Last updated on 2nd April 2017
Initially, I was thinking on the lines of printing copies of my book with an offset printer and distributing it myself, sometimes complimentary and sometimes for around the book price to help pay for the next print run, if needed. But I wanted to look at a much smaller number of copies - 100 copies - than what seemed to be the usual minimum print run of 500 copies (for offset printers). However, I did come to know that there are offset printers in Bangalore who offer reasonably priced print run of 100 to 200 copies as well.
Slowly it sank in that if I get 100 printed copies of my book and sell the copies even at a personal level, I may be liable to pay sales tax!!! Further, I think there would also be a license to sell books kind of issue. Essentially I would be doing a small level business if I sold my books and that would bring in tax and other issues for me.
So I think it has become very clear to me that I should NOT be directly involved in any sales of my books. I could, of course, provide copies of my books as promotional/complimentary material. In the very unlikely event of my printed book(s) being in demand, I could act as a go-between to facilitate some small commercial entity (other than me) to place orders of printing, say 100 or 200 copies, using an offset printer. I could give permission to the commercial entity and also state that I do not need any royalty money whatsoever. That would help in lowering the MRP. This entity would have to stock the copies, distribute it to bookshops that are interested and/or sell the books to customers, collect payment, and handle sales tax issues and any license issues.
Further, only printing the book at an offset printer does not provide any means to list it (and distribute it) through web bookstores! The self-publisher who provides Print-On-Demand (POD) facility, with free publishing to those who provide the full product (book) to them, and has a NON-EXCLUSIVE agreement with the author, seems to be a very, very interesting option for me. But free-publishing package seems to limit distribution of the book to only the publisher's web book store and NOT famous web book stores like Amazon and Flipkart.
Let me put down in steps below, how I could use an Indian self-publisher who offers NON-EXCLUSIVE POD:
1) I get my book content done with the typical requirement of an ebook. For this I could follow Amazon Kindle guidelines for ebook preparation (without using their paid services).
2) I upload the book content to the Indian self-publisher POD satisfying above mentioned criteria (White Falcon Publishing, Chandigarh seems to be one such Indian self-publisher offering POD facility). As I will not be using any of their editing, design, proofreading etc. services, White Falcon seems to offer me a FREE option of publishing my book.
3) For a 75 page paperback default size book with other default options, as per their calculate page, White Falcon says that it will have a cost price of Rs. 60/-. The minimum MRP would be Rs. 85/- but which would give almost no margin for third parties. MRP would perhaps need to be Rs. 100 (or Rs. 99 to use standard marketing stuff) to offer reasonable margin to third-parties (e.g. Amazon, Flipkart). [Perhaps I could specify to White Falcon that I don't need any royalty which might then reduce the price to Rs. 85/- from Rs. 100. Essentially my royalty becomes margin for the third-party seller.]
Let's presume MRP of Rs. 99 (+ shipping). It would be double the MRP of Rs. 50/- that would have been possible with offset printing!!! So is that not too expensive???
Well, it is expensive for the buyer. But not for me as I don't have to pay anything upfront except perhaps to order a sample copy (for perhaps two/three rounds) at author price of Rs. 60/- + shipping, while going through the process of checking the printed book quality! And Rs. 99/- is NOT an unaffordable amount for those who are interested in the stuff I would be having on my book (e.g. God & science conversation).
The good thing is that the paperback book gets listed on White Falcon's web book store. But one major issue is that, as per their free publishing offer details (see http://www.self-publish.in/plans.html), White Falcon does not distribute it with international bookseller sites or any other Indian bookseller sites! That seems to need a paid plan like Silver priced at around Rs. 15,000 which provides "International Distribution" and "Inventory Management". Hmm. So if I want the printed book to be available on Amazon and Flipkart, I need to either pay White Falcon or explore somebody else who might do that. To put this point in a nutshell, the free publishing offer from White Falcon provides distribution only through their own online book store: http://store.self-publish.in/.
The listing of the book on the publisher's web store, the printing of the book, the sale, the money collection, the shipping and delivery, the sales tax etc. are all handled by White Falcon and, if one takes a paid plan, then interfacing with the other outlets like Amazon and Flipkart. White Falcon would only send me the royalty for the book at a periodic interval (if there are book sales). Now I am not interested in the royalty except that it may help me to fund additional prints (perhaps an offset print run) of the book. The royalty earning would not create any issues with Income Tax so long as the amount is shown and income tax is paid for it - at least, that's my understanding; I have not discussed the matter yet with my Income Tax consultant.
