Now considered established authors, EL James (of Fifty Shades fame), Ashwin Sanghi and Amish Tripathi once took to self-publishing when they were starting out as no publisher was willing to take risks. The power of self-publishing platforms cannot be undermined. It becomes a voice of new authors and exposes their work to a wider audience. Vaishali Aggarwal, category leader, Kindle Content, speaks with Reya Mehrotra on the state of self-publishing in India, the processes involved and its regional penetration.
How has the self-publishing journey been so far in India?
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) launched in India in 2012 but it wasn’t until 2017 that we put focus behind it otherwise, it was just available for very early digital adoption. The journey has been interesting, we initially thought it was primarily for English language but over time, we launched in other Indian languages as well as a commitment to the India business. Over the years, we have seen thousands of authors from the Indian subcontinent joining us and publishing their e-books, which are read by millions of readers across the world. A lot of people of Indian origin publish their works on KDP and it is available to Kindle readers in India.
In 2020, a lot of new authors emerged as they were stuck at home during the lockdown. Did KDP too onboard new authors who published their works?
Digital adoption across various industries saw an increase during the pandemic. Yes, we did see new authors coming in during that period. The growth was slightly higher versus the non-pandemic period. It was good to see very interesting authors, even social media influencers, joining KDP to reach a wider set of audience.
What’s the screening and selection process for self-publishing platforms? Who can get their works published?
Self-publishing is a process in which anyone can publish the work and be connected with the readers. At KDP, we ensure any illegal or illicit content is not allowed to be published. We have very strong screening mechanisms for that. As long as the content that has been published is as per our content guidelines for that particular country, the content does get published, and we let the readers decide which content they really like and can become a best seller versus the one that they do not like.
If a published work gets poor reviews even though it matches your guidelines, does it still stay on your platform?
We believe that Amazon is not necessarily the gatekeeper on determining the quality, as long as the content is in adherence to the content guidelines. We let the readers decide which content is of a higher quality versus which is not. There are certain books which can become bestsellers overnight and then there are others which do not see enough sales.
Readers see the ratings or reviews of a particular book before starting to read it. If it gathers negative reviews, it will be visible to the readers, but it still stays on the platform unless the author himself or herself wants to unpublish it.
Are you planning to bring out the e-books that are published on KDP in print as well in India?
KDP India only supports the e-books format. However, in markets like the US, the UK, and a few others, we do support print on demand format as well. In those markets, the label is decided by the authors who are publishing it. Works can be published with any publishing house. Amazon Kindle is not necessarily a traditional publisher or a label. We are just providing a service to enable the authors to be able to publish and distribute their books across formats.
What is the publishing process like at KDP?
KDP is a fast, free and easy way to get published and authors can have up to 70% on the sales of their books. Our revenue sharing model allows us the remaining 30%. This free-of-charge publishing model enables diverse voices. The author has to visit our website kdp.amazon.com. Once logged in, they can go to the bookshelf and click on creating a new book, choose the format that they want to publish and upload the manuscript and key details like the title, description, the search terms, and set the right pricing, and the distribution locales where they want the books to be distributed. A cover is then uploaded, and it gets published once it has been screened by us. The book will be available on our Kindle stores.
How is the state of self-publishing in India as compared to other countries?
Self-publishing in India is still relatively at a nascent stage whereas in some other countries where it was launched even earlier, it is in a much more mature state. But we are really encouraged by the growth that we see in terms of the adoption of KDP by the Indian authors. The overall digitalisation in the economy, the increasing literacy rates, I think they all contribute and indicate that the adoption of self-publishing will only increase. There are a lot of unique voices and even bold visions that get heard through self-publishing and who otherwise could not always find a voice.
What’s the penetration like in the regional markets in India?
A majority of the content published and read in India is in the English language and then comes in regional languages. We support five regional languages—Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi and Gujarati.
What has the response to your Pen to Publish contest been in India like?
Our fifth edition of the contest submissions happened in October. The contest results will come out in January. Over the years, we have seen thousands of authors participating in it. We have participation from both new and existing authors on KDP. It does help us acquire new authors and new selections. It also enables the authors to get a higher visibility.
Now that Amazon no longer has Westland under its wing, does it plan to promote KDP significantly?
Self-publishing will continue as it has. It does not matter if we have any other channel or not. KDP enables livelihoods for authors and hence, is loved by them. During the pandemic, we got ‘Thank You’ notes from various authors who shared their stories of how they were able to sustain and support their family.