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.

picture credits:

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.

The-multitudes-of-ripples_coverThe author is a research scientist by training. He is technical consultant who works in an advisory capacity to the pharmaceutical industry. He specializes in intellectual property, technology upgradation and information technology. He is a science writer specializing in theoretical and philosophical foundations of modern scientific thought.

In a conversation with CinnamonTeal, the author spoke about his book and his expectations from those who read it.

CinnamonTeal: What inspired you to write your first book?
Vaachakmitra: I have been an avid reader of English literature. I found out that these writers had developed insights into human nature through their writings. I also found fiction writing as an analytical tool. I write because it gives me an understanding about my own subconscious mind.

CinnamonTeal: After this first-hand experience, would you want to write again?
Vaachakmitra: I have found strange solace in fiction writing. I would definitely continue writing fiction. In fact , I am writing my second novel. I am already writing blogs on my experience in writing my second novel.

CinnamonTeal: Is your book based on a real-life inspiration or is it completely insightful?
Vaachakmitra: I think writing a novel is confluence of reality and imagination. For the first time novelist , the reality consists of his personal life and imagination consists of his interpretation of this reality. Maybe , in my second novel , there will be less of myself and more of mankind.

CinnamonTeal: Did you face any criticism while in the process of writing your book?
Vaachakmitra: I was brought up by my parents who dotted on me. My father was a serious student of avant garde literature. So criticism is something I have never faced. Now my family appreciates my communication skills.

CinnamonTeal: What kind of readers do you wish to aim at? The youth or a much older crowd?
Vaachakmitra: It is difficult to pin point my intended audience. On one hand the period of my novel and the sensibility of the protagonist are that of person who would be in fifties and sixties. On the other hand , Indian ethos are meant for all age groups. Finally , this is a sincere tribute to masters who have shaped my literary sensibility. I think all these three groups would enjoy my novel.

CinnamonTeal: What do you wish the readers to take away from this novel, at least thematically?
Vaachakmitra: Frankly speaking , I am not in favor of inspirational writings. A genuine fiction , like life itself , demands seriousness. If anyone can read through this novel ,I am sure , she/ he would try to introspect her / his life. The readers would find that everyone’s life can be interpreted in more than one way. The core , the philosophical core , of this novel is that all these interpretations of ones life contain , within themselves , a germ of truth. If my novel helps readers to be aware of these multitudes of interpretations of life , I would consider myself as a good writer.

CinnamonTeal: What does the title ‘The Multitudes of Ripples’ signify?
Vaachakmitra: I think my previous answer contains the reason why I called it by such a title. I have been asked by someone why the word multitude appears as plural noun. To some purists common noun can be used in plurality. However , I think that not only grammatically, but even semantically, this plurality is correct. When there is more than one multitude, then they can be called multitudes.

More importantly , I have used plurality here because I am convinced that such a multitude occurs in each one of us. The plural form refers to that , after reading this novel , every reader would become aware of her/his own multitude. Since the reader’s multitude is triggered by a the protagonist ‘s multitude , plurality of multitudes is correct notation.

Finally , I was asked about the use of definite article ‘The’ in the title. I think that definite article refers to the fact that beneath these multitudes of interpretations, there lies a unitary life. There could be many interpretations of life but life is singular. In some sense we, as individuals, are different but life that runs through our consciousness is one. The definite article ‘The’ refers to singularity that unites all of us.

CinnamonTeal: What kind of books do you personally like to read? Did they influence your thought process for this book?
Vaachakmitra: I was a voracious reader in my younger days. About , twenty five years ago , I decided to become a writer. At that point of time , I decided to stop reading fiction because I did not want to imitate my favorite writers. After such a time lag , I think details are forgotten but the sensibility has remained. My favorite writers were many. I can name only a few of them. Camus, Sartre, Maugham, O’Neill, Bellow, White, Achebe etc. When I had to read my own novel while editing , I found echoes of all of them in this novel.

CinnamonTeal: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Vaachakmitra: All I can say is the novel is lying dormant in your subconscious mind. Just tap your inner self to find that novel. I seriously believe that a fiction writer merely transfers the novel from subconscious mind to the paper.

CinnamonTeal: How, if at all, does your process differ from the other authors, when writing a novel?
Vaachakmitra: I wish I knew that answer. I am not much into biographies , so I can’t compare my writing process with those of others. However as mentioned in one of my blogs , the novel compels you to give it a birth. Writers are the instruments not owners of the novel. ( unless it concerns the royalty payments!).

CinnamonTeal: Any specific reason for choosing the pen name of ‘Vaachakmitra’?
Vaachakmitra: I have mentioned in one of my blogs why I chose to write under a pen name. As for this particular pen name , I think I want to emphasize that I was a reader first and then a writer. My empathy is with readers hence this name.

CinnamonTeal: In the years to come, will you reveal your true name or would you prefer it being masked from the media’s focus?
Vaachakmitra: I am not sure. I have been a private person all my life. I am comfortable with anonymity that a pen name offers. However , I am not sure what future holds. All I can say is ‘ Que Sera Sera’.

