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The New Publishing #Juggernaut

September 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Pretty much everyone in the Indian writing and publishing world knows by now that Chikki Sarkar, former publisher at Penguin Random House India, is launching a digital publishing company named Juggernaut.

They’ve raised a staggering Rs. 15 crore ($ 2,269,960.50) in the same environment where Amrit Abrol, CFO, Harper Collins, India mentioned at the Publishing Next 2015 conference that their new focus is to tighten up because marketing too many books isn’t cost- or time-effective. They’re focusing on selling less number of books at higher prices – less pressure on finance, management, warehousing. Anurima Roy from Bloomsbury India concurred. Full post here.

As a an author I’m rooting for this juggernaut.

As the marketer of my own books I don’t understand how they hope to earn back that kind of investment because both Harper Collins, India and Bloomsbury, India concur that less that 1% of the books they sell are ebooks. Check the link to my post above for more details.

I hope they have something radical up their collective sleeves.

#PubNext15 #Juggernaut #ChikkiSarker #Self-publishing #ebooks #digitalpublishing

Categories: Publishing Trends

#VanityPublishing: Business Model or Author Exploitation?

September 15, 2015 13 comments

PublishingNext 2015 roundup. Part 2

Vanity publishing has arrived at publishing conferences and literary festivals, and this should be of great concern because vanity publishing is less about emulating trade (also called traditional) publishers, and more about convincing gullible authors to pay for services they do not need. Aspiring authors attend these conferences and festivals. The more they hear about these publishers, the more it gets legitimized in their minds.

You, as an author, owe it to yourself to be well informed. There is plenty of good information available on the Internet. Plenty of bad information, too. Learn to tell the difference. If you want to be a published author and have your book available for sale – either submit to trade publishers, or self-publish. If all you want is print copies of your book, go to your local printer. It works out much cheaper, and you also retain rights to your books. Stay away from anyone who wants money to publish you.

I cringe when vanity publishers call themselves ‘self-publishing’ companies. When you take the ‘self’ out of self-publishing, i.e. you – the author – do not upload the book yourself, it is no longer self-publishing. All that remains is vanity publishing.
I was a panelist on the nuts and bolts of self-publishing on Sept 12, 2015 in PublishingNext, Goa. This post is a combination of my take-away from there (a fabulous conference, btw), my comments as a panelist, and also my own impressions.

It getting harder for UK- and US-based vanity publishers to get naïve authors to fall for their ‘publishing packages’ – which can run into tens of thousands of dollars. This is thanks to activism on behalf of authors by platforms like Writers Beware and Preditors & Editors. As a result, vanity publishers have moved operations to Asia and Africa. That includes India, of course.

During my session, a lady from a self-publishing company took exception to my comments, saying it was unfair to malign vanity publishing because it is just another business model.
Here are reasons why I think vanity publishing is more than ‘just another’ business model and is, in fact, author exploitation:

  • Unethical behaviourIn this new world of self-publishing and digital selling, many trade publishers are struggling to survive. As a result they are coming up with their own versions of vanity publishing, no matter what they call them – subsidy publishing, self-publishing platform or custom publishing.

    This is unethical and exploitative in my opinion because packaged ‘publishing’ offers from these vanity publishers go out under the letterhead of their trade publisher owner, leading authors to believe – erroneously – that if they signup with this vanity publisher, somehow they are being endorsed by the trade publisher.

    I know of cases where vanity publishers hound authors who contact them. If the authors don’t sign up, they are threatened via email and phones with messages like: I’ll make sure you’re never published again. The naïve author falls for this and parts with both his/her money as well as rights.

  • Lack of transparency.They don’t tell you upfront what services you’re paying for – no breakdown of costs associated with editing, book cover designing, ebook and print book formatting. In addition, they grab all rights with no rights reversion clause.

    When I mentioned that point, the self-publishing lady resorted to sarcasm. “Aren’t authors educated?” she demanded. “Can’t they read a simple contract for themselves?”

