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.

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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.


  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:
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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 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.


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.

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.


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:

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.


The main purpose of this article is to spell out the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing, and enumerate its pros and cons, so that an author seeking to publish her book can decide which of the two options to choose.

The term “traditional publishing” or “mainstream publishing” refers to publishing as it is usually understood – where the publisher bets on the book and spends on it. In this mode of publishing, the common practice is for a publisher to either commission a book i.e. to ask an author to write on a particular topic, or to solicit manuscripts for publication. In the latter case, not all manuscripts are published, rather each solicited manuscript is passed through a round of editorial review. Once the publisher has decided to publish a book, all expenditures related to the book – its editing, design, printing, marketing and distribution – are borne by the publisher. In many instances, the publication process starts with an agreement in which the author hands over the rights to the book to the publisher, and in turn agrees to a ‘royalty fee’, a fixed percentage of sales paid to the author by the publisher. In some cases, an advance is paid against future royalty earnings.

traditional-vs-self-publishingSince the publisher is literally putting its money on the book, the publisher is choosy about the book it will publish. (Usually a publisher will publish just one kind of book, a genre, like crime thrillers, for instance. Or it may publish many genres under different labels, or imprints. For instance, Penguin India publishes business books under its Portfolio imprint and other contemporary non-fiction under its Allen Lane imprint.) A publisher may therefore choose to reject a book that is submitted to it by its author because the book does not fit among the books it has chosen to publish, or because the publisher does not see a market large enough for the book to be able to recoup its investments in that book. Please remember that a traditional publisher may reject your book even if it is a good one [].

Further, the publisher will take all necessary steps to ensure that the book appeals to its audience. The publisher brings its wisdom and experience to bear upon this process of developing the book for its market. That might mean making certain changes to the text, developing a cover that it finds suitable, setting an appropriate price for the book, and formulating a marketing plan appropriate for the book. The publisher can choose to do all of this without the involvement of the author. Based on its estimation of the market, the publisher will choose to print a certain number of copies of the book, and reprint or discontinue the book depending upon the response it gets. Depending upon the nature of the contract signed between the author and the publisher, the publisher has the freedom to negotiate and sign on agreements for translations of the book into other languages, for conversion into other electronic formats, and even for TV or movie rights.

So how is it different from self-publishing?

The self-publishing route differs from traditional publishing in the following aspects:

Cost: All costs related to the developing, printing and distributing the book, are borne by the author. That means the author remains fully invested in the process. Consequently, the author also has a say in all matters related to the book. Some options, such as crowdsourcing, that will make it easier for authors to fund their books are now available.

Control: This follows from the previous point. Having paid for the book, the author gets to decide (rather, should be given a chance to decide) on every aspect of the book, such as the book dimensions, the type of binding, the nature of the cover, the number of copies printed and the avenues of distribution.

Profits: All profits go to the author. Any deductions, if held back by the service provider, should be communicated to the author, preferably before the service is undertaken. The author must receive an explanation of the costs and reimbursements. Typically, the author gets to choose the quantum of royatly payable after each copy is sold, and, based on that, the price of the book. The author agreement, that every self-published author must read before signing, must explain how profits, and royalty, will be disbursed to the author. No advance on royalties is paid to the author.

Rights: The rights to the contents of the book remain vested with the author. Thus, the author decides on the rights for translations, serialization rights, rights to convert to other formats, as also TV and movie rights. An author agreement is therefore very important for authors who self publish, more importantly one that explains where the rights to various aspects of the book will be vested.

Time to Market: A self-published book almost always makes it to the market earlier than a book that is traditionally published. A six-month period is considered as the average time a book takes to become available when the author chooses the self-publishing route.

Having said that, self-publishing does not appeal to many. That is because self-publishing is hard work. It means a total commitment to the self-publishing process, understanding every aspect of the process, taking time to learn how publishing works, and, very importantly, taking it upon yourself to ensure that the book is adequately marketed and distributed. Self-publishing cannot be for authors who will outsource the task of monitoring the process to a third party.

