Away from India, it seems like e-book development and sales are finally picking up. More publishers are investing in the development of e-books and many are seeing substantial returns on investment. The following infographic dwells on a study by Aptara and Publisher’s Weekly. A similar study in India would be of immense help and would in fact help those who have not yet invested in e-books make an informed decision on whether to invest.

Click on the image for a larger view.

 

This year, Publishing Next had just one panel discussion that purely concentrated on the technological aspects of publishing. Chaired by Brij Singh, co-founder of Fliplog, the panel sought to explore how new advancements in digital technologies could be incorporated to create a more involved experience for the reader. As such panels often do, this one too brought out the sharp differences between the “techie” (now almost used derisively) and the publisher communities. There emerged though a few important points:

L-R: Pratheek Thomas, Dilip Kumar, Jai Zende, Jagish Repaswal and Brij Singh

a. Publishers seek solutions that are unique to their needs. This holds an important lesson for companies that provide e-publishing services because very rarely does one size fit all. Packaged services that are attractively marketed using colourful brochures by people who shy away from answering the tough questions do not cut it with publishers, especially with those that understand a little about e-book development and need to know it can make their books look more attractive.

b. Publishers need to educate themselves on the details of e-book development. This actually follows from the earlier point because many companies that provide e-book development services, unfortunately, gloss over the details and it becomes incumbent upon the publishers to ask the tough questions. Questions like: which formats are available? Where can they be viewed? Which are the preferred formats? What will my illustrations and fonts look like in the e-version? How closely will the layout match that of the printed version? Where can they be sold? How do I store and protect them?

c. Communication needs to be in a language that publishers understand. This is for the techies. It is important that the understand the terminology of book making and speak to publishers in a language that they (the publishers) are comfortable with. Very often, e-book development companies fill their brochures and other forms of communication with technical terms that obfuscate the details and, more often than not, put off the publisher. Terms like HTML5, SGML and XML mean little to the publisher. Instead it might help e-book developers if they learnt about widows, orphans and flyleaf pages. Total disregard for the book and its content and a pitch just based on technical capabilities is sure to lose an e-book developer its clients.

d. The pricing of services needs to be revisited. For publishers, this is a new game and, understandably, they are shy about wading into these waters. Given that the whole world is breathing down their neck and that they are told to develop e-books or perish, they have to make sense of the investments because the returns are yet unheard of. Companies that develop e-books must be aware of this and price their services rationally. Maybe a model that allows publishers a free first book so they can see what are the benefits? Or a discounted rate on the first book? Or a payment model that is based on commissions off sales? Companies need to be imaginative here.

e. Not all technologies are for all books. For example, fiction that is purely text have no need for development as enhanced books or apps. Technology companies should understand a publisher’s list and pitch their products accordingly. It is necessary for them to explain to the publishers the limitations of current technologies so that the expectations of publishers remain realistic. In the case of books in Indian languages, the limitations of reproducing certain fonts must be clarified before production of e-books is undertaken.

f. E-book development companies need to stand by what they deliver. Here it might be better for them to under-promise and over-deliver. This follows from the earlier point. Many companies have promised publishers the moon and have fallen far short of expectations. In many cases, unfortunately, this has resulted in publishers swearing off e-books altogether.

g. There is no platform yet, that is purely Indian, that caters to the sale of books. This becomes important when dealing with publishers of books in Indian languages. While Amazon has entered the Indian market, neither its reader, the Kindle, nor its e-commerce platform support Indian language books. It is therefore important to make publishers aware of this lack of a platform that might render their investments useless unless, of course, the e-books can be sold from their own website.

Suffice to say that much ground needs to be covered before a robust and sustainable environment around the development and sale of e-books is implemented. The publisher and developer communities need to work together towards the conception of such an environment and not insist on working in isolation.

We have had many of our authors request us for our e-book development services only to later realize that they often do not have the tools to view these e-books in the absence of an e-reader. This post explains how to view these files on your PC through software programs called emulators, so that you can predict how they will appear on an e-Reader. This tutorial can also be used for those who like to frequent free ebook sites like Gutenberg and Archive.org. Now they can download the e-books available on these websites and view them even without e-Readers.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of emulators or even one of those that provides the best experience. The applications listed here have been tried and tested and can be relied upon to provide a close-to-reality experience.

e-Books, being digitial files, come in many formats. However, there are two formats used pre-dominantly: EPUB and MOBI. We will therefore consider only these two formats.

EPUB:
a. Your best bet is the E-book Viewer that gets installed along with the Calibre ebook management software. Often you do not need Calibre but you still have to download and install the entire shebang to be able to use just the E-book Viewer. The e-viewer is easy to use, allows you to access and use the table of contents and has a screen that can be adjusted easily to mimic the dimensions of various devices.