The Multitudes of Ripples, a novel, is a first-person narrative of an entrepreneur who struggles to make sense of his life and demonstrates how optimism incorporates meaningful semantic even in the face of psychopathology. Available on Dogears Etc.. Also available on Infibeam, and Flipkart.

img_20160516_213823Sanjay Kumar Singh went to school at St. Michael’s High School, Patna and Bishop Cottons Boys School, Bangalore. He graduated in Economics (Honours) from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and has a Law Degree from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University.  He is now a practicing lawyer and lives with his wife Leena, daughter Vaibhavi, fondly called Tiggle, and their pet Labrador named Phantom, in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India.

In a conversation with the author, we asked him about his book and what inspired him to write it:

CinnamonTeal: Tell us about the title. What made you choose “Fear is a Friend” as the title of the book?

Sanjay Kumar Singh: Fear is an emotion and emotions have the potential to further agitate the subconscious which itself is stupendously powerful. If fear is embraced as a friend and not treated as an embarrassing companion, it can work with the subconscious to create solutions and provide answers even in extreme situations of risk and turmoil, as happens with Ashwin Bhardwaj, the central character of the book.

CinnamonTeal: Share with us your taste for books. How much of your reading influences your writing? And what made you write a thriller? Any favourite authors whose style of writing has influenced you?

Sanjay Kumar Singh: I like books that are intelligently written, strive to deliver some meaning, even if in between the lines, and do not unnecessarily stretch their content. To that extent, what I like reading does stand as a parameter to improve upon in what I write.

I have been reading thrillers from a young age. Of late, particularly, I have been disappointed with the quality of thrillers generally available; for often they consume pages to the point of boredom and often feature far too much brutality. I felt that I could write a thriller without these shortcomings and give it ingredients that would make the book not only far more engaging and entertaining but also leave the reader with positive feelings and images in his mind.

While I do have some favourite authors, I do not think my writing style has been influenced by any of them.

CinnamonTeal: Let us in a bit on your other tastes. Like your taste for poetry that reflects in your writing. What is it about poetry that fascinates you?

Sanjay Kumar Singh: So far as tastes are concerned, at this point in my life, I find that my tastes or attention are largely devoted to the deeper meanings of life and after-life.

Poetry can link with the subconscious in a much more expressive and powerful mode that does incite my interest and my attempt to bring out the same. I have a published book of poems titled “Mascara on Whiskey Nights and Other Poems” and my next work, just completed, is a novel written in poetry and has some contemporary pressing issues as its theme and setting.

9789386301123_fcCinnamonTeal: Explain to us how you went about researching for your book? Share with us any advice you may have.

Sanjay Kumar Singh: I have had, I daresay, a wide reading base, including that related to current affairs and issues which helped me in reducing the research I actually had to carry out for the book.

I would advise one to take time in conceiving the plot of the book. This at times can be quite demanding and even painful, but is well worth the intensity of the effort put in. Then, to express the plot in a manner that is comfortable both to the writing style of the writer as also to the reader. And, of course, I feel that one should avoid incorporating features or aspects in one’s book about which one doesn’t know much.

CinnamonTeal: Will there be a sequel to the book? Will Ashwin Bhardwaj ever quit?

Sanjay Kumar Singh: Yes, there would be a sequel to the book for, yes indeed, Ashwin Bhardwaj does indeed doesn’t look like as if he would quit!

CinnamonTeal: Describe for us your emotions as you began to write your first novel? Was there trepidation? A sense of excitement? A fear of the unknown, perhaps?

Sanjay Kumar Singh: Of course, there were tremors of trepidation and currents of excitement throughout and yes, the feeling that FEAR is indeed a friend!


Buy the paperback version on Dogears Etc..
Also available in EPUB, MOBI and PDF formats.



Following his reply to a post in a newsletter, a series of email exchanges with Thomas Abraham, Managing Director of Hachette India, led to the request for an email interview which he generously agreed to. One of the most outspoken heads of any publishing house, his positions on various aspects of the publishing chain have been well articulated, and in this interview he retains his position on many issues. I started by asking him about his publishing programme:dscn6401

