IP Books : Self Publishing in India- A Worthwhile Proposition?

Over the last five years, self publishing in India has spawned a new breed of authors, publishers,intermediaries, and agents. India is among the top ten content publishers of the world, and is one of the top three markets for english publications. During the last ten years, the emergence and growth of e-book and print on demand publication modes has made it easy and convenient to self publish, earn high royalty rates, and reach out to international markets. Today, more than twenty percent of Indian books on best seller lists of Amazon Kindle are said to be self published, and the ratio is fast growing. One self publishing platform claims to have helped more than thirty seven thousand authors independently publish their books.

Though there is no consensus on the exact percentage of self published works, most stake holders agree that the number of self published books, and platforms enabling them is fast growing in India. By a lower estimate, there are more than forty self publishing entities in India today. Some of the noteworthy entities are Patridge Publishing, Pothi, Amazon Kindle, Sapna, etc. These entities can broadly be divided into two types of businesses:

a. Entities, which take upfront payments and enable the publication process hands on – Patridge, Sapna, etc. (Note: These entities also take share of royalty in each book sold); and
b. Entities, which merely provide the platform, and take a share of royalty based on books sold – Pothi, SmashWords, Amazon Kindle, Create Space, etc.

Self publishing businesses generate revenues and profit out of services offered to authors such as cover design, copy editing, distribution, etc, and also get a share in every book sold. An independent author invests money for every single step in the publication process from editing and designing to printing and distribution, and takes the publication risks by paying the self publishing entities, and if the book does well, both author and publisher benefit. However, if the book does not fare well, only the author loses. At some level, the self publishing industry in India today capitalizes on the passion and enthusiasm of an author to get his book out into the market rather than making it a valuable business proposition for both author and publisher.

In his excitement to get his book out, an independent author often ignores his business interests/legal rights and gives away his copyright, privacy rights, and other rights to these self publishing entities. Most of these entities are very well organized from the marketing and publicity perspective, but often lack the legal instruments to protect interests of authors, execute instruments having one sided clauses like traditional publishing houses, or have no legal instruments at all. As a result, authors find themselves at the mercy of self publishing entities, a story not very different from publishing with a traditional publisher.

Select Insights

Over the last three years, I have been experimenting with self publishing in India. After publishing with Oxford University Press, Thomson, LeadStart, etc, the lack of control with respect to my own work and high handed attitude of publishers after signing the publication agreements prompted me to try self publishing. Out of my eight books, four have been self published, and here is some of what I have learnt, from the legal perspective:

Most self publishing platforms expect advance payment to enable the self publication process, but will not sign an agreement for the same. Some of them agree to sign agreements, but their clauses are extremely one sided;
Almost all self publishing entities and platforms require authors to give representations, warranties and indemnities with respect to their works, but do not make any representations to authors. So, authors are dependent on legally derived and implied warranties and remedies;
Most self publishers avoid taking any form of legal responsibility with respect to their deliverables – designs, prints, distribution, etc, timelines and quality. But, they require the author to make all payments in advance and perform several obligations in accordance with specified timelines;
Self publishers seek warranty and indemnity with respect to copyright infringement, and violation of third party rights from the author, but they give no such warranties/indemnity, and also, do not take the responsibility of protecting the author’s work from infringement by their acts;
Maintaining confidentiality of author’s work and files, respect for privacy rights, etc, are literally not existent in self publisher’s contracts; and
Most self publishers do not take any responsibility of reporting sales, distribution and payments, and authors are often left to the publisher’s discretion.

The story of self publishing in India is therefore not as rosy as it seems, and the higher royalty rates, speedy publication, and greater control, are at some level merely marketing tools for profit driven self publishing entities. Considering their limited reach to physical stores, pricing disadvantages with print on demand based models, and extent of investment required from an independent author, self publication does not surely seem to be as good an option as it seems. Moreover, the lack of legal commitment and responsibility from self publishing entities adds risks to investment in independent publishing and makes one wonder if this is as bad as traditional publishing.