When Internet was sweeping the world by its instant connection and access to anything, anywhere, eReaders were experimented in the 1990s and met with little commercial success. Technologists moved on. By 2007, Micheal Kronan from Lab 126 brought out an eReader Kindle, which means start a fire, to stimulate reading and intellectual excitement. With the power of library of books of backlist and current on its online sale list, Amazon powered Kindle into the reading world and that created enough buzz. The success of Kindle ushered in competitive eReaders and now eBooks developed to be read electronically is no more a novel form. And then mBooks are also now taking off, to be read on the mobile phones. By Amazon’s foray into publishing these eBooks through a self-publishing Kindle Direct Program (KDP) platform, disruptive changes have enabled authors to publish directly without a publisher and get as much as 70% royalty for their work. The traditional publishing model is shaken with the arrival of self-publishing and technology driving it through the likes of KDP.
Kindle and KDP mean revolutionary changes that challenge the traditional publishing model. The gatekeeping function of publishers, or more so editors, who vetted a book for publication, has been bypassed. This development has two implications. On the one hand, authors like Amanda Hocking have had a roaring success by self-publishing their books and Amanda is now sought after by the publishers. On the other hand, this new thingie has also spawned error-filled, unreadable, ordinary work to come into public consumption. The blindly confident authors, of their writing and their knowledge, have sought to push their creations, however crass they are, into the reading mass. And the disconcerting truth is that such literature is competing with good literature. The positive take is authors rejected by publishers are no longer out of the publishing ambit.
eBooks and Readers
‘Do you read on Kindle?’ used to be a rhetorical question sometime back in India. How many read on Kindle or eReaders? This is a very small minority, technologically adaptable literature-loving group and the new techno-savvy young population. The question on the minds of publishers is if they develop an eBook will it sell in India? With statistics in the West stating eBook sales have pipped pBook sales (pBook = print book), the optimistic publisher is waiting for it to happen in India so that his cost of production is low and he sets his publishing program globally.
Publishers vs Technologists: Silos Thinking
Fresh from PublishingNext in Goa, I am coming back with new insights. There is a vibrant activity from the technologist community in setting up new ventures that convert a pBook into an eBook and an mBook. And then these techno entrepreneurs also help you reach the market by social media campaigns and placing your mBook on mobile marketplaces. The import of this is if you are a publisher, you can simply take your pBook and tell the technology guy to convert it into an eBook. The challenges begin right there. What has become evident is that the publishers and technologists have difficulties in arriving at a common vision that drives them. Publishers are in silos thinking of their grander vision and have little understanding of technology. Not many technologists understand the publishing programs and publisher visions. They have a tool, a powerful one at that, and expect the publisher to simply toe their line. If publishers balance their vision with technology and if technologists offer what the publisher is expecting by understanding publishing, we could see a lot of problems getting solved and collaborative relationship blossoming.
The silos thinking also means the technologist challenges in giving what the publisher needs. Complex font problems, design issues, the feel of the book in the electronic form are challenges that publishers grapple with with no clear answer from technologists. As eReading in India hasn’t reached a critical mass and there is lack of real data on how much consumption is happening, the technologist only suggests trying out the market, which baffles the publisher. The investment is not sure of returns. And the publishers are left thinking if it is worth the investment and if you are not making eBooks, you are out of new-age thinking and publishing. So, the publisher is forced to spend on eBook making without knowing what it will fetch. If Penguin has figured out this with its release of 300 eBooks into the market and realizing global sales, it cannot be emulated by a poor small independent publisher whose budget is cramped. Piracy is another looming issue.
Distributors and Retailers
The publisher is already facing a tough call on pricing thanks to the distributor and retailer ripping off half their revenues. The distributor wants 40% to 45% and the retailer needs approximately 40% of the margins (for directly placing the book in bookstores) if you approach them as a publisher. The publisher has to jack up the price of the book to include this 40%. When online bookstores came, we thought it would help matters. While the online reach has steadily increased and another avenue available for the publisher sales, his outgo of 40% still remains. Flipkart in a way fixed the distribution problem by expanding the reach of the publisher to hitherto inaccessible market. But what is needed is more Flipkarts, the online bookstores. The technologist can play a pivotal role in helping the publisher. But what’s happening on the ground is still one that does not excite the publisher. Bookstores are closing. The small ones that helped the small publisher no longer exist. Technology can offer a solution to distribution and retail problem by offering online access to market and lowering distribution costs.
Technology and Publisher: Small Publishers is a Huge Market to Crack for the Technologist
What is left out of the context is that India is a vibrant small, independent publisher market. The technologist who could spend little time understanding how it operates can benefit by infusing his technology into their processes and giving them what they want. Small, independent publishers exist in language publishing aplenty. Publishers need help with distribution, adopting to eBooks and thinking of electronic value-add offerings. There are an estimated 19,000 publishers in India. And small publishers make up the majority of them. There is a vibrant and active vision-driven, committed independent publisher community in English language publishing also. Technology can revolutionise small, independent publishing in India. If publishers and technologists leave out their silos thinking and come together, publishing in India can set a new model for the world to follow.