Leonard Fernandes: Give us an idea of the kinds of books Hachette India has invested in, the success rates of the various genres. How do you carve your niche in an increasingly fragmented market where the publisher’s brand does not play a very big role in the reader’s book buying decisions? While many publishers seek new authors as a way of attracting readers, what has your approach been to seek out and publish new voices?
Thomas Abraham: We were in effect a startup though we have one of the world’s biggest groups behind us, and typically of a start-up we’ve had our ups and downs as the market turned. We were lucky and were insulated against the 2008 crash where the market started going downhill, because of the Stephenie Meyer boom. 2011 however was a bad year with a couple of big distributors going down with the shutdown of Reliance’s Time Out bookstore chain and the near closure-level downsizing of Landmark. But, given the depth of the group, we’ve always had something big come along every other year—from Sachin Tendulkar to Harry Potter. But we’re equally clear that we need to have stable profit that is not dependent on just a couple of books.
In India we are relatively young—not yet ten years old—and our local publishing [programme] is even younger. Trade publishing has a fairly similar spread across leading publishers, and so nobody can really claim to be that different. It’s more in the emphasis one has for the list one builds within a broad commonality. When we set up we decided we would begin with two clear publishing divisions—Adult & Business, and a smaller Children’s division. Together the two divisions do about 50 to 60 books a year in a tight programme that has two clear priorities—the discovery of new voices, and publishing profitability. I’m pleased that both objectives have been achieved.
To quote our Editor-in-Chief, Poulomi Chatterjee: “With more and more Indians writing in English in different genres it’s tempting for all publishers to find and publish the strongest voices among them. This requires considerable reading and research in ‘non-book’ spaces. In non-fiction we’d look for subject experts or thought leaders or dedicated journalists who write for various print and online publications or on their own blogs and who we believe can execute a book idea well. In fiction it’s tougher to actively ‘seek’ out writers unless they are previously published, but choosing from among the manuscripts that land on your desk is not difficult once you’ve defined what it is you’re looking for in a story and the exact readership you want to serve. On and off, publishers also launch initiatives to discover new voices. Two years ago, we had teamed up with DNA and launched a ‘Search for the Next Bestseller’ contest, during which we received over 300 entries and shortlisted 20, out of which 3 were chosen by us to be mentored and published. It revealed that there are many talented writers out there with interesting stories to tell.”
Because of our strategy, as much as 80% of our local list focuses on new writers. Within our stated objective we have a broad approach. So we have bestsellers, award winners and marquee names alike in our stable, with Subroto Bagchi, Anuradha Roy, Manjula Padmanabhan, Krishna Udayasankar, Ritu Dalmia, Sachin Tendulkar, Malala, Roopa Pai, to name a few. We perhaps have the best food and drink range across group and local publishing alike, and also the most cutting-edge offerings in the crime and thriller genre. As a clear and conscious choice, with just one or two exceptions, we do not publish in the sub-Rs 200, low-priced segments. Our emphasis leans toward non-fiction but we do mirror our group strategies and have a full spread across genres from translation, literary fiction, crossover/general fiction, commercial fiction, as well as business, biography and health & fitness. We’ve been shortlisted for every major Indian prize and many overseas prizes (including the Man Booker), and have won the DSC prize, the Crossword Prize, the Hindu Young World Prize; and two crossword Prizes just yesterday. Not bad going for a very young publishing programme—and we’ve only just begun.

How are you addressing the children’s/YA segments, which, it is said arguably, constitutes the largest reading population?
This is true, but also a bit of a misconception. Yes it’s the largest segment but not really in the true trade/consumer readership sense. Parents will spend on their children’s reading needs because they believe it essential for the child to get ahead. And a lot of that will be generic product in progressive age groups. But because it is not a discerning market they will choose the cheapest product rather than the best one. (Yes, there is a big difference even in the story of Goldilocks told and illustrated as a cheap book, and one that has it done by key stages and reading levels, or higher quality illustrations for instance. But largely the typical Indian parent won’t care.) On the fiction side, where experimentation should be visible, just a handful of brands will dominate where there is buzz (generally from overseas) driving sales. But is there any steady tickover in range or authors? No, I don’t think so. And YA is practically a dead segment here, which illustrates my point, that we get them while they are young, thanks to some super brands like Harry Potter or Enid Blyton or Wimpy Kid, but then lose them until they are adults. The YA segment is resuscitated every 2-3 years, when some new phenomenon comes along. It was Stephenie Meyer, and a host of vampire tales for a few years; then John Green. But there is no consistent selling. There are perhaps just two or three bookstores in the country that even have a YA shelf. (by the way, I don’t include the campus romances in YA, but as regular adult; though there is a chunk of college students who read this)
So for children’s [literature] we have a separate division though we do a very small list of just about a dozen books per year. We don’t do more than one or two in the toddler segment because of the costs of colour, and our list is largely for the 8-14 range. But each of those are a bit different and are the best designed and produced in their field. We have had a runaway bestseller with Roopa Pai’s The Gita for Children, and a best fiction award for Venita Coelho’s Dead as a Dodo.

The publishing industry itself is seeing a lot of change. There are new entrants, while many old players are facing difficulties due to changes in customer’s book buying habits, an emergence of the best seller culture, a strong preference for popular fiction as opposed to literary fiction, or non-fiction, etc.. Give us your thoughts. Is it as profitable, or as gloomy, as various publishers, depending on who you speak to, make it to be? Give us your sense of the publishing industry in English here in India.
Yes, the change began in the early 2000s from two disruptive waves that India got quite late when compared to the west. First it was the chains (though Landmark began in 1987 as India’s first modern large format bookstore, the chains came into their own only about 12 years later) that were deep discounting, and at that time it was the indies that were protesting. Post 2009, the disruption was from online sellers, and this time it was the chain that was hard hit. It’s reached a point where more stores have shut in the past 3 years than have shut in the previous 30 years. Both disruptions had one thing in common—it ended up pushing the base discount up considerably. So today a strong, and rather unfortunate market characteristic, is that it’s less about the book than about discounts and returns allowances. Whether publisher or bookseller, the focus is less on how we should build and grow the market but how each link in the chain can absolve itself of risk.

