I believe the story in 2014/2015 will be the expansion of digital book sales in print, ebook and audio to global markets.
With over 300 million educated English speakers, and a culture that values books, I’m excited about the opportunities in India. I also love the country and want to spend more time there, so there’s certainly a personal slant on this interview.
In the intro, I talk about my pivot on the 5th anniversary of the blog, the launch of A Thousand Fiendish Angels for Kindle, and why I love to speak on marketing. The podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system.
Minal Hajratwala is the award-winning author of ‘Leaving India; My family’s journey from 5 villages to 5 continents’ as well as a poet and the editor of ‘Out: Stories from the new Queer India’. Minal is also a speaker, coach and consultant. You can watch the conversation on YouTube here, or listen above or on the podcast feed.
- Minal was born in the Bay Area of the USA. She has always been a writer and became a journalist, later doing a one woman show. She got a fellowship at Columbia University and during that time wrote the proposal for ‘Leaving India’. She’s working on a novel and a poetry collection and is now a writing coach as well as starting a publishing business. She went to India 3 years ago as part of researching the book, and ended up moving there, 3 generations after her grandfather left.
- India has changed in the last 15 years through tremendous economic growth, although there’s still poverty and the stereotypes that many think of. There’s a new literate, educated middle class of several hundred million people which has a big impact for the book industry. As a journalist from Silicon Valley, there’s a lot in Bangalore that reminds Minal of how it used to be there – Google and IBM and all the big IT companies have campuses in Bangalore, which gives the city a cosmopolitan feel. It’s a young city, with a huge expat community. As the economy grows, there’s more space for arts and culture to grow. Minal talks about editing a collection and now her new process of publishing poetry as a collective. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit in India, a sense that anything is possible.
- We talk about the shift in the opportunities for women, in IT and engineering and other prospects. Minal also works in diversity consulting, helped companies get used to having so many women in the workplace. So things are changing!
- There are ~35 official languages in India, each state has its own language and many people speak 3-7 languages. English has become the language of the educated classes, with estimates of ~300 million speakers. Books are a status item that people want to have, and book launches are treated like major events with movie stars appearing. It’s a much higher status interest in India. Computer and internet penetration is not so high, so print books are still much more popular. Ebooks are taking off in some areas but piracy is very high, and people have a different attitude to print in general.
- What types of books do Indians like to buy? What are the bestsellers? There is a wide range, from literary works like Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil which was up for the Booker Prize, to complete pulp fiction, self-help and more niche works. Until very recently, the charts have been dominated by British & American authors, but now Indian authors are catching up, with local publishing focusing on native grown authors. There’s a need for content, so it’s an easy time to get published, if you have Indian connections!
- How can non-Indian writers get into India? FlipKart is India’s main ebook store [Smashwords distributes to Flipkart], and Amazon has started Amazon.in but the biggest thing in India is more about being there, doing events and meeting media. There is no entrenched attitude towards traditional publishing. There’s really no difference, because India is more used to small businesses. Agents aren’t usually used in India, authors go direct to publishers. There are some questionable levels of quality and English in some books, BUT the focus is much more on story, so the media are interested in all books.
- Distribution is the biggest issue, as India is such a vast country with a lot of bureaucracy around payments. It’s also expensive to get physical books everywhere. A lot of people buy books in these tiny stalls on the street who has a few books on display and some more in the back. You ask him for recommendations, it’s the ‘unorganized’ bookstore. Some chain bookstores have begun emerging, especially in the large urban centres, but they also have their challenges.
- On marketing, India has the world’s highest usage of Facebook right now and Goodreads plugs into Facebook so social media is a good start. Blogadda is a network with book reviewing program. Twitter is growing. Traditional bookstores and mainstream media is a big source of word of mouth. Excerpts are published in journals and magazines, and interviews with authors are popular. AuthorTV is a good network for author interviews.
- Pricing should be appropriate to the economy and authors need to change their pricing. Print pricing 150 rupees for a cheap paperback up to 800 rupees for the top quality hardback. For ebooks, there is a range, but it is lower than print. [If you're self-publishing, you need to go into KDP and change the rupee price from the USD default as that will be too high.] For print on demand, I mention Pothi.com and CinnamonTeal as options, but Minal says that printing is very cheap so many people just go that way. Self-publishing has been common for a long time in India, especially in poetry, and there’s no real drive to do it through Amazon.
- Minal talks about the problems with actually making money through books in India, but I’m still hopeful with the advent of smartphone and device penetration as well as faster internet connections.
- We talk about the Bangalore Book Fair as well as the Jaipur Literary Festival. There is a growing literary festival movement in India.
You can find Minal at MinalHajratwala.com and on twitter @minalh
You can also find her book ‘Leaving India’ here.
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Do you have any thoughts or opinions about the book marketing in India? If you are in India, or of Indian descent, or work in the country, I’d love to hear your opinions specifically, so please do share in the comments below!