process you have chosen to undertake. You have probably enjoyed the process of writing your book, the publishing process should not take away that joy from you. We hope this list of don’ts ensures that you have an enjoyable time publishing your book.

picture credit: https://stocksnap.io

In August 2017, we will complete 10 years since we first published a book under the imprint of CinnamonTeal Publishing (our parent company, Dogears Print Media, was launched an year earlier, in 2006, with the launch of the online bookstore, Dogears Etc.). Incidentally the launch of CinnamonTeal Publishing meant that it was the first time ever that self-publishing was introduced in India at a business-to-consumer level (it was already present at the business-to-business level). Over the years since then we have worked on many different kinds of books and have several stories to tell. This story, however, is of our association with Sulekha.com, and other organizations like them.

During the years 2008-2010, Sulekha.com, which ran Blogprint, a popular blogging platform, decided to publish the blogs of its most popular bloggers as a book. The first book, titled “Subbu Chronicles: A Series of Adventures” was released in mid-2008. While the cover for the book was designed by Sulekha.com, CinnamonTeal designed the book interior, printed the book and arranged for its sale on indiaplaza.com, and subsequently on a certain, newly-minted, flipkart.com.

In the years since we have worked with several institutions and organizations to develop books, manuals, conference proceedings, in-house publications and other printed material. In these cases, the concerned organization provided us with material for the book, while we edited, designed and/or printed the book, depending on the needs of the client. In such an association, there is an implicit understanding that the strengths of the organization we work with are best at developing content for books, while we have significant expertise in publishing the book and bringing it to market.

A few illustrations of our work:

  • The Madness Starts at 9: This was the last in our series of books published in association with Sulekha.com. A total of 8 books were published, including a travelogue and an anthology of poems by women.
  • The Global Information Society Watch, and other publications by the Geneva-based Association for Progressive Communications: We worked with the APC to print their books (which mostly consisted of annual reports and other publications) and distribute them globally.
  • Books for Globethics.net: We printed and distributed various books published by this worldwide ethics network based in Geneva
  • Study material for Indian Astrobiology Research Centre: Our print-on-demand service allowed the Centre to keep their study material updated.
  • Books for the Rosary College of Commerce and Arts, Navelim, Goa: The books included Socio-Economic Inequities and the Health Sector – Issues and Perspectives and their quarterly journal, Gyaana.
  • Books on Six-Sigma: These books were authored by N C Narayanan and published on his behalf by CinnamonTeal.
  • Speaking with Hands: A coffee-table book that describes the various crafts of India through the eyes of travelers, many of who are from outside India, and all of who are craftspersons in their own right. Published for the founders of Indebo, a travel company.
  • epiSTEME-5 and epiSTEME-6: The proceedings of epiSTEME-5 and epiSTEME-6, the fifth and sixth in the series of biennial EpiSTEME conferences, organized by the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, a National Centre of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India, which review research in science, technology and mathematics education.

Ten years on, and countless such books later, we have formalised these services into what we have labelled “Managed Publishing Services”. The idea behind it is the same: we let our clients do what they do best (collecting and arranging original content) and what is comfortably within their domain of expertise, while we bring our publishing experience to bear on the project, effectively translating a work-in-progress manuscript into a complete book, ready for its market.

In combination with our services for publishers, we now have a full portfolio of services for all customers who wish to have a book published and marketed. Our large distribution network ensures that the book is available in all major markets across the world. And our digital marketing services helps readers know about your book, sufficiently enough to make an informed purchase.

 

Google “self publishing in India” and you will get a full list of companies promising you the moon. For a (rather large) fee, they tell you, you can publish your book and be on your way to achieving publishing success. Amanda Hocking and E. L. James, and, closer to home, Amish Tripathi and so many others have achieved it, they say, so why can’t you.

