In 2007, we launched CinnamonTeal Publishing, to provide self-publishing services based on print-on-demand. In August 2007, we were the first in India to introduce these twin concepts as a business-to-consumer service. This article seeks to, in some way, chart the trajectory that both print-on-demand and self-publishing have taken over the years, independently and together.

But first allow me to explain the two concepts, given that they are sometimes misunderstood. Print-on-demand, when applied to books, refers to technology that allows publishers and authors to print books in small quantities, even one copy, depending on the demand for that book. It means that books can be put up for sale, for instance, on an electronic portal, without there being any physical copies already printed for sale, with the guarantee that the technology to print and send as many copies of the book as ordered is available. This is akin to the principle of a negative inventory, popularized by Dell Inc., which involves the production of a good AFTER it is purchased.

Print-on-demand thus obviates the need for a stock of books to be kept in order to meet demand. (Of course, one must bear in mind that a print-on-demand approach increases the cost of a single copy of the book, but let’s keep that aside for a while.) Print-on-demand, therefore, should not be confused with short-run printing, an approach taken to print a small number of copies and keep them in stock in anticipation of demand for the book. Though the technologies employed for both, print-on-demand and short-run printing, are the same, the concepts in each case are different.

Self-publishing, on the other hand, is a set of services offered to authors who wish to publish their books. These services include, but are not limited to, editing, design, printing, marketing, and distribution. Because self-publishing is an option exercised mostly by first-time authors, print-on-demand is incorporated within their publishing strategy so as to avoid large investments in printed copies.

It is important to make this distinction because print-on-demand and self-publishing are often used interchangeably. Publishing isn’t just printing (or printing on demand.) It is, or needs to be, a more elaborate process, one that draws upon years of wisdom developed within the publishing domain, to produce a book that is well-edited, carefully designed, has an elegant cover tailored for it, and one that is adequately marketed and distributed. While printing does give a book its physical form, the constant focus on the processes that follow printing, with little or no value attached to the processes that precede it, is a disturbing trend prevalent in today’s market, especially among self-publishing service providers. In the scheme of things, print-on-demand is therefore one of the many things to consider, albeit an important one, since it impacts the amount invested in the book.

In India, print-on-demand (or, almost synonymously, low-run printing) has evolved in many ways. Here are a few of them:

a. The quality of books produced using print-on-demand has improved drastically. When we started in August 2007, our main concern was to find a printer who would print us a few copies (usually less than 5) without asking for an arm and a leg. We finally found one but when the copies came, we found that each copy looked different from the other. These were certainly not books that we could sell with a straight face. We got luckier with the second printer we worked with. But in 2017, there is marked change in the quality of books turned out by the digital printer. It is only to the extremely trained eye that the difference between a book printed using the offset method and a book printed using a digital press is perceptible.

b. The costs have fallen too: Print-on-demand is not as costly as it used to be. It is a more-than-manageable cost now, and this has, in fact, prompted many more publishers to print on demand, or print extremely low quantities. In Indian language markets, however, the cost of printing associated with this approach remains an issue, given that many of these publishers price their books extremely low in order to retain their readership.

c. Publishers have woken up to the benefits of POD. As a result of the costs associated with POD reducing, and the quality improving, many more publishers have explored ways in which POD can be used within the publishing/sales processes. This might mean using POD to develop dummy copies for book launches and book fairs, or print advance review copies (ARCs), or use the technology to print extremely small quantities at the location of sale. In some cases, given that large print runs have to be scheduled, sometimes months in advance, the POD technology helps publishers get faster to market.

d. Print-on-demand has allowed publishers to access new markets at almost no cost, by associating themselves with service providers who can print at the customer’s location. This enables a publisher in India to allow customers in Russia, for example, order its books. The books are printed locally and shipped to the customer, thus providing both savings on shipping costs.

Having said that, there are still some areas in which the POD technology lags behind the more prevalent offset technology, a vastly different process that proves cost-efficient when a larger number of copies have to be printed. For one, coloured books, especially illustrated books where the colours need to be accurately reproduced, are best printed using the offset technology. This is also the case because the costs of printing in colour using the POD technology is very high.