    This is like saying that since I’ve been to college for an engineering degree, I should be able to do a doctor’s job. Because both are education, right?

    Authors are not trained IP (intellectual property) lawyers. They do not possess the specialized knowledge required to evaluate a legal publishing contract.

  • Charging hefty amounts for what can be done for free.Many vanity publishers will make grandiose claims of providing ‘world wide’ or ‘global’ distribution. Uploading to Amazon alone will make your book available in multiple markets. ebook aggregators like smashwords.com (and the newly launched, India-based instascribe from pothi.com) will also distribute your books to multiple platforms. Then there are iBooks, Nook, Kobo. None of these platforms require any sort of fee. You upload your book for free. These platforms make money only when someone buys your book. No matter where you upload – Amazon, smashwords, Google Play, Kobo, iTunes etc – there is never any expense upfront. The retailers make money only when you do.
  • Rights grabThere is another danger to having someone else upload your book. If they create an account in their name and upload your book, they become your publisher. If you upload your book yourself (ebook or printbook), you become your own publisher.

    Whoever is the publisher on record gets access to the dashboard. This is the place you upload the book, set the price, track the number of books sold, and also accept payments for books.

    Vanity publishers own your ISBN too, so they’re the publisher on record.

    They grab all rights they can, even if they have no intention of trying to sell them for you. They rarely have rights reversion clauses.

    If you’re lucky, there might a clause saying your rights will revert to you if the book goes out of print. If you do ask back the rights, they’ll point to the ebook available for sale and tell you that your book is still in print. Even if it hasn’t sold a single copy.

  • Empty marketing plans10,000 Facebook fan page likes! 10,000 twitter followers! Press reviews to X number of news outlets! Free video trailers!

    Facebook fan page likes: there are ‘click farms’ in places like India (unfortunately!) which employ workers whose job is to click on ‘likes’ of their clients for as little as Rs. 2 (approximately 1 cent) a like. With Facebook limiting the number of fans who can view your posts (because they want you to pay to increase your reach), it doesn’t make sense to fill your page with fake likes.

    Twitter followers: if your followers don’t care what you have to say, you might as well not have any.

    Press release: unless you have a unique angle, news outlets will not care. They get tons of such press releases.

    Video trailers for your book: by some estimates a 100 videos are uploaded each hour to YouTube alone. Unless it has the combination of compelling content and exceptional marketing behind it, chances are it will not go viral.

  • Falsifying salesI’ve had people come up to me with stories of how they know for sure they’ve sold X number of books to friends and family, yet the vanity publisher claims there were no sales at all. This could be avoided if the author had uploaded the book themselves, thereby gaining access to the dashboard.
  • No incentive to marketThe vanity publisher has already made their money by charging you upfront, so there is no reason for them to put in any effort on your behalf. Instead, they encourage you to put in the effort. When you do, they get a cut from those royalties as well (assuming they are reporting accurately).
  • No risk for the vanity publisherTrade publishers don’t charge you to publish your book. Because they are taking a risk on you, they take a cut in your royalties. Vanity publishers not only take a cut (or all of it, sometimes, when they don’t report sales), they also charge you a large sums of money. When I asked the self-publishing lady from my panel’s audience what her risk was, she had no answer.
  • Sell you your own booksAt the PubNext conference a publisher who is launching yet another vanity publishing company said a little condescendingly that if authors don’t believe enough in their own work to buy copies of their book, why would anyone else?

    Imagine a builder constructing an apartment complex, then paying someone huge sums of money to take it off their hands. And, if they want a couple apartments, they have to pay to buy them back. This was the first thing that came to me when when I heard the above.

    The author puts in countless hours to create a product. Then, instead of expecting to make money off it, they have pay the vanity publisher for their own book – just to prove they stand behind their work? Stay away from such ‘deals’!

  • Packages for editing, formatting and book coversAsk for a break down of costs.