This e-book viewer can be downloaded from here: http://calibre-ebook.com/download

b. If you are comfortable using an Internet browser, there are browser-based extensions you can use for Chrome and Mozilla that will also help you. The Readium extension available with Chrome is found to display ePub books quite accurately.

c. An option that works best with Windows is Adobe Digital Editions. If you have already installed the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader (version X), you can access Digital Editions through the “Help” menu. Doing this will install Digital Editions seamlessly, if the software isn’t already installed.

There are many others, most notably the Stanza for Mac users and the MobiPocket Reader, which can be used only on Windows.

MOBI
a. If you use Windows, the most popular reader for MOBI files (which, chances are, is the file you are using if you had it developed for the Amazon Kindle) remains the…err…Kindle Reading App. It is available for both Windows and Mac, though, unfortunately, not for any of the Linux versions. To use the reader, you need to create a free account with Amazon. You cannot use the “open file” option for your own MOBI files so you have to double-click on the file itself and read it through this reader.

b. The E-book Viewer mentioned above can also be used for viewing MOBI files.

c. The Mobipocket Reader can also be installed to view MOBI books, although it can be used only on the Windows Operating System.

After you have installed any of these programs, all you have to do is open your ebook file using the programme just as you would a .doc file using MS Word or a .xls file using MS Excel.

We hope this small tutorial has been of help. For more details do contact us at contactus @ cinnamonteal.in.

 

Photo Courtesy: TaxCredits' Photostream at Flickr.com

As Indian publishers gradually take to eBooks, they will have to contend with the question of how these eBooks should be priced. In the mature markets of the West, there is still no consensus on this issue. Amazon prices its books starting at $1.99 and going up to $9.99 but how much they, or the publishers they represented, were making from the transaction is anyone’s guess. It is widely accepted that in many cases, Amazon was using its eBook catalogue as loss leaders, especially to enhance sales of its e-Reader, the Kindle.

For now, many publishers have priced their books on par with their printed editions. Given the perception that electronic versions of books do not invoke many of the overheads that printed copies do (like storage, transportation, even the cost of an additional copy), the pressure to review this practice and reduce the cost of an eBook when compared to its print edition will soon be large.

So what must an eBook cost? While we do not have the answers, there are certain factors that must be considered.

  1. The price must cover costs:  Contrary to public perception, eBooks do cost money to make, especially if these eBooks are produced for back lists, which is often the case. It isn’t enough to produce an electronic version of the text, the quality of the presentation of that text is equally important and costs time and money. The “conversion” process from raw text to a format that e-Readers can understand is equally time-consuming and expensive. Similarly, there is a cost involved in the storage of these electronic files, the e-commerce infrastructure required to facilitate the sale of eBooks and their dissemination to the buyer’s reading device. If publishers decide to opt to “DRM their books”, that too costs money. The price of the book must therefore reflect all these costs.
  2. The price must “make sense” to the buyer: Even while there are expenditures that must be recouped, the price of an eBook should satisfy the buyer’s sense of value for money. The current perception of many buyers, fueled by the almost intangibility of the eBook, is that eBooks should cost next to nothing. Pricing eBooks on par with their printed editions may therefore not cut it with buyers. Publishers could change that perception by offering more, but given that any extras also cost money, that might be a risky game to play.
  3. The price must trigger a purchase: Ultimately, the price must entice a buyer to purchase the book, whether on impulse or otherwise. Currently there is indication that a low price will do that. In the West, there is general agreement that anything below a $5.00 threshold will increase the chances of an impulse purchase. Given that e-Commerce is only taking off here in India (and that too primarily on a cash-on-delivery model), one can only hazard a guess on what such a threshold might be in India.
  4. The price must reflect the brand: Like some publishers price their printed books very high to convey a brand value, perhaps they could try to do the same thing with eBooks. Joe Wiekert, of Tools of Change, argues that the recent practice of agency pricing might do more harm than good and dilute the brand of a publishing house. Publishers should have the liberty to experiment with pricing and understand the mood of the market.
  5. Pricing must be a part of a larger strategy: Ultimately the price of an eBook must reflect a larger strategy of the publisher. The price of the book might vary depending on whether the eBook is sold alone or is bundled with the print version, on whether the eBook is being used to hook the buyer to new reading habits or on whether the eBook is a part of a larger, penetration strategy where it is being used to reach to new readers and geographies. This the publisher alone can decide.