Speaking of a fragmented market, share with us your approaches to marketing your titles. You recently took an unusual step of hiring a digital marketing agency. How is that working and what prompted that association?
We’re reorienting our marketing considerably and are probably the first to have consumer insight as an integral part of it. Social media isn’t that unusual… I think most of the big publishers also have digital agencies. We’ve taken the more unusual step of avoiding cookie cutter launches as a standard promotional effort unless they fulfill certain criteria.
Our new Head of Marketing & Consumer Insight Avanija Sundaramurti is the very passionate force behind our social media marketing. Given how difficult it is to reach the final consumer using PR and in-store messaging, publishers are constantly looking for ways to get the information about new books out to readers. Over time, social media has emerged the most cost effective and targeted medium to communicate directly with readers. This is why we are focussing on it, though no direct correlation between social media and sales increase is clear yet.
It makes sense to have an agency handle the daily social media management of the social assets because publishing houses such as Hachette have lean marketing teams and wouldn’t have the manpower and skills required to create daily content for these handles in house. It is working well for us so far and has helped us improve our presence on social media. It has also helped us roll out pilot social media advertising experiments to refine how we think about digital in the future. We have quadrupled our Twitter following completely organically and all metrics, whether it is reach or engagement. have exponentially increased on Facebook.

Do you see English publishing in India gradually becoming a capital-intensive sector? Where one must invest a lot of money in marketing, distribution, development of many titles, to survive?
If it continues to go like this—high advances, marketing co-op expenses, high discount, high returns, flat prices—yes it may well end up being so.
But no, it doesn’t need to be that. There are different-sized publishers in trade with no one player being super colossal with over a 35% share. So it can easily be different strokes for different folks if some common sense drives the market. The simple fact is that books need to be acquired and discounts need to be calibrated to market reality. Acquisitions cannot be made going in at the top end, at maximum stretch levels. That leaves one with no safety net and an undue dependence on one or two ‘super leads’; and the perennial hope that an unknown makes it big. To explain: One crime thriller may have sold 30,000 copies but if the market history average for that type of thriller is 7000; that does not mean that every book that reads fairly well needs to be acquired at the 25,000 level (which is sort of what happens now). Whether it should be acquired at the average or above that is dependent on how the acquisitions editor sees it and how much s/he is backed by the sales & marketing teams. This has glaringly been absent in the last seven to ten years or so, where advances have skyrocketed and over 90% of them don’t earn out. This is probably because of the sudden explosion of publishing houses, and acquisitions have been made at unsustainable levels to pad lists. This does nobody any good—not the publisher, not the author, not the agent, not the trade. Only the printer benefits as a higher-than-needed run is cobbled up to match the advance paid. But one easily forgets the cold fact that if this one hasn’t lived up to projections—the next book will not be viewed the same way and the author’s brand will take a beating. But over the past two years, thankfully we’re seeing the beginnings of a return to sanity; and there are fewer insane bids.
The very nature of trade publishing in India (low average prices, low margins, multiple titles released; and the whole swings & roundabouts nature of making money) prohibits high marketing spends except for a few brands.

If reports are to be believed, publishing houses are depending more on agents to get them the good books. Do you see this as a good development or should it be viewed as another level of filter between the author and publisher in what is already seen as a laborious process?
I personally see it as a good development if the agents understand the business and the market. We’ve had agents for some time now, and a few years ago, I would have been sceptical about an agency being able to sustain itself, given Indian prices, and the new market realities, where more books fail today than ever before. But I’m delighted that at least a couple of them are making a serious go of it, as a business, and doing so while understanding the constraints of trade publishing today. The days of ‘get-the-maximum-advance-you-can-and-run’ are over. A good agent will be able to explain to an author what limitations exist, and also, within those limitations, get an author fair representation and fair terms.
The biggest benefit agents bring to the publisher is the elimination of the slush pile. We used to get an average of four manuscripts a day, and while I was at Penguin it was six a day. However when I put together the combined years at Penguin and Hachette and tot up the figures, that’s a staggering 10,000 plus manuscripts submitted over about ten years from which maybe about six were published. Clearly an unproductive effort when you’ve got a small team. We’ve discontinued the direct unsolicited submission for our adult books, and ask people to route submissions through agents.

