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

But first the caveats:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Devices and Formats:

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

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

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

The major file formats currently in use are:

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

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

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

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

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

Support for Indian Languages:

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

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


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

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

For more information on metadata, follow this link.

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

Digital Asset Management Systems (DAMS):

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

Digital Rights Management (DRM):

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

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

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

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

Royalties and Contracts:

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

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

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

Make or Buy:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

We also allow the sale of different e-book formats on our own online platform:

Global Trend

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

In Conclusion:

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


Leticia-photoWe asked Leticia Afonso, author of ‘Think From the Heart’, what she felt about ebooks vis-à-vis the printed book, and her thoughts on self-publishing as opposed to the traditional publishing options available to authors. This is what she had to say.

“As technology has advanced, so has the way of reading books. We use computers nearly everywhere now. eBooks are trending these days,​ they are quite popular with the youth. Ebooks give you the flexibility of reading anywhere and at any time you want, they make it unnecessary to carry along a huge load of books. I still prefer printed books. I love the smell of them, I love to turn the pages, I love the little bookmarks, I love to hold the book in my hand and just go on for hours  reading it. Tablets do not work for me when it comes to reading books. Being a software engineer, I sit in front of a computer all day. I wouldn’t like to do that at home as well. I take solace in reading, I wouldn’t want technology to intrude in that space.

“When it comes to publishing, both have its pros and cons. Self-publishing allows you freedom from the dictates of a publisher. You don’t need to rely on somebody else to get your book out there. You don’t have to make several trips to the publisher’s office, or email it repeatedly. You don’t have to wait for months to hear from them. You can mould the publishing process based on your own requirements. You only need to invest in the process, both time and money. On the other hand, conventional publishing seems attractive because the publisher will do everything for you. You needn’t worry much, especially if you manuscript is chosen for publishing. But it’s a long wait before you know for certain that a publisher will pick up your book. Sometimes the wait can kill your dreams. But if you are determined enough, I believe anything is possible.”

The development of e-books in Indian languages is a road fraught with challenges. These challenges include the usage of appropriate fonts and the ability of the reading device to accurately render the text legible. After working at it for some months now, we were able to develop an e-book in EPUB format that approximated the print version to a high degree.

The book shown below is an EPUB version of a book we published in late 2011. We chose this particular book so that we could illustrate how pictures and text can be both displayed in the EPUB format. The series of screencasts shown below depict how the book can be viewed through the epub3 compliant AZARDI viewer. Since the book is developed in an Indic script, it cannot (yet) be developed using the MOBI format or viewed on a Kindle.

[blaze cats=2]

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 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.

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:

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.

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 @


The dangers of losing out to e-book piracy is a real one. It can mean hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars in lost sales and little to show for the author’s efforts. In situations where the authors themselves have seen rampant piracy affect their books, a debate on whether or not DRM should be employed is in itself a futile exercise. Employing social DRM or the complete absence of DRM makes little sense in such a context.

At CinnamonTeal we have advocated the absence of DRM and have partnered with channels like Smashwords that think likewise. Our belief is that DRM is a costly investment that will, in any case, be tampered with and rendered ineffective. If a hacker wishes to get a book pirated, he/she will find a way to do and the presence of DRM will be but a mere irritant. In the case of people who have genuinely bought an e-book and wish to read it on multiple devices, the presence of DRM might actually dissuade sales.

Therefore the space between a rock and a hard place is a very real one for exponents of digital books. On the one hand, digital book sales are expected to grow manifold judging by the sales of e-book readers last Christmas. e-Books also present new authors with a very real chance of reaching out to new readers at a fraction of the cost it might take in the case of printed books. However, the threat of piracy negating all such expectations is equally real and must be dealt with.

An author once told me how she thought that her friends would each buy a copy of her new book only to discover that they had bought just one copy and passed it on among themselves. One man’s sharing is another man’s piracy (which is how ebook publishers would describe it). Effective DRM means that a father reading on a iPad cannot share a book with his daughter reading on a Nook. Expecting users to agree to such controls is maybe expecting too much. There has to be some middle ground found.

This debate over e-book piracy has certainly questioned some age-old assumptions we have had. While it seemed okay to borrow printed versions of the book at the library until they were tattered and torn and forced the purchase of another copy, publishers have questioned the logic of extending this practice to e-books (whose condition does not deteriorate over time). HarperCollins recently announced that libraries could lend an e-book only 26 times before they had to purchase it again. How the publisher arrived at that number is anyone’s guess.

Borrowing and sharing aside, piracy has always been a thorn in the publisher’s side. Music industry veterans will remember an eerily similar situation that occurred when digital music, originally seen as an additional sales channel, proved to be a menace that allowed easy piracy.

There are no easy answers. As e-books proliferate, sometimes at the expense of printed versions of the book, publishers will try and err in their quest to find what works best for them. One only hopes that publishers take decisions that are in everyone’s interest, those of the publisher, the author and the reader.

CinnamonTeal Publishing has launched a new distribution service that will cater to electronic books alone. This service primarily targeted for the distribution of books in Indian languages will allow CinnamonTeal Publishing to leverage its association with several ebook distribution services around the globe and ensure worldwide visibility and availability for its titles. In addition to its revamped website, ebooks distributed by CinnamonTeal will also be available through and, allowing its titles to be purchased on more than 100 websites and a wide range of devices.

CinnamonTeal believes that this service will allow publishers to make their books available worldwide without the extra hassles of printing and physical distribution, in a medium that is increasingly gaining currency among readers. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that ebook sales are increasing worldwide and while CinnamonTeal Publishing already provides ebook development services, this new distribution service will supplement that service and ensure that the produced titles are also now easily available to buyers. For new authors, especially those who wish to self-publish, this service provides them the low cost option of doing everything electronically and altogether rejecting the option of producing copies in print.

This service will be available for all languages and books will be produced in EPUB, MOBI and PDF formats, which, together, can be viewed on most of the e-readers available in the market. For more details, do write in to contactus@

There is much debate on whether the printed book will survive the onslaught of its electronic counterpart. With newer devices being produced almost everyday that make e-books easy to access, it seems like e-books are here to stay. While many publishers are apprehensive of the impact of e-books on their business models, it will be, nonetheless, interesting to see how things pan out here in India.

Even today, many Indian villages remain inaccessible because of the poor quality of roads and last mile delivery of goods remains a huge challenge. Primarily because of this, and because literacy levels associated with the rural hinterland are considered abysmal, books hardly make it to the villages in the numbers that it should. This means that those who actually want a good book to read cannot get one. The Government has made a feeble attempt to introduce libraries but barring that and a few mobile libraries that are introduced by well-meaning individuals, finding a good book to read is long shot off.

It is in this context that the impact of e-books must be examined. Mobile connections cover almost half of the country’s population and a huge perecentage of the rural populace. The average screen size of the mobile has also increased. That means books, if transmitted electronically, can be easily downloaded and conveniently read. In order to cater to the needs of the vernacular market, innovations will be important. Important strides are already being taken in this direction although more work is needed.

At an important time such as this, the correct steps must be taken. It is important to realise that this need not be a zero-sum game and that e-books and printed books can co-exist. In fact it has been proposed that e-books might actually prop up the demand for the printed versions. Careful thought must be therefore applied before publishers yield to the temptation of enforcing DRM rights and other such controls on the sale and dissemination of e-books.

What are your thoughts on this? How do you think the e-book wave will play itself out in India? Or is it too early to speculate? Are e-books going to change the way publishing is perceived and books delivered? Your comments are invited.