As the excitement over eBooks continues to build and more publishers develop their titles as eBooks the question of how to price them will be an important one. Moreover, it will set user expectations regarding what should the price of an eBook be. Many publishers will argue that the prices of printed books hasn’t changed much over the last few decades and there is much resistance from the market against adjusting the cover price of books to even adjust for inflation. One hopes that in the case of eBooks, the story is different.

Disclaimer: Our publishing house, CinnamonTeal Publishing, provides conversion services into EPUB and MOBI formats, especially for books in the Indian languages. Similarly we provide an e-commerce infrastructure that allows for the sale of these books. That said, we still do not know which side of the pricing debate we are on.

 

We’ve just got back from the World Book Fair in Delhi. This time around we were more perceptive to the environment and learnt a few things during the 9 days we spent there. But more on that later. However, if there was one aspect of the fair that could not be ignored, it was the constant cacophony around the topic of eBooks.

While almost ubiquitous in every conversation of consequence and even during inconsequential banter, there seemed to be still no clarity on various aspects of ebook creation and their distribution. Far from being a nice thing to have, publishers were told that they would perish if they did not invest in the development of eBooks. One could find any number of stalls, and an even greater army of salespeople strutting around, preaching the benefits of eBooks and their importance towards ensuring the survival of publishers.

Dig deeper and the answers were hard to find.

For instance, although there are enough statistics to prove that ebook sales have spiked, India-specific figures explaining digital consumption of data are hard to come by. Many publishers we spoke to pointed to the abnormally high growth in purchases of the iPad and other similar tablets as indication that the Indian customer is developing an appetite for these devices and will soon read their books off them. While that might be a logical argument to make, there are no figures that prove that ebook purchases are also on the rise, in step with the increase in sales of digital devices.

During a conversation we had, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, a publishing consultant and columnist, mentioned that a renowned publisher of academic journals and books had seen sales of their print editions dramatically decrease while witnessing an equivalent upsurge of ebook purchases. If that is indeed the case, and many other publishers of STM books do vouch for this, bodies like NBT, FIP or FPBAI should investigate this phenomenon further and make sales data available for everyone so that other publishers can plan for the future accordingly. There is yet no sign that such a conversation might happen, where publishers can learn from the experiences of their colleagues.

It also remains to be seen whether the lessons learned in academic publishing can be applied to trade publishing and to what measure. While it is true that in the West the purchases of eBooks have zoomed up, some questions need to be answered. For example, what percentage of titles published are bought in digital form? What is the average price of an ebook that is purchased? What kinds of books are purchased and what kinds see almost no takers?

Most importantly, how closely do ebook purchases mirror current bestseller lists?

The last question is of importance because if consumers buy just those eBooks that they read about often, does it make sense for publishers to convert all their titles to digital formats? Given the fact that bestsellers almost always come from a small group of publishers (and often because of their marketing muscle), does it augur well for small publishers and independents to invest in the development of eBooks? eBooks are even more prone to remaining obscure than printed books, given the absence of a “shelf”, so has anyone bothered to investigate what sells an ebook and what might be the marketing budget required to make it sell? And what that might mean for independent publishers who have a tiny marketing budget to begin with.

It is important to answer these questions because many salespeople at the book fair were insisting that publishers convert their whole lists into the digital format. These publishers are almost pressured into joining the e-bandwagon, with the threat of obscurity and decimation being dangled before them. There is also the lure of cheap conversion rates, some even offering to convert entire lists for free. With a “few” caveats, of course.

But the whole process is rarely explained to these publishers. There is no conversation regarding digital rights, no mention about how this newly acquired asset will be protected. Publishers who are so fiercely protective about the intellectual property they have so painstakingly created are inexplicably naive when it comes to protecting their digital assets. Even more astounding is their reluctance to ask the tough questions. For example, many publishers do not know how to monetize their digital books. In the absence of a comprehensive e-commerce platform, whether their own or that of a third party, there is little clarity of how eBooks will be sold in a secure and user-friendly environment. The inability to recoup investments made during the conversion process might actually dissuade other publishers to convert even those titles that can be adequately monetized.

On this blog we hope to address some of these issues. We hope to get other experts to write on this topic so that clear and coherent answers are provided. We do hope that ultimately there will be transparency on these matters so that publishers can make informed choices.

Disclaimer: Our publishing house, CinnamonTeal Publishing, provides conversion services into EPUB and MOBI formats, especially for books in the Indian languages. Similarly we provide an e-commerce infrastructure that allows for the sale of these books.

