Indian publishing claims to have a magic number—10,000.

The sale of 10,000 copies makes a book a bestseller. Publishers are happy, and subsequently, so are authors. Bigger things follow this number: multiple reprints, a push for a film deal, talks about a sequel, etc.

Oddly, this magic number strictly adheres to the number of physical copies sold. This is odd because India has finally thrown a publishing googly that could very well change the game. Enter ‘self-publishing’.

Juggernaut, Matrubharti, Pratilipi. These are self-publishing platforms that allow authors to write their own success stories. And what’s more? They’re challenging traditional publishing.

Juggernaut publisher Chiki Sarkar says they have about a million users across their web and app platforms, while Matrubharti on its website reports 2.5 million ebook downloads, with nearly 4,000 authors. Similarly, Ranjeet Pratap Singh, co-founder of Pratilipi, says, “We currently have about 16,500 writers in eight languages who have published approximately 125,000 content pieces on Pratilipi.”

It sure makes one wonder how the traditionalists’ numbers stack up.

Well, in a reading market where the average sales peter out from 3,000-5,000 copies, the 10,000 figure is the first target. This is the reality of traditional publishing in India, where numbers are hard to come by. No accurate figures exist for the Indian book market—which was thought to be worth Rs 26,060 crore in 2015, but the market for educational books formed 70 percent of this number. Publishers still look at books as either physical editions or as ebook editions, and there is very little cross-licensing of literary works, despite the huge success of the film adaptation of Five Point Someone.

Indian publishing faces several issues, the least of them being distribution. Here, books are invariably ‘distributed’ to various territories by layers of distributors, sub-distributors, retailers, as with any FMCG product. Bookstores are far and few in between; retail chains have collapsed under the weight of rentals; the deep discounting at e-commerce sites like Amazon has pressured the remaining physical stores, and the reading population is a small fraction of the literate population.

So when Ranjeet Pratap Singh tells me they have about “1.2 million active monthly users across their platforms”, it’s time to take notice. There’s a churn happening in Indian publishing—tech-enabled disruptions that are leaping over traditional publishing models to take writing to a new generation of readers—and Pratilipi is only one of them.

Today, if you’re an Indian writer, you can self-publish on Indian language platforms like Pratilipi, Matrubharti, or for English and Hindi, on Juggernaut. Pratilipi supports eight major Indian languages, while Matrubharti supports six, besides Hindi.

Also, you can sell your ebook via the Amazon Kindle store.


Amish Mulmi

Amish is a Nepali writer and publishing professional based out of Delhi. He's Consulting Editor at Writers' Side Literary Agency and has previously worked at Juggernaut Books and Hachette India.

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