On the other hand, a majority of authors do prefer the tradional publishing way. And for good reason:

There is prestige and validation: Being a published author implies having your book approved by a team of editors. That in itself is a badge of approval that many authors relish. Such validation does not come easily to self-published authors. In fact, in the case of many genres, such as academic books, self-published books are frowned upon. That stigma, though, is slowly disappearing.

Your book is worked upon by a large team of book editors, designers and marketeers: Very often the team assembled to work on your book has many years of experience between them. Given that the publisher has invested a lot of money in the book, it naturally follows that this team is charged with publishing a very good book. When you self-publish, on the other hand, you choose the team you will work with.

Distribution becomes easier: Book distributors and retailers believe that a book from a traditional publisher will be worth selling since it is assumed that the content is properly vetted and edited and a lot of effort has been put into developing a good book. No retailer would shun a good product and the publisher’s imprint assures the retailer of just that. Like many self-published authors will avow, getting physical stores to keep their books on their shelves is next to impossible.

There are no costs to the author, a lucky one might actually receive a royalty: In the traditional publishing model, the publisher invests the money necessary to develop, market and distribute the book. In case of established authors, the publisher might actually offer the author an advance against future royalties.

A traditionally published book is more likely to be accepted for awards and acclaim: Many literary awards are not open to self-published authors, and remain available for traditionally published books alone.

Self-publishing can be a way to get published the traditional way. Many authors have found commercial and critical success with their self-published books as a result of which publishers following the traditional model of publishing have noticed them and offered them a proposal for their next book. Ultimately it is the decision of the author, to choose which route to take. There cannot be any substitute for hard work and writing a good book. That done, both models are guaranteed to get the market to sit up and notice your book.

We are often asked why we insist that a manuscript submitted to us for self-publishing should be edited. Many authors believe, and some rightly so, that they have put in a lot of effort to make sure that the loose ends are tied and therefore the need to spend time, and money, on a round of editing is unnecessary. But we still insist on a round of editing, sometimes to our own detriment because many authors desert us when we ask them to have their manuscripts edited. We however believe that a round of editing is good for the book. Here’s why:editing

a. An editor will read your book with a different perspective: While most readers read the content of the book, and may thus oversee some errors in the text, a good editor will read every word to ensure that the text is as error-free as possible. Moreover, writers are so familiar with their own work, they usually miss many errors that a different set of eyes will see.

b. An editor will ensure consistency: Such consistency could be with respect to spellings, or the way dates are numbered or the way punctuation marks are used.

c. An editor will ensure accuracy: An editor will ensure that all facts are checked, the numbers add up, and, as it happened in one case with one of our books, that a person who died on page 77 does not reappear on page 132.

d. An editor will ensure clarity: An editor, who is unfamiliar with the text, and is reading it for the first time, will want to ensure that the narrative is clear to the reader. What might be obvious to the author might not be to the reader. The editor might therefore ask the writer to clarify the text so that it is communicated as clearly as possible. Similarly an editor will ensure that the narrative is not verbose and long wound, or bogged down with complex words when a simple word will be as effective.

e. An editor will iron out all issues with the grammar of the text: A writer need not know about split infinitives or dangling modifiers. That’s the editor’s job to know, identify and correct.

f. An editor underlines your commitment towards excellence: Every author wants to ensure that his/her book out there is the best. A round of editing can ensure that.

It is often argued that self-publishing authors should not be asked to cut and chop text, that it is their choice of what to keep and what to remove. A round of editing does not impinge on that choice, rather it only shows what the author could consider modifying so that the book reads better. A good editor will suggest modifications that do not impinge upon the author’s style of communicating. Editing is not a censorship tool, rather an approach towards perfecting the book. With the book on the shelf, the author has but one opportunity to make an impression on the reader. An edited book can ensure that that impression is a memorable one. At the same time, an editor cannot guarantee commercial success for the book, just that the book will read well.

So what are the types of editing available and what type does your book need?