What do you make of recent attempts by publishers to adopt a digital-first (or digital-primary) approach for publishing? This when worldwide figures of e-book adoption seem to have hit a wall? Overall, how do you judge the performance of e-books, given that, in the not-to-distant past, the death of printed books itself was predicted? And what are your thoughts on e-book distribution mechanisms available in India?
I’ve always been sceptical about that but am hoping to be proved wrong. There are 2-3 publishers essaying this route and let’s wait and see. It is my view however that it is a very different demographic (or psychographic if you will) that reads on the phone (digital-first equates here primarily to the phone) and that community will not pay regular prices to read, and will want content free. So that is not a sustainable stand-alone business model, not even with tailored content such as quick reads or e-singles, which we’ve all tried over the years. The average download demand is too little. So that leaves advertising as a revenue model. If you don’t have the downloads and the traffic buzz, the ad revenue is not going to be particularly high either. Back to square one.
In India eBooks never really took off, though at Hachette we’ve beaten the average trend. But that I will admit is because of the sheer depth and range of the catalogue, and not from any market we were able to tap differently. So worldwide where base readerships were high, the numbers skyrocketed over about five years (eBook contributions had reached as high as 32%) and then declined and now have settled down to 15%-17% levels. In India the average never went above 5-6%, with just a couple of exceptions like us and PRH (Penguin Random House).
What remains to be seen is whether Amazon, with its heavy advertising for the Kindle as e-reader, will be able to bring about a shift in default reading habits here which still prefers paper (the way soft drink companies did transforming India from a lemon drinking country to a cola drinking one) or whether the Kindle will just end up competing as another tablet.

Much is said of the reading habit in India. With no accurate data, one can only rely on opinions. What is your take on it? Do you see it as the publisher’s role to increase readership among various reader groups (such as children, young adults, etc.)?
There is clear data written all over the wall. Readership is falling. Bestsellers are getting bigger yes, but that’s not enough. We are the only country where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (story 8) has overtaken Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (story 7). These spurts apart (every year there will be about 5-6 books like this spread across publishers), the bestseller charts are either dominated by the new strand of campus-romance-fiction or the ancient Wren & Martin and Word Power Made Easy. This is good but is not the core readership that can sustain industry. I do not subscribe to the theory that this will end up creating new readers who will then move on (‘graduate’ is the word used) to other genres. That according to me is not going to happen—definitely not in any statistically significant way. Much like the legion of Salman Khan fans are not going to be gravitating towards Kurosawa anytime soon. Mind you, I’m not knocking the campus romance. It’s brilliant that a new mass market strand has been created, and can help capitalize the market. But that’s not enough is the point I’m making. The trade publishing industry will remain healthy if and only if we have a stable midlist with breakout bestsellers (yes a literary bestseller will be lower than mass market) in different genres. One of the most telling examples is the decline of crime fiction as the dominant category. World over this is a marker of leisure reading. In India this has fallen off significantly if we track it from the 70s to now, and this despite (or perhaps because of?) the growth in same genre viewerships on TV.
Yes, it is the industry’s responsibility to increase readership as well as the government’s if it sees nation building in broader cultural-intellectual terms. But all of us do too little. And though this may be a 10-20 year plan it needs to be done. If you don’t get children reading now, this will be a market that reacts only to certain in-mode books and reads only for education or ‘getting ahead’. A far cry from the market diversity we had as late as the 1990s and even up to the mid noughties.

Translations are almost a craze in India nowadats,in itself giving it a much-needed impetus, considering the dearth of knowledge one set of readers have about good, progressive texts in other languages. In this mad rush for ‘good books’ to translate, where do you see the possibility of mis-steps? What has Hachette India’s approach to translations been?
It’s a good step but often done with wrong assumptions. First one must realize translations are not a ‘hot’ genre. If you look at the genre itself, beyond one or two exceptions, they (like their English literary counterparts) don’t sell beyond low midlist levels. So by all means undertake this as a serious part of one’s publishing programme, but do so with the clear assessment of how much it can sell. At Hachette we are clear that we have a certain number of slots reserved for translation, but we equally know that they will need to be acquired with two parameters—the books have to be outstanding (I’m delighted that our translations have made award shortlists) and viable.

You have been a supporter for taxation for books. Explain your position. There are many who feel that this additional cost might come in the way of an already, seeming, decline in book-buying habits.
Let’s first get the cost barrier argument out of the way. Yes I’m a firm believer in taxation for books, but the tax on books should be at the lowest level of 5%. So a book priced at Rs 275 (let’s take a relatively average price) would go up to Rs 288. I don’t believe that’s a deal breaker in the purchase decision. And as to the high priced books, a 5% increase from a mandated tax is not going to affect sales is my view. Now as to why have taxation:
As always I speak from the trade perspective, and, let me further clarify, this is my personal view. There are a couple of others who think the same way, but, yes, we are in a complete minority, and the publishing associations will be fighting to keep books tax free. I personally believe the time has come for books to be taxed to streamline accounting, create and formalize data capture, as well as gain serious recognition as an industry that is twice the size of Bollywood, not a perennial cottage industry looking for a handout. We get no real government support in IPR protection and other key issues because the government thinks it has done its bit by granting us tax-free status. The paying of taxes will also force accounting into the open (reducing if not eliminating the whole underhand ‘parchi’ business that is widely prevalent) and will actually give the industry the upfront data it needs—something we’ve not had in over a hundred years.
This is not to say books should become expensive for students who can’t afford them. I believe books should not be an umbrella category, as the three strands—School, College & Higher Ed including STM, and Trade are very different. So the books that need to get cheaper are core text books, and those can be exempted from tax. Much like all movies are taxable with a few being tax-free. I see no reason why trade books which begin as ‘entertainment’ should be tax-free. Today we are competing with film, TV and social media as infotainment, and I don’t get why Harry Potter the movie should be taxed, while the book should not. True there is a cultural dimension to books and today’s novel is tomorrow’s text, but then tomorrow is the point at which it should be tax-free. Likewise there will be non-core textbooks that are reference reading and serve vital educational reference needs. Those can have different support systems—they can also can be subsidized via government education departments. the way ELBS used to do, being recognized and classified as educational. For the rest, market forces will drive pricing. I do believe that books should have the lowest rate of tax and that slight increase is not going to cripple consumer purchasing ability.

