Note: Posted this on my blog the other day. Wanted to get opinion of a wider audience and hence posting it here.

There has been a recent spurt in the number of writers. 4 out of 10 people I know are either writers or are aspiring to be one. And similarly, the spurt in homw grown publishing companies. After all, all you need to be a publishing company is a couple of certificates and you are ready to issue ISBN numbers.

For a first time writer, the traditional way to go about getting a book published is to finish the manuscript, cold call all the publishers he can and hope to hear back from one or more.

Then, came the middle man – the literary agents. Now the writers wrote their manuscripts, went to a literary agent and slept in peace. The agent would identify the publishing houses that may be interested in the manuscript and approach these publishers. Ofcourse the agent would ask or a cut. A typical number, if I am not wrong is 10%. Could bi higher for a new writer.

So the game is heavily stacked in the favour of agents and the publishers. Publishers take a call on what they want to publish. The kind of books published and thus advertised on the mainstream are thus limited to the understanding of the publisher. Ofcourse publishers are learned men and know what they are doing. They run huge businesses after all. But then, if there was a way the audience, the junta, the aam aadmi could decide the kind of books they want to read, it would be awesome.

So here are the ideas. Three actually.

One. Discovery platform.

What if every first time writer gets to create an account on a portal. They upload the first three chapters (or 10% of the book online) and the platform is open for the audience to read these excerpts. If readers like what they see, they can indicate that they want to read the rest of the book. The books that get “likes” above a minimum threshold (say 5000 likes) are put in print and every one who has liked is notified about the print run. If the “likes” are below the threshold, everyone who indicated a like would have an option of buying the digital copy of the rest of the book.

So essentially, the process of identifying the “winners” is taken away from the publishers and literary agents and is given in the hands of the readers. If such could be the case, I am assuming that there would be lot more writers that would get published and a lot of books that have been published would be sent to raddiwalla.

Classic freemium model at work.

Two. Marketplace for writers and publishers.

What if there could be a service that got writers and publishers together on a platform. So all new authors login, see what kinda things do publishers want to publish and then accordingly submit their manuscripts. On the other hand, publishers see what kind of scripts are being uploaded and see if publishing those would make sense for their business.

Platform does one level of sanity and hygiene check and then lists the manuscripts to publishers. Publishers now decide if they want to publish or not.

This kills the literary agent but at the same time saves so much of headache for writer and publishers.

Three. Self publish on the digital medium

Alternatively (or may be concurrently), the platform that I spoke about in idea # 2 could enable and guide the new writers to publish themselves digitally. The platform could take care of logistics like issuing an ISBN number etc. Since digital reading devices are in vogue, there must be enough people interested in buying these digital books (at least numbers from Amazon tend to indicate this). And suddenly a new writer is no longer at the mercy of the whims of a publisher!

And if a book does well on the digital platform, they can be released in the traditional print run, and get sold on brick and mortar stores and flipkarts of the world! looks like a good place for such an idea but IMHO the execution leaves much to be desired.

Thats it. Its a pity that the business is stacked against the content creators. My estimates and interviews tell me that a new writer gets anywhere between 4% and 12% (if lucky) of the selling price of the book. The major chunk goes to the reatailer (flipkarts and Strands of the world) and the publisher. Isnt it unfair that the content creator actually gets the smallest piece of the pie? Something worth fixing!

Posted originally on sgSandbox.

Saurabh Garg

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