    If you have a book of 100,000 words and seek out freelancers, expect to pay Rs. 20,000 – 25,000 for editing, and Rs. 5000 for a book cover, Rs. 1000-3000 for ebook formatting. So a total of under Rs. 35,000 ($527). Leonard Fernandes from Cinnamon Teal (a Print-On-Demand – POD – company) tells me that his costs are even lower.

    Services should be paid for with a one-time fee (when the author engages services for hire) or with royalties (trade publishing model) — but never both.

  • Indian Writers BewareFor US-based vanity publishers you can Google them or contact a Better Business Bureau to see if they have complaints registered against them. In India we do not have as much awareness or internet-based activism. Another problem is these companies frequently change names. You may not recognize them by name. Learn to distinguish them by their unethical practices.

If you are overwhelmed by it all, check out reputable companies like Cinnamon Teal and pothi.com who offer services for a reasonable fee, with no rights grab.

If you want print copies of your book, and it will be only for local consumption, get it printed locally at a printer. If you want it for sale online on Amazon, flipkart etc. you can check out Cinnamon Teal or pothi.com. You will never be able to price your book for Rs. 99 rupees, like trade publishers do, because their price savings come from bulk printing. But, at least, you know upfront what you are getting into.

And stay away from vanity publishers

#PubNext15 Roundup Part I

September 15, 2015 4 comments

PublishingNext 2015 roundup. Part 1

I was a panelist on September 12, 2015 at the absolutely wonderful Publishing Next conference in Goa. My session on The Nuts and Bolts of Self-publishing was with these co-panelists:

  • The absolutely delightful Vaa Manikandan. He is a Tamil-language author who’s been self-publishing print books offline after a bad experience with his trade publisher. At last count he is followed by 7090 people on Facebook. Huge number for a regional language author.
  • Jaya Jha, co-founder of pothi.com, a print-on-demand (POD) company
  • Kinjal Shah, CEO of Crossword Bookstores (about 100 bookstores around the country)
  • Leonard Fernandes, moderator of the panel.

PublishingNext is the brainchild of Leonard Fernandes and Queenie Rodrigues, co-founders of the India-based POD (print on demand) company, Cinnamon Teal. Publishing consultant Vinutha Mallya is an advisor to PublishingNext. If you’re looking to keep up with the publishing trends in India, this is the place to be. Very well organized and small enough that it is easy to interact with attendees over teas, lunches and dinners.

I attended every session (except two because they were parallel sessions). Here’s my take away in bits and pieces:

  • Use only Unicode type fonts for Indian (and possibly non-English) languages in order to enable portability i.e. usability on any device, and searchability on Google and other search engines. Right now many publishers use proprietary fonts which means the digital versions of the books need a lot of effort to make them Unicode-compliant.
  • Interesting point from the eloquent Osama Manzar. The youth of rural India are using mobile phones in lieu of TV. YouTube videos are extremely popular, as are movies. He’s come across enterprising youth who’ve invested in second- or third-hand cheap Chinese-made phones with large capacity microSD cards. They fill these cards with (probably pirated) Bollywood and other Indian-language movies, and “other” videos (that might interest teen boys) and sell them.

    Osama took exception when someone said the rural population is largely uneducated, saying that equating literacy with education is a fairly recent phenomenon in the history of mankind. He said youngsters are very adept with their mobile phones, and are disseminating information via videos.