Similarly, I have heard you lament about the fact that book prices have hardly increased on an average, and that, after considering inflation and other factors, there isn’t much increase in the price of a book. Some publishers are pushing the envelope on this and pricing books higher than before. What are your thoughts and what has Hachette India’s position been on this?
First let’s ask the question—who’s deciding on prices? Publishers yes, but more often than not publishers held hostage to a trade perception that orders will drop as you move across price thresholds. Because of this, prices in India are stuck two decades ago equally by perception and from the ‘educational hangover’. For instance I remember buying John Grisham in college (I’m talking about the late eighties) at about Rs 250. Then, Rs 175 to Rs 250 was the mass market price point (for ‘imported’ books). When we started publishing John Grisham (almost 30 years later) we moved that up to Rs 350, and today Rs 350 to Rs 399 is our mass market price point. And it hasn’t affected sales a bit. And before somebody cries piracy, let me point out that even books priced at Rs 150 get pirated. Price point is not going to deter piracy, only IPR protection and policing will. There is the true story about a mass market book dropping to Rs 75 (from Rs 110) to counter piracy, while the pirates smirked and continued to sell at Rs 85.
Likewise when Harry Potter 7 (Deathly Hallows) was published in 2007, we priced it at Rs 975 (I was at Penguin then) and there was a massive backlash saying nobody would buy a children’s book at that price; and even with the hype the maximum we could expect was 30,000 copies, whereas at Rs 499 we would have sold a lakh. There was a lot of debate, but there were a lot of costs too, and we stayed firm at Rs 975. We ended up selling 241,000 copies. So pricing, I believe, should be done by book, the demand, the value proposition. Some genres definitely need to have their price points reexamined. Yes equally there are some genres or categories or authors who may need to be priced low because of wider small town penetration. We still hold Enid Blyton at the Rs 160 to Rs 199 level.
Now look at what I called the ‘educational hangover’. The whole low price thing flows from seeing books as educational products that fulfill a nobler purpose; and even with trade the whole literary-cultural dimension is added on. So let’s take a look at two bestselling titles in either category. In the mid-90s when I worked at OUP, the Oxford School Atlas (OSA) was priced at Rs 90 (John Grisham the top thriller seller was at about Rs 250 price point). Today about 25-30 years later the OSA’s 35th edition is priced at Rs 315; and the New Learning to communicate ( English textbook of 116 pages) is at Rs 280 but the trade ‘pricing perception’ would still price the 400 plus page John Grisham at Rs 299 at best!
Today when costs are just about 15-20% below the west; when discounts and returns have edged up to being at western levels, it is ludicrous to think we can price books at Rs 199-Rs 250 as standard (yes, as exceptions, the campus fiction books require that price—one reason we don’t publish in that category; and maybe a couple of others), and it is time that prices went up.
We (Hachette India) had the dubious distinction of pushing up prices beyond this perception level when we set up and we were a bit worried when we saw the Nielsen surveys in 2011 about average pricing because the gaps were so much between us the next publisher. Today the gap is quite small. And I’m delighted that for certain mass market authors there are higher-priced experiments—Jeffrey Archer for instance is sold today in trade paperback at a higher price.
Fundamentally it’s quite simple—if you are in publishing for business, you have to turn a profit however small, to stay in business. And unless one has grants or unlimited funding from venture capitalists, one has to price to market—from costs and sales history also; and not just from perceptions that are probably outdated.

