Last year, I was trying to help a friend publish a book. After some search, we found a mediator who could print books at bulk printing rates and could make it available with major online stores in India. After some time, with trying to get an ISBN ( which is given for Free by government), trying to get a copyright, etc. it lost momentum and never went live.

During my last long haul flight – Atlanta to Dubai, I was surrounded by iPad carrying people who were reading books on it. I asked if there was enough content – and I learnt that there was and they were buying it. Though I learnt a lot more about iPad than I wanted too  ( I guess most  Apple and Bose users are fans and evangelists  – there are of course exceptions like  my wife who hates her iPhone ) . Anyway – I realized that eBooks were for real and assumed it would be lot more easier to revive the year old book and get it published as an eBook.

As everyone – my first reaction was to google as well as to ask around. It pointed me to Lulu, and a good article from Cnet . It pointed to Amazon DTP platform , smashwords , Barnes and Noble’s Pubit, and a couple others. A friend pointed me to a new service BookBrewer.

As Word of mouth is stronger than google’s results – I created an account at bookbrewer and started trying its services. It charges a fee of about a 100$ and places your book at Amazon and Borders – apart from giving a simple editing interface to create your eBook.

I was immediately stuck as I just couldn’t get any kind of formatting I wanted – and there was very little information available. It probably is a startup and are just setting things up. A few “tickets” to their customer support were responded extremely fast and ultimately they offered everything I could have hoped for in formatting – i.e. taking my own eBook and distributing it ( instead of insisting on something from their platform) – and put a rest to rest of my doubts.

As I was writing to their customer support, I also went directly to retail sites, Amazon / B&N etc to see how royalities stack up. There – it seemed that working directly with vendors was better – howevever – I am not based in US and the retailers wanted a lot of US tax info. Amazon and Apple wanted a  US SSN number or a TIN Number ( which apparently is available to foreigners) and I think B&N also wanted a US bank account.

Not to be bothered – I moved on, looked at other service providers – did some number crunching on royalities and fee – and settled on Smashwords – as it allowed not just paid distribution and good royalities – but it allowed generating discount coupons as well ( including 100% off). Smashwords wanted a word document with pretty limited formatting – and I went thru about 4 iterations before I could get the pictures in the word document appearing correctly on eBooks it generated. ( Ultimately – I realized that the trick was to use smaller images  like 800 Pixel wide – rather than having a 3000 pixel image and having it resize for you).Its input word document is easy to create but the insistence on using it’s services and not generating your own PDFs and ePubs is a bit limiting. I hope they introduce a “premium” service which allows you to upload your own files for a small fee.It uses Paypal to pay to foreign authors, doesnt need TIN, helps you get one by providing some letter – if you want one. It has lots of users and lots of information available in FAQs. Overall it looked easy enough and had comprehensive enough store list so my search ended there.

The book Brownie Tales is here at smashwords and hopefully will soon be distributed to the eStores.

Now I just hope that someone does similar for print as well.

My definition of such a print service would be someone doing  “Cost + profitshare” for self publishing instead of the current model which is profitable for the service providers on each and every book sold – by then keeping book prices about 12-15$. Elements of it would be:

Selling on a retail store like Amazon which offers Free shipping or offers a very low cost shipping.

Which does not take a print on demand rate of 6$+ per copy  but takes a bulk print rate of 1-2$ for a minumum quantity of as low as low 100s ( lets say about 500$ for about 500 copies).

Which gives the author atleast 1$ for books priced at about 5-6$ ( including the printing cost, retailer margin etc.)

Which can help with marketing from packages starting as low as a 100$.

I think it is a business proposition.