While that may be true, and while publishing success can surely be yours, it also helps to understand that there are equal chances of the book failing in the market. The book might fail because of reasons totally out of your control, or for reasons you can indeed control. Nonetheless, it helps to know these reasons so you can prepare for them. Their knowledge can also help you be more realistic about your chances in the market and perhaps have a plan B in mind should you encounter some hiccups along the way.

To understand a bit about why books fail in the market, think about the last time you visited a bookshop. While looking for a book to purchase, you probably had a book in mind, or an author you wished to revisit, or a genre of books you’d have liked to browse through. If it was a genre of books you were going through, you probably were still looking for a book you had heard about or an author whose next book you wanted to read. It’s on a rare occasion that you would pick up a book randomly, and then too you would do such a thing because you read something interesting on its back cover.

This train of thought occurs wuth almost everyone who is in the process of buying a book. People often choose books that they have, in some form or another, read or heard about. Readers are often out to buy a book that is written by an author who is in the news or a book that has been widely mentioned in the social or print media. There is some familiarity – whether with the book, or with the author. And when an acquaintance with neither the book or its author exists, it is beautifully written back-cover text that sways the reader into buying that book.

The authors that taste success with self-published books are those that understand this point. They know that their book will not sell only because it is “out there”, whether it is listed on online portals, or on a shelf in a bookstore. They know that for a buyer to buy a book, he/she must be intimately familiar with the book – familiarity bred from either knowing (or knowing about) the author, or from having read about the book, either in the print or social media or in a well-written blurb.

It is a common misconception that book purchases are made based on the price of the book. The price of the book does play a part but a very late stage in the book buying process (think about it, you will turn the book over to see its price only when it is a book you consider buying). Like this infographic explains, a buyer looks at other aspects of the book before buying. He/She considers the cover of the book, its title, information on the flaps (if any) and on the back cover, and even glances at the content of the book before looking at the price of the book while deciding whether or not to buy a book.

Which brings me to my point: Self-publishing is a LOT of work. If there is a downside to self-publishing (and if one can call it that) it arises from the fact that an author who has decided to self-publish must spend all effort in making sure that every stage along the path of self-publishing has received its due attention. There is no publishing house to take care of the small details (like in the case when the book is published the traditional way) and it is left to the author to coordinate with the service provider (if there is one) to ensure that the book is properly developed at every stage. A detached author – one who trusts the publishing service to do everything for the author – will, more often than not, end up frustrated and disappointed. A well-meaning service provider will, in fact, engage with the author during each stage.

Ideally the author should a) ensure that the book is properly edited and make sure that the changes suggested to the text reflect his/her voice, b) be involved in all aspects of the cover design, including the back text and the design of the spine, c)make sure that if the book contains photographs, they are properly enhanced and fit for printing, and d) that the book is carefully and neatly laid out as per convention. The attention to detail that the author must have cannot be emphasized enough.

More importantly, an author should invest in marketing the book. Often confused with sales, marketing doesn’t always cost money. It is the time and effort that the author invests in getting as many people to know about the book as possible that is important. Very often authors shy away from this role that they need to play, often to their own peril.

As we saw at the beginning of this article, a buyer likes to have some familiarity with the book he/she is buying. That familiarity might arise after knowing the author or, perhaps, after knowing the book. This ‘knowing’ comes through various means – it could happen because the reader had met the author someplace or because the author is a public figure or, and this is often the case, because the author has reached out to the reader through email or other social media. The ‘knowing’ does not have to be personal – rather it should be an acquaintance, where the reader has heard about the author. It is therefore important that the author invests time (and, sometimes, money) in making himself/herself known to readers.

An author must also bear in mind that a book sells gradually, over a long period of time. Any marketing campaign that an author initiates must, therefore, spread itself so that the message being communicated is constantly reinforced. Many authors engage marketing services for a duration of 3-6 months, and then, seeing that it yields little or no sales, get frustrated and wind it down. Readers buy books at their own leisure and a good marketing campaign will be at hand to remind them of your book.