Secondly, although this particular issue is now being addressed, POD printing (or low-run printing) offers lesser flexibility in terms of paper that can be used, or the dimensions of the book that can be printed. Many printers, offering POD as a service, cannot, for example, print large books in the landscape format. But, like I mentioned, there is an investment in R&D in this direction.

In India, the adoption of POD as a concept has had to do more with the low investments involved in POD, or even in low-run printing, and little to do with the fast turnaround that POD offers. It allows publishers to keep their back and middle lists available to the reader for purchase, without the need to invest in their printing and storage. One can only speculate that more publishers will buy into the idea of POD, as the benefits it offers becomes clear to them. As readers get used to paying more for well-produced books in Indian languages, this technology might find wider acceptance even within that community, of Indian langauge publishers. This can only be good, because it will allow publishers to experiment with a wide variety of topics, topics that appealed to only a small community of readers.

picture credit: www.pixabay.com

Today’s news included a report that Macmillan was shutting down Pronoun, the self-publishing platform it had acquired in 2016.

To quote the article by Publishing Perspectives:
‘there was at times a community-wide hesitation around the platform because it charged nothing. Authors retained their rights and 100 percent of a retailer’s net payment–no cut to Pronoun. [The Alliance of Independent Authors’ John] Doppler wrote in [an] earlier review that Pronoun’s services were free to authors because the company had $3.5 million in venture capital funding from Avalon Ventures and revenue from “its not-insubstantial legacy business.” Future revenue, he wrote, would come from “voluntary partnerships with high-performing authors. These authors may be invited to publish through Pronoun’s traditional imprints, giving up a share of royalties for enhanced services.”’

Free always scares us as a business. While customers might rejoice over the availability of free services and might even abandon your business because it does not offer services for free, in the absence of a sustainable, revenue-generating, business model, it is always going to be difficult for any business to provide valuable services for free, on a continuous basis. In the long run, that can actually be bad for customers themselves.

Offering free services is a textbook-recommended approach adopted by manufacturers and service providers in order to grab market share. The tactic hinges, though, on charging for something else in order to compensate. Like Gillette, which gives away its razors for almost nothing, but charges a premium for blades.

Customers like to hear that something is on offer for no cost; given two options, they will choose one that has freebies, or more freebies, mentioned as part of the offer. However, with there being no such thing as free lunch, someone is paying for it. In many cases, it is the customers themselves, paying a premium for one service while another is offered free. For example, customers opting to stay at a 5-star hotel are offered a free pick up and drop off to the airport. The room charges, however, have more than compensated for the “free” service.

But many times, it is the supplier paying for this free service. That is often a problem because there remains the risk of the supplier ultimately running out of money to pay for them. That can often lead to one of two things: a) the supplier having to stop offering free services or b)the supplier having to shut shop because it does not have the money required to continue operations. What happened with Pronoun was perhaps the latter.

If you are acquiring customers because of the free services you are offering, you run the risk of losing these customers when you can no longer afford to offer these services for free. The cost of these services, often put down as marketing costs, or customer acquisition costs, ultimately keep adding up till you, as a businessperson, can no longer afford to bear them. If “free” is your only USP, your business runs the risk of shutting down when the freebies stop.

It is therefore important that your business offers customers value that go beyond just offering services for free. In fact, on the flip side, you can charge customers a premium if you can convince them that the quality of your product, or services, is second to none, and that they offer value for money. That, in my opinion, is a much better proposition to offer, because it attracts only those customers that value your services, and who will probably recommend them to others.

At CinnamonTeal Publishing, we have often been compared to our competitors who offer freebies in order to attract customers. When asked to match their offers, we politely decline. We are in the self-publishing business in India for 10 years now, and know exactly the value of what we offer. WWe know that we offer best-in-class editing, design and printing services. That we have tied up with the best service providers to provide marketing and distribution. And to endorse that, we have satisfied customers from across the globe.

photo credit: pexels.com

A good book should sell itself. There is no argument there. It should sell on its own merit, not because the author has garnered reputation elsewhere or because the contents of a book have stoked some controversy. The book should sell because it is well written, properly edited, nicely designed and is a pleasure to hold and read.

