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Amish Tripathi is the author of the Shiva Trilogy, a series of novels that claims to have sold 1.5 million copies, grossing over Rs. 40 crore in sales over two years; a movie is being made on the first book of the trilogy – The Immortals of Meluha – with rights being bought by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions in 2012. In this interaction with Medianama, Tripathi speaks about the ebooks space in India, the impact that that the digital space has had on the marketing of books, serialising books online, and the idea behind creating an album and releasing music related to the novels.

Medianama: How does the digital space impact you as an author?

Tripathi: E-books make hard copy books a lot cheaper provided that the e-readers are also cheap. They also make distribution easier and cheaper. E-books are also more readily available. In a small village, you might not have a book store but you can download the e-book instead if you have internet. What’s goes into a fantasy book is only about 25% of what is in the mind of about of a fantasy writer. There’s an entire world in our mind. A fantasy writer can communicate more content in an e-book than in a physical book. In an e-book, we can provide much more like maps, links giving a reading experience that is richer. However, the e-book market is smaller in India. The revolution is coming but it is not likely to come too soon to India.

Digital has opened out the market even for marketing. Previously, writers needed a big publisher’s backing for promotion of their book. You also needed to be from a certain class and caste. If you were outside that caste/class, it would be difficult for writers to get a break. Now, internet has given a voice to even those outside that class. It is not like the old days where media is dominated by a few people. Internet has democratized the market especially for people like me.

Medianama: How has the digital space helped you specifically with your books?

Tripathi: In the beginning when the mainstream media ignored my book, I got reviewed by the digital media. These were actual readers reviewing my book. This method of reviewing has become more effective today. You wouldn’t know the agenda behind the review in a mainstream media. On the other hand, social media has turbo charged word of mouth marketing of books. You put up your review of a book on Facebook and 100 to 200 friends of yours will read it. Most of my marketing in the initial days happened through the digital space.

Even for my third book, we made a Youtube trailer film and it got shared around quite a lot generating a lot of views helping the sale of the books. We also published the first chapter and sold it in stores. It was also available on my website as downloadable sampler of the book. Previously, samplers used to be excerpts in newspapers and magazines which were provided only for writers who were part of the elite. If you were not a part of the elite then the doors were closed for you. With internet, I could put my first chapter free of cost on my website as a sampler. Internet is a fantastic anti-authoritarian and democratic tool.

Medianama: How is the landscape changing for authors with e-books?’

Tripathi: In India, the e-books market is still too small a market. It would take a year or two for e-books to become a serious part of the market. Then authors will be able to self – publish without the help of a publisher.

Medianama: Why do some authors find e-books as a threat?

Tripathi: There are people who are attached to the old ways. I don’t know how they could be threatened. In terms of reading, I’m still an old world guy but I wouldn’t say no to change because it is bound to happen. When Gutenberg invented the printing press 500-600 years ago, the world thought of it as a threat. Some people resisted it. Looking back, it frankly seems stupid. The key benefit was that printed books made knowledge more widely available at a much cheaper price. You can accept or resist change but it is bound to happen. I’m sure Gutenberg would find it funny that his invention is being seen as a historical invention to be preserved. You have to adopt to change.

Medianama: How do you think paid e-books would work with the Indian audience? Would Indians readers pay for it? What’s your take?

Tripathi: Why wouldn’t they pay for it? This is really about DRM rather than reader’s willingness to pay. Why shouldn’t they pay for it? In music, piracy is a major problem. In books, piracy exists but not as much. However, the product should be made more convenient and more attractive. It is really about pricing the e-books right and adding more content like illustrations, maps etc in the e-books, making it more attractive.

Medianama: How is the e-book of your latest book faring?
Tripathi: I’m not sure about the pricing of my e-book. I’m not very closely involved with it so I don’t really know. But like I mentioned before, the e-book market in India is too small. What can be a big future is the serialising of books for download on smart phones. This has caught on in a big way in China. You can sell books by chapter. This makes the e-book also cheaper. If you are happy with the chapter that you read, you could download more. This is certainly possible in India because smart phones are growing here. We are not moving into a model of giving more content but breaking the price barrier by selling book by the chapter.

Medianama: What is the dimension that ecommerce adds to publishing industry today?
Tripathi: Ecommerce adds two dimensions to the publishing industry through  e-books and physical books. E-books market is still small so the e-book downloads is very small portion of the market. However, these days 15-30% of the sale of physical books are done through online stores.

Medianama: How does the price dynamics change with ecommerce?
Tripathi: I think as a market, discounting has gone up with the online stores. What pricing does is, it makes you think about the book. Since it is not a staple like buying wheat or shirt, you wouldn’t be forced to buy it because of the discount. Book or movie is a personal choice so you buy it only if you like it. You won’t buy them just because the price is low. Low pricing may remove a mental barrier that you have towards trying a book and not make you buy a book that your friends had told you was bad.

Medianama: Why did you release music app for a book? How do you think the app would help your book?
Tripathi: We have done a lot of marketing with the third book. I admit that many ideas have been borrowed from others as well. We launched an album for a book like the way movie producers have been releasing a music album for films. Previously we could not do it because we did not have the budget. Fortunately, this time we have had the budget for marketing. Higher budget has really helped marketing the book at a whole new level. App is a continuation of the music album’s launch. It gives the users an introduction to the story and also gives them posters of the Shiva Trilogy.

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Medianama: How was the music available before the launch of the app? Was the music monetised?
Tripathi: CDs and digital downloads of the music are also available. Although the music industry sadly doesn’t make as much money due to piracy, we still monetised the music. I was told it is doing well.

Medianama: What are the other digital means that you are looking to adopt to promote your book?

Tripathi: I think we have pretty much covered everything. We have used social media, trailer films, music album, app and the website.  I should give the credit to the team for using digital so extensively.

Medianama: What are the cost comparisons of marketing your book offline and online?
Tripathi: When we first launched, there were no budgets. Digital was the only game in town. Getting into mainstream media was not an option. Fortunately, the first two books sold for Rs. 40 crores in two years.

Now that we have the budget, innovation is the key now with digital. Cost is no longer the criteria. With the first book, it was cost because we couldn’t get mainstream marketing done.

Update: An earlier version of this article had a section of a paragraph placed elsewhere in the interview. Our apologies for the typographical error