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There's a crowd behind this book

Crowdfunding is emerging as a refreshing route for small, independent publishing houses in India. Smarter logistics, unpredictable markets and an open-minded reader is making this attempt worth their while.

When an email from independent publisher Blaft on an Indiegogo project hit our inbox, we were intrigued. Blaft has a quirky booklist — of Indian and Pakistani crime novels, Nigerian soyayya fiction, pulp art, folktales and more. Why would they choose to use crowdfunding? Rashmi Devadasan of Blaft explains, “Our first two books in the Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction series did well; many readers have been asking when Volume 3 was coming out. So, we are reaching out directly to the readers, with an open breakdown of production costs, and a direct platform for them to advance order a copy of the book.”

Crowdfunding is not new to publishing in India; a handful of self-published authors have used this route. Teenage author Anvita Khosla created a Kickstarter project to raise funds for her Pink Eagle stories; 35 backers pledged $2,762 (Canadian) for her production. According to Anshulika Dubey, co-founder of Wishberry, publishing is the third largest lucrative segment in India for this new crowdfunding company. Of the 250 plus projects on Wishberry, 11 are in publishing; over R14 lakhs of the R5 crores raised is pledged to publishing projects.

Makes sense
For small and independent publishers, crowdfunding might be the solution to their problems of resource crunch and distribution hassles. In addition to raising funds, crowdfunding also enables publishers to get pre-orders for a book. The interest generated in the book helps publishers gauge consumer expectations and market trends, and engages the backer through various stages of the book’s production.

(Clockwise from top left) The covers of the three volumes of Tamil Pulp Fiction by Blaft Publications, and Saints and Sages of India by Vidhyut Publications
(Clockwise from top left) The covers of the three volumes of Tamil Pulp Fiction by Blaft Publications, and Saints and Sages of India by Vidhyut Publications

Blaft is not the only independent publisher to seek crowdfunding. Vidhyut Publications, a small press from Chennai used Pubslush, a crowdfunding site dedicated exclusively to books, to successfully raise over $2000 for their four-volume Saints and Sages of India. GOA 1556, a niche publishing house, and author Ahmed Bunglowala have approached friends and well wishers to fund the republishing of the now out-of-print The Days and Nights of Shorty Gomes. They need Rs 30-35,000 to sail through.

The investors/backers are usually friends, family and well wishers; sometimes, a curious reader will also invest in a book project. Sachin Rudra, an avid reader states, “If the book is on an important issue, and needs crowdfunding, I would invest in it.” Concurs Seema Mohapatra, another reader, “I loved the first Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction. I missed the second in the series and could not find it in bookstores. When Blaft mailer informed me of the Indiegogo campaign, I decided to become a backer, if only to pick up extra copies that I could gift.” Based on the amount one has pledged, there are plenty of freebies and gifts for backers. Autographed copies, name in acknowledgements, dinner with the author, a Skype chat or visit to the book club, even one’s name as the protagonist of the next novel are some of the takeaways.

Blaft's break-up of costs is a revealing one. The $8,000 they are hoping to raise on the Indiegogo project will enable Blaft to pay the authors, translators and editors, and also help cover the costs of layouts and printing, and the marketing campaign for the book. Information courtesy/Blaft Publishing
Blaft's break-up of costs is a revealing one. The $8,000 they are hoping to raise on the Indiegogo project will enable Blaft to pay the authors, translators and editors, and also help cover the costs of layouts and printing, and the marketing campaign for the book. Information courtesy/Blaft Publishing

The fine line
Does the crowdfunding route limit the reach of these books? Devadasan doesn’t think so: “The traditional print publishing model has seen a tectonic shift, with the entry of eBook publishing and online sales. Many bookstores and chains have shut over the last few years. After a book is published, we stock it at the few Indie bookstores that support us.” Initial mailers have been sent to people who are on Blaft’s mailing list, “With social media, we will reach out to new people who might like the book but had no idea we were around,” she hopes.

However, Satish Kataria, the managing director of Catapooolt is cautious, “Independent publishing in India has still not leveraged the power of crowdfunding to a large extent. Over the last two years, there have been three-four projects related to publishing, which have raised crowdfunding in India so far. Average amounts raised are less than Rs 3 lakhs.”
For a successful crowdfunding campaign, publishers must answer the following questions:

>> Is my project worth it? Does it have a wow factor?
>> How can I make a compelling proposition for investors?
>> Will a well-made video or presentation work?
>> Is the marketing and promotional plan in place?
>> Is there an online and offline strategy in place?
>> Do I have a well-thought-out rewards plan for my backers?

Thoughtful execution of these questions will determine the success of publishing projects. US-based Grey Gecko Press had a goal of $1,00,000 that they wanted towards their operating capital needs; the inability to communicate a clear strategy meant that they met only 2% of their target. In contrast, McSweeney’s clarity of purpose, and sharing of specific projects they need money for, has helped it raise more than the originally stated $150,000.

Road ahead
Kataria states, “For crowdfunding to be a success, it is dependent on the success of independent reads in India, and more awareness on the concept of letting reading aficionados know how they can be part of someone’s literary journey and engage with them.” If successful, Blaft Publication’s crowdfunding attempt may open up more such partnerships and together, the stakeholders might engage in something positively disruptive in the rapidly changing publishing world.

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