Self-publishing is therefore not for authors who are shy of marketing their own book. Even in instances when marketing is a paid-for service, it is important that the author remains involved in the marketing process. It is important that the message communicated to the readers is a consistent one, and reflects the spirit of the book. If you are an author who cannot be involved in the development of the book, and its marketing, or cannot be patient while calculating return on investment, probably self-publishing isn’t for you.

picture credit: https://stocksnap.io

After an initial wave of enthusiasm for electronic books (e-books) and all its capabilities, the clamour for e-books seems to have subsided. For many traditional publishers, the development of e-books is an important part of their go-to-market plan, if only to ensure that sales are not lost because prospective buyers did not find an e-book to buy. For authors, who are considering self-publishing, though, adopting an “e-book first” approach could be a smart move.

But first the caveats:

a. E-books haven’t got quite the reception that was expected of them just a few years back. In India e-book sales have hovered around the 10% mark according to some studies. Although there are no statistics to back this, it is safe to say that a majority of these sales have come from the ‘Education and Learning’ sector. In 2016, Juggernaut, a new publishing house set up in Delhi, bet almost exclusively on digital content (consumed in the form of e-books). Yet, the response to e-books has remained lukewarm.

Several factors have contributed to this. While it was predicted that the rise in sales of smartphones would contribute to the rise in sales of e-books, that hasn’t quite happened. This is because users are looking for free information, and for audio-visual entertainment. Moreover, the lack of e-book reader apps, whether for text in English or in other Indian languages, are either too rudimentary in the user experience they offer, or too inconsistent across operating systems of various phones and devices. In India, particularly, there aren’t many platforms that facilitate the sale of e-books. DailyHunt and Matrubhumi are among the leading platforms for sale of e-books (we offer this service too), especially for e-books in Indian languages. An aggregator (a service that “pushes” e-books for sale on different other platforms) is yet to emerge in India.

b. The pricing of e-books is also a tricky issue. On the one hand you have users who are spoiled with offers of free content (on data subscription services that cost next to nothing) and will not pay for e-books, no matter how much they are discounted. On the other hand, the relative low costs of their printed counterparts makes the tangible version a more attractive choice as compared to e-books.

c. E-books, being in the digital realm of things, in one option available to the digital content buyer among the many options available to him. A reader who is thus spoilt for choice, therefore, has the luxury of evaluating the pros and cons of buying an e-book versus buying videos, games, music, etc. In the end it is almost like luring the buyer into a bookstore.

d. Finally there are the die-hard book aficionados who simply value a physical copy, and the tactile experiences that come with it, to anything else. You cannot sell too many e-books to this market segment although the travelers among them are slowly changing their mind, thanks to the attraction of being able to carry along thousands of books to read, on a single device.

Nonetheless, it is our contention that e-books are a good way for self-publishing authors to test the market and get published. Here’s why:
a. E-book publishing eliminates the costs of printing, shipping and warehousing: This means authors can spend their money ensuring that the book is well edited, has a good cover and is design (typeset) elegantly. Immediately after cover design and typesetting, the book is available to read, without any additional investments in printing the book, having it shipped to a warehouse, and stored there. Upon purchase, the book is instantaneously available to the buyer. This “immediate availability” makes it attractive to many buyers.

b. E-books are a good way to test the market: This actually follows from the above point. After an author has a book edited, designed and typeset, she is faced with a choice of whether to print the book or not (i.e. have an e-book). Both have costs associated with them, but the latter option has lesser costs involved and an almost zero marginal cost (the cost associated to produce one additional unit). In the near absence of marginal costs, e-books become a better way to test the readership for the book.

c. There are no debilitating costs of shipping to the buyer: These are not the costs that are borne in the process of shipping the books from the printer to the warehouse, rather those that are borne while shipping the book to the buyer. The high shipping costs that a buyer, especially an overseas buyer, pays for a printed book are completely avoided in case of an e-book.

d. E-books can nowadays incorporate audio and video: These technologies are available and should be used if they can add to the value of the book. However, it must be noted, many readers still do not support their use and, consequently, the author may have spent on these technologies for nothing.