Proofreading: During this process, the proofreader reads the proof (usually an already-edited manuscript) and acts only as a quality check for spelling and grammar, making sure that the copy editor has not missed something. The proofreader is not responsible for the overall consistency and accuracy of the text.

Copy Editing: Copy editing makes sure that the author’s raw text is corrected in aspects of spelling and grammar. Copy editing also involves, among other things, ensuring that the text flows properly, that nothing is missing or redundant, that sentences and paragraphs are uncomplicated and of adequate length and that the consistency of characters and plots is maintained. A copy editor also ensures that illustrations support the text and have appropriate captions.

In addition, editors will eliminate redundant words, replace repetitive words with appropriate synonyms, and will substitute weak words, phrases, and sentences with alternatives that deliver more impact or are more relevant to your subject matter. During all this, our editors will make sure your original tone remains intact. After a round of editing, we insist that the author reads and reviews these changes.

Substantive (or Developmental) Editing: Substantive editing, sometimes called structural editing, focuses on the content, organization, and presentation of the entire text, viewed wholly, from the title through to the ending.

Which editing you choose actually depends on the book you have written. At the very least, we suggest you have your book copyedited. This is necessary because it removes the scruff from the grain. A good copyeditor will see what you are blind to because you are too invested in the words you have toiled to write, and will help you make your book even better to read. If you are unconvinced, remember that in the traditional publishing process, it is the editing phase that takes the longest. Publishers who have invested in the book make sure that the book is properly edited. You are doing the same thing with your self-published book when you invest in a round of editing.

I recently came across an interesting article that explained how all-you-can-eat (AYCE) buffets use principles of psychology to great benefit. The manager of an AYCE restaurant has a single mandate: that to fill the customer’s belly quickly and cheaply, while creating the perception of providing ample variety and high quality food items. At the same they must ensure that food wastage is minimal to ensure that profit margins remain high.

The psychology of AYCE meals is rather interesting. It’s been found that most people eat the same amount they do in other restaurants which do not offer AYCE (where, instead, customers are asked to choose from a menu). One study reduced the price of an AYCE menu by half while keeping untouched the food on offer. The customers expressed dissatisfaction with the food, equating the low price to low quality. Clearly, getting a good deal wasn’t of primary importance. It is also true that most customers do not over-eat and even fewer waste food in an AYCE restaurant. More importantly, most customers are not price-sensitive, so higher prices (which give a perception of higher quality) actually yield higher margins.

Okay, so what does that have to do with self-publishing? Lots actually because most self-publishing companies provide the equivalent of an AYCE menu by offering packages. At CinnamonTeal Publishing, we have resisted the urge to provide package-based services because we are certain that choosing off a menu is not only cheaper for customers, they actually get to choose varying levels of quality based on their budget. That means, for instance, while a package will offer editing, a menu-based service will allow customers to choose between proofreading, copy editing and substantive editing, based on what the manuscript actually needs and on the budget of the customer. A package, on the other hand, will rarely specify the type of editing that is being offered (and very often, quite surprisingly, editing isn’t offered at all).

Agreed, the AYCE approach, and packages, do have some benefits. It makes comparison easier and it saves the customer the hassle of looking into the details. There are many self-publishing providers like Notionpress and Pothi who provide packages, and we do not believe they would have done it without giving it enough thought. But this blog is based on our belief on the flip side of self-publishing packages. And while we have lost many customers because they prefer the hands-off approach to the publishing process and opt for packages, we also have had many more authors who take the self-publishing exercise very seriously, and who wish to know how the process works, and engage with us to develop a better book.

