How Self-Publishing Works in India
- There’s a lot of innovation and experimentation happening in the Indian book publishing industry. In this article, you will learn how the book market and the self-publishing industry works in India. Which is expected to explode very soon! You can read some useful tips how to publish a book in India and about the whole self-publishing process which we cover here through a success story. The book industry worth over 7 billion dollar approximately and growing at around 20% every year.
The Indian book market overview
The Indian book market can be described in one word: complex.
As the 6th biggest market in the world by GDP, the economy is thriving. There are higher literacy levels, and the book market is getting ready for ebooks. Behind the US and UK, India ranks 3rd in the world in English language publishing. In fact, it is one of the very few markets globally that is still increasing in both print and digital publishing. The market in India is extremely fragmented, demographically.
There are 22 official languages, English is one of them, but Hindi is the most common one. There are 122 major languages and close to 1600 additional ones. Languages are thriving in India, for instance, you can expect a renewed interest in buying and reading Hindi books.
Marathi, Malyalam, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil languages also have a strong culture of reading. The fragmented nature of publishing comes from the diverse social and economic levels across the country and from the fact that a few large retail chains are dominating the market while there are hundreds of small, independent bookstores and unorganized retailers. There’s not much publishing data coming in from the Indian market, which makes it harder to represent the market and create a full study on the subject. However, Nielsen has a report about the Indian book market that tries to quantify a complex market. There are still issues though such as the fact that a large number of publishers, especially in Indian languages do not use ISBNs. Another problem is that the market is still fragmented and lacks marketing and distribution support for self-publishers. However, a consolidation has already started thanks to the government that allows a 100% foreign direct investment resulting in the involvement of foreign multinationals. Amazon’s purchase of Westland, which is one of the top publishing houses in India, is a great example of this consolidation process.
The growing population of the youth, who is becoming literate and educated, brings a tremendous opportunity for market growth in the publishing industry, especially in the educational sector. No surprise that educational books dominate the overall Indian book market with 70%. The other 30% of books published are trade books. However, in monetary terms, academic books account for 40% of sales, trade books account for 30% and the remaining are children books. About 50,000 publishers publish a volume of 120,000 books each year, nearly half of the titles are in Hindi and English. This puts India at the 7th rank globally in terms of the number of books published.
The biggest players on the market are Amazon and Flipkart. The business model of Amazon in India differs from the one in the US. While in America Amazon has two business models: ecommerce and it is a marketplace for third party sellers. In India however, Amazon.in needed to develop multiple business models because of the characteristics of the market. Flipkart’s ebooks catalogue was bought by Rakuten (Kobo) in 2015, so there should be exciting strategic developments in the future.
The internet penetration is growing fast; the online market is globally among the fastest growing ones in India which manifest in more content consuming online and through devices, especially mobile phones.
When it comes to accessing the internet, India is a mobile-first country with 900 million users of whom 42% have already purchased digital content. Thus ebook sales are driven by smartphones, tablets and mobile commerce. As the Indian ebook market gets more and more mature, e-reader devices are picking up slowly but surely.
Although they have not been particularly popular so far which has to do a lot with the significant presence of the younger generation that prefers tablets and smartphones over ebook readers. Therefore, content publishing startups like Pratilipi, Matrubharti or Juggernaut have a significant advantage. Another reason to consume content from these app-based platforms is that a lot of Indian language books are not available as ebooks, so there’s no need to buy an e-reader.
There’s a lack of support for Indic scripts by the reading devices. However, free content is a key element of adopting ebooks in India. 62% of the publishers are currently publishing ebooks, and the biggest market for ebooks right now is the higher education sector. Although, ebooks at the moment have less than 10% market share in India, according to the projections by 2020 this number is going to be 25%.
Self-publishing in India
In terms of self-publishing, we can distinguish two markets in India: books in English and books written in native languages. Kindle has a strong presence in India, and it supports content from Indian languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Tamil or Marathi. Kobo has a store. However there’s been not much activity happening from Kobo in India. Lately, it is more known for its e-reader than its ebooks.
As a self-publisher, there are plenty of options to choose if you want to self-publish a book to the Indian market. You’ll basically become an authorpreneur who has to think beyond writing and have control on all parts of the process. As soon as you publish your books, they will be available globally. Meanwhile, if you go the traditional way, you’ll only responsible for the writing process and don’t have to worry about distribution or promotion. However, it is not easy to win a publishing contract in India. Many people write a book, but only a few can get it published which also takes up a lot of time and the publisher keeps most of the profits. Moreover, the traditional publishing industry in India is dominated by 6-10 big publishers and most of the bestselling authors are associated with them. As for self-publishing in India you have different options and it’s totally up to you how much you are willing to spend on marketing and promoting your book.