  • Publisher Kannan said the Tamil language market is more than Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka put together
  • Google supports translation into 11 Indian languages.
  • Bloomsbury and Francis & Taylor, in their Social Media Marketing session, divided the room into 5 groups, gave out five books from Bloomsbury and asked each team to come up with a social media marketing strategy. Clever. Helped both the authors as well as the instructors because some of the teams came up with really creative stuff. (Did I mention my team won? 🙂 )
  • 50% of India – which is about 500 million potential users – is under the age of 25. Mobile penetration is 900 million, but this also includes people with multiple SIMS, not necessarily unique individuals. Rural women are less likely to have their own phones.
  • Kids search on YouTube first. Google search is, apparently, for the old timers.
  • Co-panelist Kinjal Shah, CEO of Crossword Bookstores (approximately 100 stores around the country) announced the launch of The Write Place. For a fee ranging from Rs. 1.5 lakh to Rs. 8 lakh ($2258 – $12,039) your book will be placed in a separate ‘gondola’ for three months. Book announcements will be sent out in newsletters, according to him.
  • Bloomsbury, India announced the launch of their ‘custom publishing’ platform. The moderator’s comment – You mean, vanity publishing. There was no response to the comment.
  • Meekashi Singh, Manager – Contracts, Rights and Permissions, with Rupa and Aleph Publishers, talked about what to watch out for in publishing contracts. I asked her to do a blog post for me, and she graciously agreed.
  • Pratham Books, publisher of children’s books, has launched StoryWeaver.org.in. Stories can be read, downloaded, translated or printed by anyone for free. They also have a publishing tool, and a choice of 11 languages. Social publishing model.
  • ReadMyStori is a mobile app with currently 80 ebooks. Shailesh Gogate says there are plans for multilingual (Indian language) books. Right now you have to provide ebooks for free download. They expect to come up with a subscription model soon. Their success story is Gauri Dange. They marketed her ebook using three teaser chapters for a period of month. This resulted in 90 downloads. According to Shailesh they don’t have an online platform because they aren’t able to secure copyright as they would on a mobile app.
  • pothi.com announced Instascribe, an aggregator for ebooks (on the lines of smashwords). No upfront free. 20% cut in royalties for each book they sell a book for you.
  • For those who’ve not heard, Flipkart no longer sells ebooks.
  • Themeefy can take any kind of content – pages sourced from the Internet, pictures, blogs – and turn them into flipbooks. Their publishing engine picks up meaningful content from the data you submit – with user override – and builds end products for digital publication. You can generate a card, flipbook or digital portfolio. Customizable. Their focus is education-related publishing.
  • Amrit Abrol, CFO, Harper Collins says that their new focus is to tighten up because marketing too many books isn’t cost- or time-effective. They’re focusing on selling less number of books at higher prices – less pressure on finance, management, warehousing.
  • Jyoti Narula Ranjan did a podcasting session for publishers. She dealt mostly with her experience, introduced a few basics of podcasting. Was a decent session, would have preferred something more focused on monetizing podcasts from the point-of-view of publishers because while Jyoti has done 39 podcasts on her platform, SynTalk, and she works with a team, money for renting a studio etc. comes out of her pocket. A few ideas that she had – release snippets of book as podcast.

Interesting statistics from mobile-based app DailyHunt (formerly NewsHunt), title sponsors of the 2015 edition of PublishingNext. These are DailyHunt-specific statistics.

  • Success of their model is based on the fact that, in India, the penetration of mobile (cell) phones is much greater than either that of the Internet or TV.
  • 2000 paid comic book downloads a month in the Malayalam language
  • Half a million ebooks downloaded each month
  • 20% of their downloads are ebooks
  • No free sampling for articles or books
  • You can sell a chapter at a time, or the whole book
  • For ebooks, Rs. 49 (74 cents) is their sweet spot
  • Publishers and authors can track sales via dashboard
  • 95% of their downloads are regional language (i.e. non-English) books
  • Most mobile phones in India have limited data plans. DailyHunt requires that file size for downloads be 1 MB or less in order to keep costs for their customers managable.
  • Audiobooks, with their file sizes are more expensive to download, and hence a harder sell
  • Both trade or self-published authors can sell their books
  • Buy an article at a time – for Rs. 2, or the entire magazine for Rs. 5.
  • DailyHunt lays claims to being India’s only carrier billing (i.e. mobile operator payment) transaction platform.
  • No plans for subscription model for ebooks or magazines because India doesn’t allow auto-renewal via credit card in order to clamp down on potential fraud
  • 110 million user base.
  • They allow for micropayments – i.e. buying one magazine article at a time, in addition to conventional payment.

Part 2 deals with the scourge of vanity publishing.