So what is the flip side we are taking about? Here are some factors we think may apply:

a. Authors lose the ability to choose among levels within the same service: We already provided the example of editing. The same goes for cover design. By simply saying “basic design” or “premium design”, the details of complexity within the (cover design) process are deliberately obfuscated. Moreover, the customer has no say in the process. So if the author wishes to have a cover that has a personal touch to it, the package-based system simply does not work for him or her. In the package-based way of doing things, nuance is lost and every service is homogenized. One must remember that cover design is not cover design. There are many ways each cover can be uniquely fashioned. And authors can and must be given the option to play a vital role in that process.

b. The “meat” is avoided: Just like AYCE meals skimp on the protein and feed the starch, so also many packages are designed to seem “full” while providing little substance. One extremely high-priced package available in the market does not include copy editing but includes several marketing gimmicks, all of which are available for free on the Internet. In the hurry to seek a rationale for the money that is asked, the hapless customer overlooks the fact that no matter how good the marketing, the buyer will return the book to the shelf if he encounters a spelling or grammatical mistake. Good editing and presentation make a good book. A good marketing effort can only work with a strong product. Yet, the long list of “benefits” on offer prompts the customer to overlook that starch has been substituted for protein.

c. Unnecessary costs are justified: A quick look at most packages will show that most of the “features” on offer are simply not necessary to develop a book and get it out in front of the eyes of readers. Much of these bells and whistles are, like explained above, post-publishing i.e. after the core product, the book, is already produced. It is also true that many of these features on offer make sense to the author only when it is part of a larger plan. Like the website, for instance. Unless the website is part of a larger marketing plan, a poorly designed website, in the design of which the author has had no part to play, might actually harm the author’s credibility. It makes more sense for the author to put together a comprehensive marketing plan, then individually purchase the components that fit the plan, with the desired level of complexity of each component. Speaking of marketing plans, does the one your package provider is offering you allow you to prioritize visuals over text, or text over visuals? Do they provide analytics to determine the efficacy of the plan?

d. Books are homogenized: If the same set of packages can be applied to all books, it follows that package providers consider all books equal. That is very rarely the case. Even within a genre, a certain book might require a certain way of presentation and handling that another book in the same genre does not. The package provider treats all books as equal and goes through the same process for all books. This can only be harmful for the book. If generic marketing services are being employed, such services may actually end up doing the book more harm than good.

e. There is no clarity if services are homogenized: If, to take the previous example, website design is a service offered as part of a package, is there a change in the design offered each time to customers choosing that package? And if different designs are being offered to customers, are they costing the package provider the same? And if they do not all cost the same, why are the changes in cost not being passed on to the customer? Or are these services being outsourced to the lowest bidder?

It is our firm belief that a customer who is paying must have the ability to choose between the wide array of options available. For this reason we have not offered packages. And we think that the serious author shouldn’t opt for packages either.

Before finishing, let me reiterate that this post is not to ridicule the service providers who offer packages and the authors who purchase them. Both have been successful. This is to explain our point of view so authors who are still looking for a self-publishing service can make an informed decision. We hope we have been able to successfully communicate why we do not offer packages and we insist on a menu-based system.

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How much does it cost to self-publish a book in India?

The short answer: it depends.

The long answer is here. This post helps you understand the costs involved with self-publishing in India.

In order to have a published book, the book must go through any number of steps. This number depends (you’ll hear this word many times, so brace yourself) on the contents of the book. At a minimum, any book goes through the following steps:

a. Pre-publishing (before the book is ready for printing):
Cover Design
Book Layout (or Typesetting)

b. Post-publishing (after the book is reading for printing)
Printing (and/or ebook development)
Marketing and Distribution

There could be more steps depending on what you want for your book. For instance, you might want some illustrations included in the book. Or you might want to have the book indexed. Or you might wish to have some contents of the book fact-checked.

Let us go through each process and understand the costs that each of them incur. Let me state here, that this is the process that we at CinnamonTeal Publishing follow. Other self-publishing service providers follow their own processes and it may be wise to ask them how they base their charges.

Editing: There are three levels of editing, each level an improvement over the previous – a) Proofreading, where basic errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation are identified and corrected, b) Copy Editing, where the editor, besides checking for spellings and grammar, also makes sure that the narrative flows properly, that important details aren’t missing, that sentences and paragraphs are uncomplicated and of adequate length, and that the consistency of characters and plots is maintained, and c) Substantive Editing, sometimes called structural editing, which focuses on the content, organization, and presentation of the entire text, viewed wholly, from the title through to the ending.

