Amazon.com – An angel or a devil?

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“I just met the world’s biggest snake-oil salesman. It’s going to be really bad for books,” a bookstore owner once said to his partner after meeting Jeff Bezos. Why shouldn’t he say so? After all, Amazon.com soon came to become the nemesis of the brick-and-mortar bookstores. In one of the fantastic articles Cheap Words in The New Yorker, George Packer admits  that Amazon is undoubtedly good for customers. But then asks the real question – Is it good for books?

Read it here.

The future of Indian Publishing Industry… and who will make money from it? (Part-2)

In Part-1 of this blog, I talked about the future of Indian Publishing Industry on a macro level. In this article, I am going to focus on new services which will emerge in the Indian publishing and how the young entrepreneurs will make money from it.

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New Networks
The rising wave of DIY (Do-It-Yourself), self-publishing and ebooks has created the need for new social networks dedicated to Indian authors and readers. Sooner or later we will see the rise of different communities for:

Social reading and Peer Reviewing: Social reading and peer reviewing are mature concept in the west, but are yet to become big in India. Sites like Authonomy.com and YouWriteOn.com where one can post chapters from their novels and ask for reviews, cater predominantly to the western world. The need for a site specifically for India is definitely there. Cost-pressures on self-publishers, the dearth of genre-specific literary agents in India, the long turnaround time taken by editors (if they respond at all) – all these reasons should spur the new entrepreneur to create a social network for such needs.

Though social networking for authors and readers does happen in bloggers’ sites such as BlogAdda and IndiBlogger, they are not dedicated to writing and literature.

Recently, author and entrepreneur Rashmi Bansal announced her plans to create BloodyGoodBook — India’s first crowd sourced and crowd curated eBook publishing venture. This is a welcome step. Their website is not up yet, but the concept does sound like that of YouWriteOn.com. It will be a boon for new authors if this venture becomes a social reading and peer reviewing hub.

Associations: Authors’ and Writers’ Associations have also started to make their way into India. The Jaipur Literature festival this year gave birth to Crime Writers’ Association of South Asia much to the delight of budding crime/thriller writers. Co-founded by Namita Gokahle (founder-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival) and Kishwar Desai (author of The Sea of Innocence), this association will bring together writers, reviewers, editor and literary agents dealing with crime fiction.

Hopefully, the future will see new associations dedicated to Romance, Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres cropping up in India.

Book Reviewing Sites: I have mentioned this concept in my previous blog also. Traditional publishers, more often than not, help maintain a standard in the publishing industry which is necessary for its own sustainability. That’s not the case with self-publishing. It’s open to all and it is too simple a method. Naturally, one often comes across titles with lazy editing and presentation which would never have gone past the screening stage with a well-known publisher. With the unstoppable march of such self-published books into the market, there needs to be a website like IMDB which helps maintain a rating for a book provided by readers and independent reviewers. GoodReads (owned by Amazon) is one such popular site. But, unfortunately it looks confused between an attempt to create a social network and to create a book reviewing site. The cataloging and indexing of books on GoodReads needs to be far, far better to help readers reach books in the choice of their sub-genre, geography, language and other keywords. It should have the ability to engage readers and bring them to their site again and again.

New Ways of Making Money
Indian Publishing Industry is evolving. The good thing about an evolving industry is that it creates a lot of new opportunities and introduces new players. I believe that the following professions will sprout up in the publishing market and create new avenues of income:

Book cover designer: The cover of a book is as important as its content. More so for a work of fiction. A one square inch area is all a book gets to display on our computer screen when we are shopping online. What does it contain? The cover. It should be that good, that attractive to make the user click on it. Unfortunately, a lot of self-publishers fail to understand this simple fact. They churn out lovely books with pathetic covers. The reader, as a consumer, needs to feel good about his/her purchase. The cover is an essential feature which helps the reader make that buying decision.

Let’s talk about India, the IT hub of the world, where the top notch creative guys often design other companies’ website and portals. Still, it takes a lot of effort to find a superb but cost-effective book cover designer in our country.

Where are you – all the Photoshop Gods? Don’t you want to make money?

In India, 20% of top 100 of Amazon KDP’s e-book titles weekly are self-published. And that figure is only going to head north. People will write books and then look for book cover designers. Just to give people the idea of potential earnings, MARK’S LIST on Smashwords lists Cover Designers who charge anywhere around $35 to more than $300 for a book cover design. With reasonable pricing for the Indian market, a book cover designer will find clients flocking to him/her.

Image sellers: Book cover designers predominantly buy copyrighted images from image stock websites such as shutterstock and istockphoto. These sites are good but most of their photos are non-Indian in context. Why not create one such site specifically for India? By 2015, almost 500,000 units of DSLR cameras will be sold in India every year. How many of those photos will be used for commercial purposes?

Video makers: Creating short promotional videos for novels is an in-thing nowadays. I don’t know how much they are worth owing to the bandwidth dearth in India, but still, with time such promotions will see widespread acceptance. Makers of such videos can rake in the moolah then.

Mobile Marketing Companies: Mobile marketing is a game which is still in its nascence. The likes of Google and Facebook are still trying to untangle its complexity and come out with a practicable way of doing it. Targeted advertising, in future, will create the next biggest enterprise. Imagine a publisher promoting its latest thriller novel to a girl in her twenties who keeps searching for thrillers in online marketplaces. Through one click in her mobile, she instantly gets the book in her reading app. Such a scenario is not far away.

InMobi is an Indian mobile marketing company making the waves nowadays. Soon there will be more.

I have reached the end of my article. The bottomline is that even though traditional publishers are finding it hard to survive in the modern publishing era, there is plenty of opportunity for new authors and new entrepreneurs. And India, the vast country it is, will always provide them with the volumes to achieve economies of scale.