So while e-books seem an attractive option for self-publishing authors, it has its downsides too. Here are a few:
a. There is a threat of unbridled sharing: Let’s not call it piracy, let’s just call it unbridled sharing. It used to be done with physical copies too, but it is possible to do it with electronic files much more easily. Different publishers have viewed and have addressed this problem differently.

b. There are many readers and sometimes none at all: Because of the many formats and the many ways the formats can be implemented, it becomes difficult to ensure that a book that looks and reads a particular way on one reader will look exactly the same way on another. Nonetheless, there are a few companies like Kobo and Amazon that offer the same experience across all their readers.

All said and done, an e-book offers a self-publishing author a faster route to market, with the option to price the book independent of the volumes produced (thus avoiding the need to recoup costs of production). It also allows the author the ability to develop different versions for different markets, thus catering to the cultural sensitivities of each market. In a sense, it offers an even greater flexibility on top of what self-publishing already offers and a smart author could well use it to her own advantage.

picture credit: https://stocksnap.io

Introduction:

Many years after the first e-books appeared, a large number of publishers are still in the dark over the numerous factors that they must consider before investing in digital book (or e-book) development. This paper attempts to shed some light on some of these factors.

Let us start by listing what makes an e-book different from printed books. This exercise is important because it not only points to a change in the way that publishers should think about, and manufacture, e-books, but also because it points to a change in the way in which books are read.

This article is for publishers who wish to make, or confirm, decisions on e-book development and distribution. The goal of the document is to highlight the important factors that determine investments in e-book development.

E-books:

  1. Are read primarily on computer and mobile screens
  2. Are stored on digital devices. This renders them rather intangible. Just as storage of printed books involves investments in space, storage of e-books involves investment in ‘digital space’
  3. Like printed books, e-books too are susceptible to pilferage and spoilage
  4. Once prepared, e-books cost nothing to ‘copy’. This fact has several ramifications:
    1. Consequently, customers feel that e-books should cost lesser than printed books
    2. Illegal copying (and distributing) of e-books is an inexpensive exercise.

From the above points, it is easy to see that digital book development needs an approach different from that used for printed book development.

Devices and Formats:

E-books are ‘read’ on devices. These devices include e-readers, which are used only for reading e-books, or tablets or smartphones, which , while used for other purposes also, facilitate reading of ‘ebooks’ through computer applications, called apps. Examples of e-readers include the Kindle™, the Kobo™, and the Nook™. Examples of apps that facilitate e-book reading are many. In some cases, e-reader manufacturing companies have developed apps, like the Kindle app for smartphones and tablets.

Many devices allow users to purchase e-books using the device itself. This device is then the only device on which these e-books can be read (see the section on DRM for further explanation of this point).

It is important to note that while the content of the e-book may the same, they are developed in different ways, called formats. Many devices (and apps) are structured to allow only certain formats to be read. For example, the Amazon Kindle™ will only read the .azw format, while the Kobo™ will only ‘support’ the .epub format. When publishers have limited resources to invest in digital books, the challenge before them is to decide which format they should invest in.

The major file formats currently in use are:

Format Pros Cons Can be read on:
PDF
  • Can include fonts, videos, audio clips, etc.
  • Can be tagged with file specific information (metadata)
  • Can be read on most devices
  • Has weak security built around it, making it easy to copy and share
  • Not particularly good for small screen reading
  • Not recognized as an e-book format by many vendors.
Almost every device including personal computers, most readers, tablets and smartphones
EPUB
  • Uses technology similar to that used for websites, making them easy to develop
  • New technologies allow inclusion of video and audio clips
These files are “rendered” differently by different readers and apps making their appearance inconsistent across devices Almost all readers and apps except the Amazon Kindle. Some common readers include the Nook and the Kobo.
AZW
  • Amazon’s own (proprietary) format. Hence files developed in this format will render without error on the Amazon Kindle
Other readers do not support this format. The Amazon Kindle and the Kindle app, and on others like the Apple Ipad. The Kindle is used more than any other reader globally.
Note: Files developed in the MOBI format are converted into the AZW format by the Kindle before they are read. Hence these two formats are discussed together.