It is said, often truly, that publishing services make their money off packages, not by selling books. This is not entirely false. There is little incentive for companies providing publishing services to garner sales of books, especially after the author has paid for those expensive packages. More often than not, these packages do little to make the book better – many packages do not include editing, charge a premium for cover design, and charge extra for getting the book out the door.

We have always stood against this concept of packaged services, which include much and deliver little. Our starter kits, introduced this year, in our 10th year of operations, are targeted towards specific genres of books, and their authors. So we have designed a basic set of services for authors of prose, poetry, children’s books, and academic titles. In addition we have also introduced a basic set of services for authors who wish to only have a digital book (an e-book), These kits stand on their own, i.e. they do not need ANY additional services to get your book out of the door. Because we offer print-on-demand, again the first in India to offer these services to retail customers, we have not included printed copies within these kits, simply because we can print copies as per demand, thus obviating the need for investments in print.

These kits, like I mentioned, include all services that are required to create your book. Editing, cover design and interior page layout are, of course, included. So is distribution within India. In addition, these kits also include services that we feel are important for that particular genre. For example, the children’s book starter kit has illustration services included, whiile the academic book starter kit has indexing services included.

True to its name, these are starter kits, designed to a) help authors choose the best set of services for their books, and b) provide a basic set of services without necessitating the need to buy additional services. An author might however, for example, require international distribution for her book, a service that is not part of the starter kits. Such services can be added on.

We are confident that these starter kits will change the way publisher services are provided in India, in fact prompt customers to demand such an approach from other service providers as well. We believe that this is an efficient and least-cost method of providing publisher services, providing them, and charging them for, only those services that are absolutely necessary for the book.

Coming back to the original point made in this blog: books must sell. And a good book will sell, if it is easily accessible. We ensure a good book because we have it thoroughly edited, and design its cover and interior with utmost care. And we ensure that it is easily accessible to customers around the world because our distribution network covers all major markets across the globe. Our titles can be made available across all continents, a service which is available to every author who publishes with us.

We sincerely hope that authors will take advantage of the services we provide to give their books a fighting chance.

It has been our steadfast belief that self-publishing packages do not benefit the author. An author who chooses to purchase a self-publishing package pays for services she may not require, while being led to believe that she does, and is offered no leeway in having those services tailored to her requirements.

Nonetheless, we have encountered authors who need a starting point from which to continue. They are not sure which services are important, or necessary, for their book, and how they should go about selecting a base basket of services. That dilemma forces them to consider the cookie-cutter approach so well embedded within packages.

To aid for such authors, therefore, we have introduced, for the first time in India, or anywhere globally for that matter, self publishing starter kits (SKs). Like the name suggests, these kits allow you to get started with your book, and, in fact, include all the services you need to have a book ready for printing. We also have a starter kit for authors who wish to publish digitally alone.

 

As seen in the image above, the SKs have more than only the basics included in them, knowing well that many authors are on a budget and that it is important to them that a good book be produced. The emphasis, therefore, is on producing a good book and getting it out of the door. Hence the focus of a good round of editing, and good cover design and page layout. We believe that, ultimately, the author knows what’s best for her book, and will pick and choose accordingly. More importantly, the author is still vested with choices to decide for her book.

For more details, visit this page: https://cinnamonteal.in/starter-kits/

One of our publications, Wilderness Tales from Similipal, by Satyesh Naik, received a review in The Wire. Described as “one of the most heart-warming reads in recent memory in the ever-expanding genre of Indian wildlife writing,” the reviewer proceeds to say that “the Odisha-based naturalist’s book is perhaps the first work ever to be solely dedicated to the state’s jungles, of which he is arguably the finest contemporary chronicler.”

That the book is outstanding is hardly arguable. This post, however, addresses the concerns with the publisher that the reviewer has. We sought to address it through this post because it points to larger issues with publishing and self-publishing.

The reviewer goes to say:

“Nonetheless, while there are so many good things to be said about the book, it does falter in some areas. What strikes the reader immediately is that the book’s publishers have done a very poor job at copy-editing the text and have let the author down. There are many rough-edges in the writing that should have been polished – if only the publisher’s in-house editor had given it some effort. And even as the editing leaves much to be desired, the formatting suffers from the same defects, with too many needless capitalisations (especially of species names) that are jarring and break the reader’s flow.”

