In a Q&A, Naveen Valsakumar dwells on the coming-of-age of self-publishing, his firm’s value proposition for budding writers and how he plans to take on the competition from Kindle
Naveen Valsakumar, CEO and Co-founder of Notion Press Publishing, has made self-publishing both fashionable and feasible for aspiring writers. In a conversation with Namrata Kohli, he talks about his journey in this line of activity, its evolution under the pandemic and how he plans to take on the competition. Edited excerpts:
How did you come up with the idea of self-publishing?
When we began nine years ago, our goal was to democratise the entire process of book publishing for aspiring authors who had no direct access to the market, as traditional publishers have been extremely picky. We looked at why this was happening and realised a lot of these reasons were prevalent back in the 19th century–they come from a brick-and-mortar world and old school of things. To my mind, going through a gatekeeper, with somebody having the right to approve and disapprove does not make sense in the new India of the 21st century. Notion Press was started in 2012 with a vision to enable both authors and publishers to create, sell and promote their content across the world.
What changes has the pandemic brought to the world of self-publishing?
Before the pandemic, we were publishing 400 authors a month. The pandemic hit and now we have about 2,000 authors per month using our platform, which is like one author every 25 minutes. People have always aspired to be writers; an idea has always been kicking in their heads for a long time. What the pandemic has done, is it has given people both the time and the motivation or impetus to do something meaningful.
I see a huge spike in top leaders publishing with us, such as CEOs of big companies, subject-matter experts, and professionals who want to tell their story. Self-help is on the rise because demand for self-improvement is there. Another category is poetry. They say that poetry is the highest form of creative expression in writing and we find more people writing and reading it today than ever before.
Apart from access to the world of publishing, what is Notion Press’ value proposition to the new age author?
Access is one part of the story. Today people publish with us not just for easy access, but also for an efficient way to publish–a testament to this is the fact that we have some celebrities and CEOs publishing with us as well. Take the case of actors like Prabhu Deva or Mphasis CEO Nitin Rakesh. I am sure they could get a publishing contract from anywhere if they wanted. But they chose us as they want everything real time, and want to publish topical content within 30 days, and not wait 18 painful months for their ideas to see the light of day. Being fast, being process-driven, having technology that opens up transparency to authors, on-time payment to authors that’s completely automated-–people have started valuing all of these in India today.
From Day-One, we provide sales reports in real time, which is still unheard of in the publishing world. The question is how can anyone plan their book marketing if they don’t have that data. We give you that data.
Besides, you have people assisting authors free of cost. India is a very young and new market for self-publishing–-it requires a lot of education. We have a team of 60 people just working to educate authors. You can get somebody on the phone who will sit with you and guide you through the entire process even if you are using our free publishing platform because India is not one market like how Amazon is used to in the US–-India itself is 20-30 markets. In each language, you need expertise and each language has its own difficulty in fonts and formatting etc.
At the same time, we have authors who come to us and say, hey, I want editing, I want a great looking cover, I want somebody to align my publishing goals to my product. We have a team of 100 people who work with authors and provide editing, design and all services. This is really attractive to a first-time author who wants handholding services at a subsidised price.
In fact, when we started nine years ago, most authors were grateful that some publisher has published their book without any royalty. There is a demand for quality service evolution-–it’s a creator-first economy that is being built.
Your other big competitor is KDP which has opened the floodgates for many aspiring writers. How do your offerings compare with those of Kindle’s KDP?
The challenge with KDP is that it’s very aligned with Amazon. Moreover, India is still a print-driven market and I don’t think KDP supports print in India–-that takes away a huge chunk. If you are an aspiring author, with KDP you are losing out on a whole lot of market share as print remains the most favoured format amongst the book lovers. Outside India, KDP has been able to successfully get a strong market share but in India, it’s at a nascent stage. With Notion Press, 95 per cent of our business internationally is from print while e-book is less than 5 per cent.
What does it cost for an author to publish his book with you?
If you are comfortable using online tools, you can do it all within one-click in 20 minutes. We have some really robust tools that will help you with design and formatting. If you are able to do that, this is absolutely free of cost and you don’t have to talk to anybody; you can just go online and do it. Like I said, 2,000 authors are already using it.
But if you feel I am good at editing, I just need one or two services, you may only pay ‘ala carte’ for those services. Design would cost you Rs 10,000 and you get distribution internationally for e-book free of cost.
But if you want Notion Press to take care of everything from conceiving the product to packaging, taking it to the market and promoting it, that would start at Rs 35,000 and will keep going up depending upon what kind of promotions and how much you want to spend. But the catch here is how many copies. You can sell as many copies as you want–everything is printed on demand and we have no concept of a warehouse. Once the order comes, within 2-3 hours, the book is printed and copy supplied to whoever places the order. It could be Amazon or a bookstore or a reader.
We determine the cost price and recommend possible price points for the author to price it. For example, if the printing cost of a 200-page murder mystery novel is Rs 60, the likely pricing is Rs 200-250. We will show you how much you will earn, if you are selling via different distribution channels. We make sure that within 3-4 days of you clicking the “publish my book” option, your book is available in US, UK, Europe in both print and eBook format.