My home state, of Goa, has a rich history of printing and publishing. The first printing press arrived here in 1556, although unintentionally, when the ship carrying it stopped at Goa en route to Abyssinia but couldn’t move forward because the weather won’t permit it to. So, quite unwittingly, Goa had the distinction of having the first printing press in Asia. It was attached to the Jesuit training centre for aspiring priests, the St Paul’s College.

In here and at the Rachol Seminary several works were published, mostly spiritual books that catered to the needs of the newly converted indigenous population. These books also alluded to the circumstances of the times and became a commentary of the socio-political environment present then. Following the expulsion of Jesuits from Goa in 1759, and a general disinterest in protecting cultural documents like these, many of these precious works were lost either to ransacking crowds or to interested bibliophiles who added these books to their collections.

Gradually these books and manuscripts are beginning to resurface, in far away places. Many of them are now available in public or college libraries in Paris, London and Lisbon or among private libraries in India. Many of them are in a dilapidated state, close to ruin. These books represent an important part of the cultural landscape of the state and must be preserved for future research and scholarship.

Credit must be given to the Central Library, Goa and its curator, Carlos Fernandes, who is doing his best to make these texts available once again to readers in Goa. We at CinnamonTeal Publishing have been working closely with him, and have thus been able to develop an expertise in book restoration and printing and thus add another service to our repertoire.

The books we have restored so far include a volume of the Jesuit Miguel de Almeida’s Jardim de pastores, which was printed in Goa in five volumes in 1658-9 and an account of the life of Jivbadada Kerkar, a senapati (commander) in the Maratha army in the Peshwa era. We are currently working on a reprint of “Arte da Lingoa Canarim” (A Grammer of Konkani), published in 1640. The text of this book was available only at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, which graciously allowed us to work on a reprint.

The book was originally in a very bad condition before we painstakingly “restored” it.

With each book, we carefully scan the pages using a specially constructed book scanner, “clean out” the embellishments on each page and carefully layout the book to closely resemble the original. The book is then printed in required quantities. It has usually been just a couple of copies each time so that these copies can be circulated or loaned to members of the library while the original book is carefully preserved.

We are very excited about this new line of business because it allows us the excitement of discovery of new worlds, quite removed from modern times, one we could only imagine without the guidance of these texts.

The definition of a book might soon change.

While we are all used to it’s current definition as “a written work or composition that has been published (printed on pages bound together)”, advances in technology and increasing expectations from readers may converge to ensure that that definition no longer holds or, at best, is only partially true.

There’s no denying that customers want to be in charge and have a say in all interactions they are a part of. One-way communication is just too passe. They want their foods tweaked a little, decide which channels to watch on TV, even decide who wins the next edition of American Idol. It’d be pretty dumb to assume, therefore, that they would be content reading a book without a part to play.

So imagine a situation where Snow White is warned that the apple may contain some poison. Or one where Thomas Friedman is grilled on his notions of a Flat World. All while reading the book.

Technology may just make that possible. Discussions are already happening through instant messaging and other collaborative software. With the emergence of the broadband and improvements in content delivery, it won’t be too far away when the book is not just a static collection of words and pages but a dynamic discussion forum. Real time collaboration may make it possible for authors and readers to communicate and offer stories, plots and explanations tailored for the reader. If the book is indeed a source of knowledge, then such an incarnation of the book might indeed allow people to communicate and collaborate and put their minds together in the pursuit of knowledge. Ideas can be debated and discussed threadbare. Nuances can be emphasized.

Interactivity will be key. The book will indeed be a social lubricant.

Any thoughts?

It was already about e-books. From the Kindle to the Nook to the very unimaginatively named Sony Reader, e-book Readers were fast to come by and offer those on the move a new way to read books. e-book Readers offered a truckload of choices – from the ability to carry more than a 1000 books at once to the ability to make annotations and notes on the book as you read it.

The iPad has raised the stakes even further. It was always possible to read e-books on smartphones thanks to the likes of the Stanza app on iphones and Aldiko on Google Android phones. With everyone who is someone preferring an electronic version of the book to read, having an e-presence has now become a necessity.

Making your book available in an electronic form also has an economic aspect to it. With more than half of the world’s readers of English books concentrated in North America and Western Europe, it makes sense to cater to these readers, who now increasingly prefer the convenience of e-books. There is also the cost factor. With e-book development being a one-time charge, every additional “e-book” costs nothing to produce. You are earning from each sale and spending nothing.

At CinnamonTeal, we are doing our best to help our authors leverage this channel. We have tied up with myebooks.com and Smashwords™, both respected book channels in their own right. Our association with them allows our authors access to a large number of platforms thus making their books accessible on most devices whether on mobiles or on dedicated e-book readers. To know more about this service, click here.We also offer an e-book development service for a variety of formats.