4) In the very improbable case that there is significant demand for the book, as the agreement to print & distribute my book will be NON-EXCLUSIVE with the Indian self-publishing POD company, I can explore possibility of using a small commercial orgn. to order an offset printer print run of my book, with a lower MRP (say Rs. 50/-), with zero royalty/margin to me. This commercial orgn. will handle stocking the unsold copies, distributing it to physical bookshops/persons interested, collecting sales money, paying sales tax etc. So the buyer/reader gets the book at lower MRP of Rs. 50/-, and I do not have any tax issues (and no earning from it).
Note that having a print run with an offset printer with a lower MRP, and associated sales of those books, will go on in parallel to any sales of the POD book (at higher MRP) from POD publisher web store (and other third-party bookseller web stores if paid plan is taken with POD publisher). This possibility comes up DUE TO FREEDOM provided by NON-EXCLUSIVE self-publishing POD agreement.
5) As I would want to have some printed book copies to give as complimentary copies/for promotion, I could order, say 20 copies, at author price of Rs. 60/-. So I will pay Rs. 1200/- + shipping (say Rs. 300), coming to Rs. 1500/-. Therefore my total expenses in money for this free POD self-publishing route is Rs. 1500 + Rs 300 for 2 to 3 rounds of sample copy printing. That is a total of Rs. 1800/-. That's all I spend!!! This is just great for me.
6) I can (and plan to) put up an Amazon Kindle ebook version of it, at zero cost to me, for Rs. 49/-. So this increases book availability over the web. If there are any sales, Amazon will give 30% royalty. I do not have to pay any money to Amazon!!!
Some additional thoughts from me on this matter are given below:
I am NOT into creating any lasting literary works of art. My main interest is in spreading the good word/good news (evangel) in a way that is easily understandable and easily accessible to many people.
As a person who has not published any regular book so far (blogbooks are very informal), I am pretty uncomfortable with the level of control, conventional publishers have had and perhaps continue to have over works published by them with the authors almost losing all control over the book from a book distribution and sales point of view. I think the usual contracts that conventional publishers have with authors giving publishers lot of control over the author's work, gets legal sanction because of the money that the publishers pay the author upfront. If there were no upfront money paid, and only royalty payments involved, I think such high level of control contracts would have faced challenges in courts of law, and would have been struck down by the courts.
I first got exposure to this publisher high level of control over authors' works issue, in the field of academic publishing - I have published two academic papers as a co-author - where there was a strong movement from some academics to reduce draconian control of publishers over the papers authored by the academics. Initially, even though the academic authors were not paid anything for the papers they got published in journals owned by academic publishers, the academic publisher would claim full control over the author's paper!! The author had to seek their permission to even share his paper on his own academic institution website! Now, I believe, that has changed. [Note that the academic authors would get academic credit when their paper got published in these journals, and which would help in improving their academic career prospects but that's not something the academic publisher is involved in.]
In self-publishing, either for free (like in Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and at least one Indian self-publisher with POD facility, White Falcon publishing), or for a charge (starting package seems to be around Rs. 15,000 for most Indian self-publishers), one big positive is that this issue of control that publisher has over author's work, reduces significantly or goes away altogether. So it is freedom for the author from publisher control.
The downside of using Indian self-publishers seems to be that marketing, promotion etc. of the book is minimal (or none for free self-publishing) due to which possibility of good book sales is low (unless the author is well known and/or does some extensive promotion himself/herself).
For me, the biggest problem with (a particular Indian self-publisher) in the context of distributing printed book(s), is that their agreement CLEARLY STATES that it is an EXCLUSIVE agreement. You cannot sell the book through another publisher/channel! I want to completely stay away from EXCLUSIVE agreement publishers.
The spiritual following environment is a special kind of environment which has some commonality with student groups and environment. Keeping the price low increases the reach of the book. Now some persons choose to go for professional type quality and thereby have somewhat expensive spiritual books. But I think that reduces readership.
While I am FIRM that I do not want to do any aggressive evangelical stuff, I want to offer my views AT LOW PRICE to really interested spiritual seekers. I expect the genuine spiritual seeker to be willing to accept a no-frills and very affordable book which has the right text content.