There are other formats also used, which are not discussed here. Any format, including a text file, that allows a book to be read electronically is an e-book file format. However, every format has its limitations. For example, one cannot use multiple fonts or display images in a text file. Hence it is important to choose a file format with the end goal in mind.

When contacted by vendors, publishers will hear a lot about the XML format for e-books. While not used in itself as an e-book, developing a book in the XML format allows special software to then “reflow” this book into other formats, including a print-ready PDF file. XML (which stands for eXtensible Markup Language) can define, via what are called schemas, how the text and images should be stored for easy retrieval and flow into other formats. For this reason, many publishers prefer to develop e-books in XML format, that can be then re-configured for other purposes.

A casual study of the book market suggests that a large percentage of e-books are developed in the .mobi format. This is primarily because Amazon provides self-publishing services to a large number of customers, and, as part of these services, develops e-books in their own .mobi format alone. However, by choosing to develop in just one format because it is popular, a publisher runs the risk of excluding all other readers who prefer other formats. On the flip side, developing costs increase with every new format that the publisher chooses to develop in.

Often during discussions with vendors, publishers will hear of the “fixed-layout format”. This format is recommended for books where images have to be placed in a specific position relative to the text, as in a children’s picture book, or a cookbook. The “fixed-layout format” is not a separate format by itself, rather a subset of other formats.

Support for Indian Languages:

The absence of “unicode fonts” (rather, “unicode-compliant fonts”, which ensure consistency in the way characters and symbols appear across various devices) for many Indian languages has hindered the development of e-books that are truly cross-platform (i.e. those that can be viewed in the same manner on all devices). Indian language publishers must therefore ensure that the e-books they develop are developed in fonts that can be viewed in the same manner across most, if not all devices.

The absence of Unicode fonts has also prompted some device manufacturers to refuse support for certain Indian languages, like Kannada. This means that, while readers may or may not be able to read Kannada texts on such devices, the Amazon Kindle in this case, the device manufacturers will bear no responsibility for texts that cannot be accurately read.

Metadata:

Metadata is the data that publishers record to catalogue their books and ensure that they can be found by readers searching for them. Meta Data will not only include the title, author and ISBN for the book, but will also include other information, like important keywords within the book, names of important characters in the book, and other such information.

Metadata is usually recorded and shared using MS Excel sheets or in the ONIX format, which records this data at a granular level to meet the needs of buyers, readers, distributors, retailers and other such stakeholders in the book chain.

For more information on metadata, follow this link.

The importance of metadata cannot be emphasized enough and publishers must pay as much attention to it as to the development of digital books.

Digital Asset Management Systems (DAMS):

Digital Asset Management Systems (DAMS) is software you can buy from a vendor or develop yourself that will allow you to manage your digital book collection and provide meta data in the ONIX format. Note that these systems are expensive to develop, so feel free to choose or develop one with enough functionality to meet your needs.

Digital Rights Management (DRM):

Simply put, DRM, allows publishers to control who can read and access their digital books. In other words, it prevents unauthorized viewing, or piracy.

DRM costs money to implement and adds to the cost of the book, and while many publishers have invested the money and implemented DRM to protect their books, many others have taken a different approach and made their books DRM-free.

The way DRM is implemented varies widely. There is “social DRM”, where unauthorized viewing is not prevented, rather the origins of the file are recorded. This is done by registering the buyer, for example, through the use of a watermark, or some similar tracking mechanism. In case of illegal sharing, this information is then used to track the origin of the file.

As opposed to social DRM, “Hard DRM” prevents the viewing of an e-book altogether, if the copy in question is deemed illegal. This has prompted a backlash from genuine buyers, when they, for instance, would like to share a book they have purchased legally with family or friends, or would like to view the book on a device different from the one used to purchase the book. The jury is out on the use of DRM and publishers should consider all issues before implementing DRM for their digital books.