Point taken. However, we, as publishers offer copy editing as a paid service. This service costs money when an author chooses to publish with us, and, more often than not is a service that is outright rejected by authors. To be fair, the author of this book had paid to have the book copy edited. But many authors don’t and because we insist on a round of editing, we have lost many customers – authors who are convinced that their book does not need editing.

The author of this book, Satyesh Naik, had indeed paid for a round of editing. The way we provide copy editing is this: the editor edits the book, and then sends it to the author for approval. During this stage, the author is asked to approve of the changes that are made (or reject those that he does not approve of) and address any queries the editor may have. Often, because the author is busy with other tasks not related to the book, he chooses to approve all of the changes. Sometimes an author does not know better and approves of all changes. And sometimes, the editor errs by overlooking an error or two. But in most cases, an author outright rejects the changes suggested by the editor, citing that it is their (the author’s style) of writing that way. We are thus unable to enforce these changes, and the error-ridden text makes its way to the book. Due to these many human interventions, it is true that a few errors go unnoticed, or, worse, go through with the author’s approval. Editors who have applied to CinnamonTeal will attest to the fact that our editing tests are rigorous. Having the best editors gives us the ability to edit a manuscript and make it error-free. Nonetheless, it is our constant effort to ensure that the book does not have issues, the kinds of which the reviewer has pointed out.

The reviewer goes to further point out that:

“The chapters are not numbered and an index should have been included. The photos have all been provided (chapter-wise) at the end of the book, which is again a disappointment. The publishers should have placed the images alongside the relevant chapters. The current arrangement gives the book a very amateur feel. Moreover, since the mammalian wildlife of Similipal is very shy and not easily sighted, the author should have considered providing a few camera trap photos of Similipal’s faunal diversity. The chapters are also somewhat haphazardly arranged. They should ideally have been arranged in the order in which the author explored Similipal, or in a way he wished the readers to get acquainted with the park. Consequently, the entire text becomes a little clumsy. In sum, I wish the book was published by a mainstream publishing house with a deft yet firm editor’s hand and a qualified designer.”

It is true that there should have been an index and that there should have been more pictures. But one should remember that this is a paid service and that the author, in this particular case, and quite often otherwise, is working on a tight budget. Indexing costs money and so does including more pictures in colour. It was also a technical constraint we had – of not having the capability to intersperse coloured pictures within the text without incurring a large printing cost (hence the decision to place pictures at the end of the book was made to reduce the costs as much as possible). Given these financial and technical constraints, we worked with the author to make the book as appealing as possible. At CinnamonTeal, we do not force any services upon our authors (except insist that the book be edited), rather allow them to pick and choose the services they need, and can afford. That we provide a print-on-demand facility allows authors to develop books at very low investments.

One most also note that the author, before approaching us, had approached traditional publishers. Not one, however, found it a book worth publishing. This, notwithstanding the fact that important books, especially ones like these that document important forest habitats and other aspects of nature, need to be published (we have since published yet another book, The Vanishing Stripes, an excellent addition to prevailing texts on the subject of animal conservation). The whims of publishers not withstanding, such books can only be then published via the self-publishing route. And while it is expensive to do that, and comes along with issues that still need ironing out, self-publishing is, nonetheless, becoming a genuine option for serious authors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, the cons:

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

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

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

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

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

photocredit: stocksnap.io

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

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

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

A few illustrations of our work:

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

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

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

 

Introduction:

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

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

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

E-books:

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

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

Devices and Formats:

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

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

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

The major file formats currently in use are:

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

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

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

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

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

Support for Indian Languages:

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

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

Metadata:

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

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

For more information on metadata, follow this link.

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

Digital Asset Management Systems (DAMS):

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

Digital Rights Management (DRM):

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

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

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

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

Royalties and Contracts:

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

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

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

Make or Buy:

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

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

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

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

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

ISBNs:

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

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

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

Distribution:

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

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

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

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

Global Trend

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

In Conclusion:

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