At the Publishing Next conference, a constant gripe is the distribution issue. As a bookseller myself, I have had to contend with depleted stocks (where distributors say they don’t have a particular title while the title shows as being available online). Where have we gone wrong with distribution, and what immediate measures you think could be taken to fix the ‘problem’? That more bookshops are closing than opening isn’t helping matters either. Similarly, you have spoken out against the sale or return policy, that seems to be slowly being discouraged.
That’s right and this flows from the problem I’ve touched upon above. It comes from a new knee jerk response to tough times that would rather minimize risk than sell more books. And you know this has reached truly silly levels when every title—even if it’s a big brand—is negotiated down to how much sale or return can one squeeze out of the publisher.
Let’s pause to take a look at what was the original selling chain less than ten years ago. There were three stakeholders in getting the book to the reader—the publisher, the distributor and the retailer. For almost a 100 years there was a discount and returns structure that was in place, constructed by market reality. Retailers had 33-35% discount and the distributor had 40%-42% with 10% returns. This fitted the pattern needed for the Indian market based on its prices and overhead costs then. Gradually with the onset of the chains, the retailer began demanding full sale or return citing higher costs like rentals in malls etc. The distributor then began passing on the demand to the publisher saying, “it’s your book you take the risk.” Which is a valid argument only if one then changes the entire structure. So if a distributor today is acting only as a transporter then the discount is redundant and the distributor should just be on a commission for having performed a service and not sales. The discount for distribution was to cover territory with a sales force and sell books. Likewise for the retailer, who picked what s/he wanted to stock based on a clientele s/he knew and books that matched his/her store philosophy. Each stakeholder owned a share of the risk. With the advent of an indiscriminate sale or return policy, that risk is being abrogated, and consequently quality bookselling is taking a beating. The big brands are known and get frontage. All the rest move in a pipeline that heads out to return four months later. Once in a blue moon something clicks—a success rate and a readership spread that is too little to sustain an industry over the next two decades.

On the same lines, give us your assessment of the online book market. Your thoughts on the discount policies, return policies, and the almost absent possibility of discoverability. You sell books through your own website. How has that worked for you?
No we don’t sell books through our website. As a foreign company we are not allowed to retail. We have outsourced the sale to a third party seller. But hardly any sales happen there, because it is not trying to be a retail site. It remains a publisher’s promotional site but should somebody not find a book anywhere, this is one window where they can come in and get the book.
I’m a firm believer that online and brick & mortar can exist together; indeed are needed together. Online is good for current hot sellers, auto / cross-recommendations and making the long tail available. Brick & mortar is for bestsellers and a curated segment wise list that facilitates better discoverability while providing a great browsing experience based on individual store philosophy (yes, I believe bookshops need one). In India neither is fully delivering on what they should do. Both chase bestsellers (which is natural) but with a few exceptions (largely indies) don’t do much else about curation. Waterstones in the UK is a classic case study of a turnaround by configuring different stores differently and curating better. Until that happens we’ll have the perpetual gripes about discounts, cost of rentals, and online deep discounting. Even today in these difficult times, the indies that define themselves well, manage costs well and stock according to their core competency are doing well.
So online came in and created a huge wave with some stunning growth. Today they are estimated to be between 45% and 55% of any publisher’s business depending on the sort of books that are your oeuvre. However as with a lot of things online, this has so far been a scorched earth policy leaving bookshops burning, without creating that much new value. Unless they get out of this spoiler phase (one presumes they want to make profits sometime) and leverage their advantages of long tail and outreach, their focus will remain narrow if one looks at a long term developmental view. But that will come as India gets connected better and outreach extends everywhere. Currently it is largely the bestseller that occupies online attention with the long tail being bought by buyers who hunt for the book, rather than through active promotion and building of communities.
Flipkart’s drop in books where it was the largest retailer in India two years ago is a stark case in point. Taking your eye off the ball where experience and continuity are concerned; and depending just on price is never going to be a long term solution where books are concerned. I’m pleased that they are taking stock and planning a comeback. Amazon comes in with its tried-and-tested back end and even deeper pockets, so one can expect the deep discount battle to continue for some time, unless India does something like France and recognizes bookstores as cultural spaces and levels the playing field with a discount cap. But this is unlikely.

I would also like to know your thoughts on the current climate of censorship, or self-censorship in the country.
It is much more in the limelight now, but this instant knee jerk reaction in calling for a book ban has been there for some time irrespective of governments. What is worrying now is the fringe that is not reined in, or how a case can be criminalized just for harassment. Nobody should have that sort of power. We have two chapters of P.E.N. here and so there will be a lot of focus on this aspect. Where publishers are concerned, I’m not sure if it’s self-censorship or prudence (or pusillanimity depending on where you stand) but certainly most international publishers will have strong anti-lawsuit leanings and are policy bound to go with their legal counsel’s rulings on a pre-publication read.

Any special plans for 2017.
We’ve had a brilliant 2016, and we’re optimistic about 2017, though market conditions are likely to remain tough. There’s a great lineup of books as we step up our local publishing with three great superlead non-fiction offerings from Subroto Bagchi, Viswanathan Anand and Rakesh Sharma. There are great new voices too—watch out for Archana Garodia, and Ritu Singh, in particular. Our food & drink list is shaping up nicely; and the children’s list has both Sachin Tendulkar and Malala frontlining it alongside a new book from new star Roopa Pai. So fingers crossed that it will be good going as we head into 2018 and our tenth year in India as a company.