Royalties and Contracts:

Author contracts these days specifically mention the royalty rates for e-book sales. While the actual royalty rate is left to the publishers and the author to discuss and decide, the general agreement is that authors should receive at least half of the net proceeds from sale of e-books.

Many contracts also state the retail price for the e-book, or its price in relation to the printed book. Publishers must consult the websites where they intend to retail their books, for guidelines on how these e-books will be priced (as these prices often depend on the price of the printed versions).

While deciding to develop e-books, the publisher has to decide whether to develop going forward, or whether backlists will be converted into e-books also. The contracts have to be revisited in the latter case, to ensure that there is no ambiguity and that the authors have agreed to such conversion. The publisher also needs to take a pragmatic view on which books from among the backlist are converted to digital books. Conversion is an expensive process, so the publisher may decide to a) convert only selected books, or b)convert all books into e-books in the PDF format, which is a relatively cheaper format to convert to.

Make or Buy:

The main goal of this paper is to educate publishers in the process of digital book development so that they can decide whether to develop these books in house or outsource them to 3rd party developers. In the case of the latter, the publisher must specify the formats in which the books must be developed, and ensure that metadata is properly recorded for each book. Developing the books in house implies creating an IT team, if one does not already exist, or developing the competencies required for digital book development in an existing IT team.

Whether you choose to develop your books in house or have development outsourced, it is important for publishers to know exactly what they want, communicate their needs, and ensure that the books are delivered according to specifications.

While publishers will track sales based on already established practices, it might be a good idea to track the sales of each format of a title, and thus establish if a particular format is profitable or not.

At the beginning of every decision-making process, find and discuss the international standards that must be adhered to. These could relate to metadata standards, file formats, XML schemas, catalogue distribution formats, prices, DRM decisions, and so forth. If publishers do not follow generally accepted standards, they run the risk of locking themselves out of future opportunities to integrate with new sales channels.

Publishers are advised to consider developing their e-books in the epub and/or azw(or mobi) formats if they wish to take advantage of complex e-book retail systems, and in fact invest in e-book development. Paying vendors money to develop PDF versions of your printed list is both a waste of time and fetches little returns.

ISBNs:

Ideally, a different ISBN must be assigned for each e-book format i.e. the ISBN for the PDF version must be different from that for the epub version of the same title. It has been observed that a few publishers assign the same ISBN to different e-book formats of the same title. This practice defeats the objectives of an unique ISBN number.

Workflow:
The print and e-book workflow is basically the same as explained in the diagram below.

The PDF mentioned in the above diagram refers to the print-ready PDF and not to the PDF digital book format.

Distribution:

A quick search on the Internet for “e-book aggregators” or “e-book sales platforms” will provide you a list with companies that allow you to sell your e-books on their platforms. Many publishers have also developed their own websites, that facilitate the sale of their e-books.

Some of these aggregators offer to convert publishers’ lists into e-books and sell them on their own, proprietary, platforms. Often these are exclusive arrangements i.e. while they will bear the cost of conversion, the e-book will be available for purchase on their platform alone. Often, the publishers are not given copies of the e-book file in such a case. Selling on another platform is either prohibited or involves incurring the cost of development.

Some of the well known e-book aggregators / online retailers are:

We also allow the sale of different e-book formats on our own online platform: http://www.dogearsetc.com

Global Trend

A quick Google search indicates that there is a stagnation in e-book sales globally. Nonetheless, many publishers are investing in e-book development, at least for a few titles. The decision to invest in e-books is purely a business consideration, and must take into account the genre of books, the readership for a particular title and the price at which the e-books are sold. A cookie-cutter approach will not work in the case of e-book development.

In Conclusion:

In this article we have attempted to enumerate for publishers the various factors that impact e-book development. We hope this article will be of use to them while they consider investing in developing digital content for their establishments.