Below, we collected two services you can choose from to self-publish your ebook:
- Pothi: a self-publishing and print on demand company in India. They offer editing and cover design services for ebooks which can be submitted as PDF or MS Word or as an EPUB file. Your books will be sold through Pothi.com store only, and your royalty is 75% of the MRP (Maximum Retail Price, described below)
- Cinnamonteal: offers ebook conversion (PDF, EPUB, MOBI formats) and worldwide distribution services Apple, Amazon, B&N etc.). You can also include video and audio clips into your ebooks and create audiobooks as well.
For regional languages the biggest players on the market are Dailyhunt and Matrubharti. Dailyhunt is India’s largest local language ebook store that provides books in multiple Indian languages. It offers 20-25% royalties for independent authors and 35-40% royalties for publishers. Matrubharti is a self-publishing startup platform for regional language writers. It uses subscription service for generating revenues and has developed an author community to translate the content from English to Indian languages in exchange for commissions.
If you want your books to be ready for the Indian market as a non-Indian author, you should consider the following aspects before you publish:
- Content: if your book is written in English, how do you get that translated?
- Technology: converting your book to an electronic format will affect your script and fonts
- Marketing: to invest in marketing, know your readers and reach out to them
One of the most successful self-publishers in India, Rasana Atreya.
Her bestseller novel Tell A Thousand Lies was shortlisted for an award in 2012. Rasana left her job to follow her dreams to be a writer. She turned down an offer by a leading Indian publishing company and decided to self-publish her books. She wanted to keep digital rights, royalties and the entire publishing process in her hands. And it turned out to be the best decision she could have ever done. As she says:
„Self-publishing your book might seem overwhelming and scary, but it ends up being the right choice for many writers.”
According to her, if you want to self-publish your book, you need to devote an enormous amount of time for research and preparation to understand the self-publishing process. She also had her books edited, formatted and designed professionally. Rasana’s books based on social issues that affect rural India with a hint of tragedy and comedy elements. She writes about topics that are close to her heart. She also points out the importance of marketing your ebook. She is active on her social media channels, operates a blog page and often asks fellow authors and critics to review her books which can boost her sales.
Which genres perform well in India?
There’s a high demand for contemporary Indian writing in English. It is easier to sell a nonfiction book in India. As for fiction, it’s a very niche market with an overall rate of 10-12%. The hot topics are social media and startups while self-help and leadership books are evergreen categories. If your plan is to write a book for the Indian market start with ebooks, don’t try to get into the print market. Paperbacks in India are not that profitable because most of them are relatively cheap.
How to price your book for the Indian market?
Pricing a book right is probably the biggest question every author has come across. Pricing an English book particularly for the Indian market can be an issue. However, what you can do is to use the thumb rule which is usually one rupee (Indian currency) per page for paperback and 60% of it for ebooks. There’s an index called MRP (Maximum Retail Price) for that which is calculated by the type of the print book (Paperback/Hardcover), size of the book and the number of pages. Make sure to actually price your book for the indian market not just convert your local currency price into rupees.
Traditional publishers in India offer discounts on the selling price (50-60%), so regarding independent authors, who are trying to adjust their pricing strategy, the MRP index might not be the most profitable solution. In this case, the focus should be more on targeted marketing, finding who your readers are and invest more in that.
As you could see, interesting dynamics have been going on in the Indian publishing industry. Self-publishing is becoming bigger and bigger due to the many self-publishing services that have been launched recently, but it still has a long way to go. More and more authors are starting to realize the potential of DIY publishing in India, but there are still issues for publishers to overcome such as book discovery, finding the right price, piracy and investing in strengthening their marketing efforts online.
However, the popularity of ebooks is rising in the country, and the increasing number of self-publishing platforms that support authors to write, proves that India is going to be a major player on the publishing market that no one should ignore. PublishDrive is selling ebooks to the Indian market through Google Play, Scribd, Kobo and Amazon. Besides the big retailers, via PublishDrive your books can be published directly to Indian stores such as to Rockstand, one of the largest ebook stores in India. More stores are coming soon!
If you have more questions how to publish a book in India, feel free to leave a comment and share it!
Special thanks to Amar Vyas, host of MyKitaab Podcast who was a major help putting this article together. Check out his podcasts here.