As you can imagine, substantive editing is the most expensive service of the three, while proofreading is the least. When we receive your manuscript we read it to determine the level of editing your book needs. We write back to you with our suggested level of editing, with enough examples to show why that level of editing must be considered. And then we charge you for that level of editing. Charges are levied per page, of A4 size, after all unnecessary blank spaces are removed.

So the charges for editing depend on a) the number of pages that need to be edited and b) the level of editing that the manuscript needs.

We have always been asked why we insist on a round of editing. We do that because no matter how good the author, a mistake here or an error there, is bound to escape the author’s eye. The author, who has read and reread the text many times, can miss vital details, that a fresh, trained, pair of eyes can immediately notice. But we aren’t the only ones who believe this. The best publishing houses spend their most vital resources on editing. This is because a well-edited book (and a well-presented book) speaks for itself and makes an instant impression on the buyer.

the cost of self-publishingPage Design (or Page Layout or Typesetting): This is the process by which the interior of the book is laid out. It involves deciding on the dimensions of the book, the choice of fonts, the position (and contents) of the header and footer, the way chapter numbers and titles are designed, the position and design of pages such as the preface, foreword, afterword, prologue, epilogue, etc., and other such matters related to the interior of the book.

After the edited manuscript is received, in A4 format, the book must be “shrunk” to the desired dimensions. Our preferred dimensions for most books are the A5 format (210 mm x 148mm) and the Demy (216mm x 138mm). But the actual dimensions of your book depends on the subject your book covers and on the preferred dimensions for other books in that genre. When the book dimensions change, the number of pages that will constitute the book in its final form will also change. We charge for typesetting based on the final page count. Charges per page increase when the book contains graphical elements, such as photographs, illustrations, images, tables, flowcharts, etc..

The costs for interior page design depend on a) the final number of pages in the book and b) the presence of graphical elements.

Cover Design: The costs for cover design depend on the degree of complexity required in the images used for the cover. For example, an author may provide an illustration and ask that it be incorporated into the cover. Or she might want us to draw an image for the cover. Or the author might ask us to buy an image or a photograph or a special font, and incorporate that into the cover. In each of these cases the costs will vary.

Our cover design costs include the costs for designing the spine and the back cover. If there is also an e-book for which a cover has to be designed, there are other important factors that need to be considered. Like the fact that the cover has to have an image that stands out even when reduced to a thumbnail. Please note that the cover design processes for printed books and e-books are separate, and, in the case of CinnamonTeal Publishing, are charged separately.

At CinnamonTeal we do not distinguish between “basic covers” and “premier covers”. We believe that the cover design process is an equally important part of the book development process and needs a lot of attention to detail. The cover is the book’s way of putting forward its best first impression. We therefore make sure every book gets the best cover it deserves.

Cover Design costs depend upon a) degree of complexity and b) additional materials such as images and fonts that need to be especially purchased (on request by the author).

At this point the book is published. What it needs is to be given a form – whether as a printed book or an electronic copy. An author could request other bells and whistles such as illustrations, photographs, indexes, etc. that add to the cost of the book.

Illustrations: The cost of an illustration also depends on the complexity that is requested. An author might ask for a simple line drawing or an incredibly detailed image, in colour or in pencil shades. Depending on the author’s requests a quote is provided for illustrations.

Indexes: This depends on whether a) a subject index, b) a topic index or c) both a subject and topic index is requested.

After the book is completed, we proceed to give it a form. That means printing the book, or giving it an electronic form, or doing both.

Printing: An author might wish to print in bulk and provide copies for sale as required or she might wish to have them printed after a sale is made (printed on demand). The costs in each case vary, depending on the number of copies printed at one time. The cost per copy, in turn, depends on a) the number of pages in the book, b) the number of colour pages in the book, c) the kind of binding requested for the book and d) any embellishments requested for the cover of the book.

The book can be bound in various ways, the common ones being the hardcover and the softcover (paperback). The hardcover, in turn, could have its title printed on the hard cover itself, or on a paper jacket, called the dust jacket, or on both. The book itself could be bound in other ways. It could be spiral bound or have a wir-o-binding. The cost of printing a single copy is influenced to a large extent by the choice of binding.