Quite often, after you have received the printed copies of your book, you will notice that the colours in it (or on the cover) are quite different from those you saw on the screen while the book was being developed. This is because the colour schemes used in each case – the computer screen and the printer’s ink – are vastly different in their composition and, consequently, appearance.

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The two colour schemes are RGB (Red, Green and Blue), used for depicting colour on the computer screen (the pixels have little subpixels that just show red, green or blue in different ‘doses’), and CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black; the K actually stands for key, which was what the black colour denoted), a combination of ink amounts that produces a certain colour.

A little more technical detail for those who might care: RGB colours are also known as “additive colour”, because there are no colours to begin with, and the colours are added together to achieve further colour combinations, or until the outcome is white. On the other hand, CMYK colours are subtractive – it starts with all colours (which combine to form black) and as colours are subtracted incrementally, the outcome gradually veers towards white.

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What must be noted is that the colour gamut in case of the RGB palette is a much larger one when compared to the CMYK palette. Care must be therefore taken to ensure that, while designing printed material, the CMYK palette is used so that printing can actually happen with the right colours. In most software, the default mode is RGB, so if you are designing a printed brochure, for example, you must ensure that you switch to the CMYK colour palette.

So, rule of thumb: CMYK for print jobs, and RGB for web-based graphics.



On the Spice Trail

Europe Discovers India in Goa

Joseph Velinkar

Goa,1556 & Golden Heart Emporium: 2016

Pp 376  Rs. 400

India and the West

The First Encounters (particularly in Goan Salcete)

Joseph Velinkar

CinnamonTeal Publishing: 2016

2nd Edition

Pp 278 Rs. 299

Goa has always been a mystery. And many have delved into it. From the famous flight of the arrow off the Western Ghats to its present-day impassioned claims to Indian-ness amidst its strong semi-Lusitanian outlook; from the solid middle-class endorsement of social mores to its openness to junkies and other unmentionables over recent decades; from the killing of Fr. Aquaviva (who visited Akbar’s court) and his companions in Cuncolim to the apparent acquiescence to extensive conversions and the Inquisition; from the courage to stay put when several thousands were fleeing from marauders of various hues to the universal attitude described by Martin Niemoller in all that happens to Goa even today. There is mystery in our most impressive prehistoric, village-level self-government which ran for centuries until it gave way to “liberated” party politics. Mystery also surrounds our unique, prehistoric method of harnessing the tidal waters (Khazans) with its intricate canals and sluice gates, and embankments of mud and laterite, protecting our agriculture from the ravages of tidal waters, a system unequalled anywhere in the world – except perhaps the dykes of the Netherlands. But most often today, the mystery of Goa spills out of tourist-brochures – while the drug-trade and human trafficking continue to be a mystery to the powers that be.

The two books under review delve into the mystery of Goa as it was perceived by European traders / settlers / conquerors; Goa as it evolved from a mere trading point to the grand Estado da India. So it was in 1998 that India and The West came to be published by Fr. Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture, Mumbai; the Foreword to this book was written ten years earlier by Dr. George M. Moraes, the celebrated historian-author, with Kadamba Kula (1931), History of Christianity in India (1964) among others, to his name; one-time head of the aforesaid Heras Institute, Dr. Moraes did not live to see the book published as he passed away in 1994. The publication of the second edition of the book has been boldly undertaken by CinnamonTeal Publishing, Goa.

On The Spice Trail is a Goa1556 venture in association with Golden Heart Emporium – (hereafter referred to as Spice for brevity). While India and The West rose out of a doctoral dissertation and concentrates on Salcete, Spice takes on a larger canvas covering the whole of Goa – and a longer period in time. But both in effect cover the same ground. The author in his Prologue says Spice is an expansion and continuation of the earlier book. The “expansion” aspect is quite apparent, and inevitable, since much of what happened in Salcete happened in the rest of the territory – except for the violence in Cuncolim. But Fr. Velinkar appears to be at pains to show, in both the books, that all the conversions to Christianity (in Goa) at the hands of the European missionaries were voluntary. He talks of pressures brought in by one member of a converted family upon the other non-converted members, but no pressure, he says, was brought by the proselytising powers. Amen!

There are details of those initial encounters and negotiations, victories and defeats … mixed with treachery, and desertions by mercenary forces. The encounters kept the various conquerors on their toes but one misses references to what may be mere folklore as in the joint suicide of the women in Chandor equivalent to the ‘johar’ of Rajasthan, historic events like the Pinto revolt and references to the British regime during the Napoleonic wars. The Inquisition takes all of two pages in Spice Trail and is not even mentioned in the other book. A major source of delight for the avid reader of Goa’s history is the detailed description of the formation of the gaunkari system – and the successful functioning thereof for centuries (which the Muslim invaders recognised and supported and the Portuguese renamed as comunidade). The post-1961 plight of the comunidades does not merit comment.

Both the books start with a detailed introduction to the geography of Goa so that when we move into the military operations we are familiar with the routes taken and have a fair idea of topology. Which, for the lay reader, makes for a compact one-volume presentation on Goa of the 16th century.

Reviewed by,