Game on, India!

photo credit: tim_d via photopin cc

The future of Indian Publishing Industry… and who will make money from it? (Part-1)

What is common between a mom-and-pop store, a book publisher and a real estate company? Read on…

This is the first part of a two-part blog on the future of Indian Publishing Industry.

Before talking about the future of Indian Publishing industry, let me begin with a few interesting news snippets:

  • Last week I came across an interesting stat provided by Amazon. In the US, 25-30% of the top 100 of their e-book titles weekly are self-published. For India, the figure stands at the 20% currently. Mind you, Amazon KDP is only 18 months old in India. So, the market in India is catching up with that of the US. The good thing is that even the US publishing industry is in the midst of a wave of self-publishing and ebooks which has started to trickle down into India.
  • 4.14 million Tablets were sold in India in 2013. 56% more than in 2012. Though tablets are still a luxury in India, the day text-books and reference books begin appearing as eBooks, tablets will see a tipping point.
  •  As per FICCI, India is the 3rd largest English language publisher in the world and 7th largest worldwide (all languages). India has more English speaking readers than England – Ken Follett.

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What will the state of the Indian publishing industry three years from now? Prognostication is a difficult job, but I have tried to connect the dots and come up with the idea of a publishing ecosystem that will soon come to exist in India.

Two Gorillas in the room
We usually talk about a single 800-pound gorilla in the room. In Indian publishing, however, there are two. They are working together. And more importantly, they have been working behind the scenes till now. They are Self-publishing and eBooks. My article will essentially talk about how these two monsters are going to turn the publishing industry upside down.

Traditional Publishers – The Middlemen?
The good thing about technology and globalization is that they remove middlemen who add little value to the product/service being sold. Are traditional publishers middlemen, lying between the creator of the content and the actual consumer? Let’s have a look at the value added by them and how that is being threatened by the competition. Once we go through the list below, we will realize that the traditional publisher is only a one-stop-shop for all of these services, some of which they do well and some they don’t:

Screening of content: Till now, publishers have boasted of being able to screen the wheat from the chaff and giving their readers the best. That is not fully true. Very often their screening criteria do not have anything to do with the quality of the book, but everything to do with its marketability. That’s why we hear stories of multiple rejections behind popular novels. Moreover, traditional publishers take a very, very long time in screening a book keeping the authors (content-creators) away from their end-consumers.

With self-publishing, this is going to change soon. Because it works on a basic premise that the end-reader is the biggest screener.  Not the publisher. Self-screening, that’s the word. When a book will be in front of a reader, accompanied by reviews of many other readers who found it good/bad, he/she himself can decide whether to buy it or not. A publisher need not make that decision on the reader’s behalf.

This is happening as we speak. Self-publishing, complemented by reviews from actual readers, is taking the job of screening away from traditional publishers.

Editing: This is the biggest value-add done by traditional publishers. However, the advent of ebooks and self-publishing avenues necessitate that the editing process should have a lesser turnaround time. Cost and lead time are important in every industry. In case of publishing, if the editors are not fast and cost-effective, authors will find options in peer reviewing and social reading.

Making the content presentable (in the form of book covers, blurbs etc.): In this world of user-generated content, when self-publishing authors meet creative freelancers, they will take this profession out of publishers’ hands.

Marketing and branding: This is achieved together by the publisher and the author. One can never beat the legacy and brand name that comes with a well-known publisher. But, in the future, with the marketplace flooded with gazillions of books from genre-agnostic publishers, what will actually matter is the quality of the book as reviewed by the readers. One can’t rule out the rise of an IMDB like book reviewing site with meticulous cataloging of titles according to tags. Amazon (which also owns IMDB) has done a great job till now. Their cataloging of books is shoddy, though.
Besides, mobile marketing is one area which will take some clout away from publishers. When mobile marketing becomes mature, it will hand over the marketing power to the content-creaters the same way Goodle Adwords and Adsense has done till now.

Distribution: With the fall of brick-and-mortar bookstores (being gobbled up by ebook marketplaces), distribution has gone out of a publisher’s control. Online marketplaces with increasing collaboration with self-publishing platforms have changed the game completely.

In the future
Let me ask you a question needing a Theodore Levitt style of thinking: What’s common between a mom-and-pop store, a book publisher and a real estate company? The answer is: Their profits can be boiled down to a Revenue per Unit Area parameter. Just like a mom-and-pop store owner might think of how to maximize his profits from the little area his/her store has at disposal, a publisher might think along these lines: How can I generate the maximum profit out of every square inch of paper I publish?

All this was till now. Because it’s changing fast. In case of eBooks, such thinking won’t apply. Computer space/size, being an almost infinite resource, will make publishers think differently. They will have to think in terms of volumes. In terms of number of successful titles churned out by them. It will be a simple numbers game. Publisher-A churns out 1000 ebooks, out of which 100 are super-sellers, while I churn out 200 ebooks out of which 50 are best-sellers. Production cost is very low for ebooks. So, the number of best sellers I produce determines the profit I make. And I can sell as many copies as possible online. So, in future, rejections won’t be so easy for publishers. Besides, the good thing about an ebook is that it’s never out of print. A publisher is always one-click away from money.

To sum up, self-publishing and ebooks are going to usher in a new era in Indian publishing. They will create a new ecosystem that will spawn some new players and services hitherto absent from the industry. In this blog, I talked about the macro-forces which will shape the publishing industry in future (not specifically Indian publishing per se). Next time, I will talk about some new paradigms (conspicuous by their absence till now) that might emerge in Indian publishing and some unknown players who will make money from it.

Read Part-2 of this article.

photo credit: Jonas Tana via photopin cc