Embellishments to the cover can enhance its look and feel. If you want areas of your cover to show in relief, for example, you can use what is called a Spot Gloss, or Spot Varnish or Spot UV. These embellishments are very expensive and should be considered only when print runs of a thousand copies or more are considered. Embellishments do not include cover laminations. A gloss or matte lamination is provided automatically.

So, the cost of printing depends on a) number of copies printed and b) transportation costs for the printed books.

E-book Development: The development of the e-book runs parallel to the printing process. If the book is requested in both, the printed and electronic form, the ebook development process occurs parallel to the typesetting process. If the book is requested only in electronic form, the typesetting process, after which the book is printed, is not required.

Ebooks are primarily developed in three ways, or in three formats: a) PDF/A (for use on mobile handsets or computer screens), MOBI (for use on the Amazon Kindle™) and EPUB (for use on most devices including the Sony eReader™, the Kobo™, Nook™ and the Apple iPad™). Because EPUB formats do not read on the Amazon Kindle, an author should consider developing in all three formats. It is however left up to the author to decide which formats to develop. Each format costs money, and caters to a different readership, and it is therefore an important decision for authors to make. While deciding a format, the author should also make sure that he/she possesses a reader for that format. Fortunately there are many android- and iOS-based appls available for all three formats.

Should an author opt for both the print and electronic options, i.e. to have both, the book printed as well as developed as e-books (in one or more formats), we, at CinnamonTeal, take all measures to ensure that the electronic formats mirror the print editions to the extent possible, while also exploiting the potential of the electronic medium. We do this to ensure that the reader is exposed to a consistent image of the book, whether in print or in electronic format.

The price of e-book development, for each format, is a function of the number of pages of the print version (if a print option was exercised, to ensure that the print and electronic versions mirror each other to the extent possible) or of the number of pages of the edited manuscript (if the author decided not to have the book printed).  Further, the costs also depend on the number of formats developed.

Marketing: Not to be confused with distribution and sales of the book, marketing encompasses several activities undertaken to make the readership aware of the presence of the book. This could take the form of digital marketing where social media tools are used to distribute information about the book, or physical marketing that may take the form of a book launch or a newspaper article or a book review. We offer all these options, including bespoke digital marketing options, and the cost in each case really depends on what options are exercised by the author.

Distribution: This means making the book available for sales. While we have tied up with several networks around the world for online distribution of books, both printed books as well as e-books, we also make physical copies available for sale at bookstores within India, if the author so desires.

We charge for our online distribution service, whether the book is made available within India alone, or internationally also. This charge includes a one-time charge to list and disseminate book information and an annual fee to maintain the records on all networks. This charge also covers our activities when we have to pack and ship books after a sale has occurred.

Distribution charges thus depend on whether the author has chosen to distribute your book within India alone, or abroad too.

So, like you can see, it is not only difficult for the service provider, but also unfair to the author, to have a single charge for self-publishing services. We are the only providers within the Indian market who do not offer packages and often we have been ridiculed for that. But when there are so many variables influencing the cost of self-publishing, we believe it is unethical to offer the author a single charge because such a charge will invariably cover the costs of all services, and that too their most expensive variants, whether or not the author has chosen, or wishes to avail of, those services. More importantly, it assumes that the author is incapable of choosing those services that she/he knows is best for her/his book, and deciding among the variants within each type of service. Moreover, in many cases, the author is able to get certain parts of the publishing process done pro bono, through a friend or acquaintance. Like the cover design, for example. The package approach simply does not work for such authors.

However, we hope that, after reading this, you will appreciate why we do not give you a quote without knowing a few details of your manuscript. And why we, as a matter of principle, do not offer packages. We also hope you will get a clearer picture of the processes that go into a self-published book.

But coming back to the question: what does it cost to self-publish a book in India? Well, like we’ve seen above, it depends.

