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Neal Thompson. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
Neal Thompson. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

We try to help authors connect with readers: Amazon’s Neal Thompson

Amazon sees self-published authors as a key driver of its e-books business globally, says the firm's director for author and publishing relations

Kolkata: Earlier this month, online retailer Flipkart Ltd stopped selling e-books three years after it launched them, saying Indians still love to read printed books, but Amazon.com Inc. remains bullish about the future of e-books.

Amazon sees self-published authors as one of the key drivers of its e-books business globally and, in India, the company is even looking to expand into vernacular languages, according to Neal Thompson, Amazon’s director for author and publishing relations.

The books that Amazon publishes are still predominantly in English but it has lately expanded into a few other languages such as French and German.

It may take time, but the “long-term goal in India is to expand into other languages", Thompson said in an interview.

A large section of emerging authors wants “complete control" over the process of publishing a book, according to Thompson. But most importantly, it’s free, so if you have a story to tell, you don’t have to pay to find readers. Edited excerpts:

How does Kindle Direct Publishing work?

We have created KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) keeping in mind the do-it-yourself culture. This platform allows writers to be in control of everything. But that means the burden of creating a great book is entirely on the writer.

We are seeing a generation of authors enjoying this control, and some successful ones are even sharing online their ideas on creating a great book.

It’s a different model compared with traditional publishing, but if the writer feels the need, he or she could hire an editor. The same goes for designing the cover. For authors who are not good at designing, KDP offers a tool to design covers. Still, some authors have decided to pay a little bit to find a designer to create the cover.

The author doesn’t have to pay anything to publish a book, right?

It’s free. You create an account with KDP, you give your book a title and description. Only make sure you have got some descriptive keywords in your title description to help people find it through search engines. And the next step is to simply upload the manuscript. All this is for free. And when you are ready to sell, you decide where you want to sell; you can select different countries or all countries, and prices for different countries. You are in complete control of all that.

And then we pay the author a royalty of up to 70% of the cover price. We pay every month whereas traditional publishers normally pay twice a year. But more importantly, with self-publishing, the author knows everything up to the minute. They can track their sales and can see what’s working and what’s not.

From the standpoint of readers, KDP offers a huge selection of books at very affordable prices. There are over 500,000 books priced at 99 or less and over 1.5 million books priced at 299 or less.

You don’t reveal specific figures, but what proof can you offer that self-publishing is growing and that such books are actually read?

On our bookstore site in India, we have three million digital titles now. We don’t disclose how many of them are self-published, but let me assure you, that’s a pretty solid number.

Also, we have a best-sellers list on Amazon that changes hourly. At any given time, 20 of the top 100 in India are self-published titles. This shows the future potential in India, where we entered only about a year ago.

In other countries where KDP has been around for slightly longer, we see those numbers even higher. So, 33% of the top 100 books in the US are self-published, and in Germany, I think it is 50%.

Does Amazon help with online marketing as well?

We try to help authors connect with readers. One of the programmes is called KDP Select. That means if you choose to sell your books exclusively on Amazon, you can select a promotional period for your books: say, you drop the price for 7-10 days, after which the price goes up again.

So, if you are connected to your community through Facebook and LinkedIn, you send a promotional email saying your book is on sale this week. This is to help authors to conduct a sale for a brief period and create interest about the book. Authors can also give their books for free for a period of five days every 90 days.

Also, if you have your book in KDP Select, your book is involved in other programmes. One is Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. If you are a Prime member on Amazon, you can borrow one book a month. But this is not available in India at present.

Then we have our subscription programme. If your book is in there, it is exposed to another sort of audience within the big Amazon system and people can find your book there as well.

What in your view makes India a strong market?

India is a country that has a deep culture of story-telling. It is also a country where literacy is on the rise. I think India is a huge and promising market for us, so we now have offices across the country to tap the potential.

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