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The clamour among authors and publishers for a mechanism that prevents ebooks from being pirated (illegally downloaded, copied and shared), particularly for DRM (Digital Rights Management, an umbrella term for technologies that prevent ‘piracy’), hasn’t quite disappeared. Before we get into a discussion around piracy and DRM, let us examine the types of customers that prompt this clamour for DRM technology.

A. The customer who will only download free stuff, whether books or software
B. The customer who will download free books because he/she cannot afford to pay for a legal copy
C. The customer who will accidentally land upon a pirated book and download it because he’s found it for free, and is perhaps never going to read it anyway.

If you consider these three options, you have lost a sale only in case A. In cases B and C, they were never your customers anyway, rather, they would not pay for your book in any case.

Spending on DRM to prevent customer A seems a colossal waste of money. And time.

The case for DRM is widely considered a weak one: to begin with, it is expensive to implement and can easily be tampered with. In addition, in the absence of an industry-wide DRM standard, different platforms have adopted different locking mechanisms thus making it difficult for retailers and buyers to purchase solutions that are compatible across platforms without bearing a cost in each case. Moreover, we are of the opinion that e-books should be shared, much like printed books are, and that artificial barriers that prevent what is essentially a basic human instinct to share, must be avoided. DRM, being what it is, will only lead to a backlash from consumers by turning away buyers who legitimately purchase a book are seeking a good reading experience.

On the other hand there is the matter of indiscriminate pirating that is a legitimate concern of many authors. If books are simply distributed over the Internet, free of cost, surely it must impact sales and, consequently, rob authors of their royalties. Unfortunately, there is no study that proves that DRM actually prevents piracy. Moreover, these days a printed book can be easily scanned, then subjected to OCR software, thus making it easily available for sharing. Countering piracy therefore needs a different approach. But, as seen above, it does not make economic sense to spend money countering piracy.

Many reports like this one make the distinction between piracy (where the file is let loose and anyone, even those unrelated to the originator, can lay hands on the book) with casual sharing (where the book is shared between people who know each other. DRM might prevent casual sharing, and, consequently, a sale that might happen because the person it is shared with might actually like the book and buy herself a copy. Publishers understand this and are moving one by one to make their books available DRM-free.

So what might be a good way to prevent unbridled file sharing? Making the book easily accessible might be a good way to start. Most often, it is not the price, it is the fact that books are simply not available, that forces buyers to look elsewhere for books. E-commerce platforms coupled with easy-to-obtain applications on smartphones (on which reading is quite popular(requires a subscription)) can make for a seamless purchase-and-read experience.

While it is still not a good idea to implement hard DRM to counter piracy, one option that is finding much favour (and one that we have adopted on our e-commerce platform,, for our books) is digital watermarking (or social DRM). Digital watermarking involves adding an image or some software code that identifies the original purchaser of the book. In case of rampant piracy, the source can thus be traced. Thus, while sharing is not limited or made cumbersome, due to the absence of DRM, publishers are still enabled with the tools needed to identify the customer who purchased the book (and who may have then turned generous and made the book available to all and sundry).

Digital watermarking is not provided on every platform and there are still platforms which offer a choice only between hard DRM and no DRM. Social DRM seems like the best compromise and it is our hunch that it won’t be too long before it is accepted widely.

If you are a publisher based in India, or even an author applying for an ISBN, chances are you have encountered a rather long-drawn, tedious process to apply for an ISBN through an online portal provided by the Ministry of HRD (MoHRD), Government of India. While a step in the right direction, the process itself hasn’t been smooth and has led to many publishers complaining about the long waiting period that they have to go through before their application is approved, not to mention confusion over the documents that need to be submitted for the application to be approved. Further, unlike earlier, where an entire block of 10 or 100 ISBNs were allotted to the publisher, this new process requires the publisher to apply for each ISBN separately. A few of us, publishers, have submitted a memorandum to the MoHRD, and the authorities, in turn, have agreed to look into the issues that were raised. If you wish to be represented (the memorandum highlights the issues of publishers alone, not authors), write in to us so we can include you in our discussions. You can email for more details.