Thursday, January 6, 2011

Self-Publishing Lessons from Gandhi Part 1: Indian Opinion

Thinking out of the box, I was looking for a perspective on self-publishing that deviated from the profit building model, which has been growing in popularity thank to people like Seth Godin and Tim Ferris (see Tim Ferris' reflections on Godin's move to self-publishing here.)

But here you might already be saying; what's the point of writing if you don't make money off of it? What else is there?

And so I introduce you to self-publisher Mohandas Gandhi:

source: Wikimedia Commons

Gandhi, at 33, was an Indian lawyer in South Africa. Although a British citizen, he, as well as other Indians in the colony, was suffering discrimination from the local white Afrikaan community. At the time, the Jan Smuts goverment enforced serious limitations to Indian rights, such as warrantless arrests and seizires.  He sought a way to campaign for Indian civil rights in what was then a British colony, as their own native land India was.

With help from fellow Indians of influence, he was able to pool resources, including a printing press and a small stretch of land, to start publishing the Indian Opinion, a monthly magazine in 1903.  At first intended to merely document Indian human rights abuses, the magazine essentially became the prime mover towards Gandhi's development of satyagraha, the philosophical and political movement of nonviolent resistance.

source: National Gandhi

The hows of making the magazine were also relevant. For one, Gandhi arranged for a unique cooperative scheme. Nobody was paid a flat wage. Instead, everyone involved in making the magazine also worked together to maintain the printing press and living quarters, and even grow their own food. They were to share in any profits that they would make, but they were going to be self-sufficient. Also amazing was that they published in multiple languages: Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and English. Translation wasn't perfect, but they were able to spread their message nonetheless.

At its height, Indian Opinion had a circulation of 35,000 readers and averaged at 20,000. These were small numbers compared to leading periodicals with 50,000 readers. The magazine did not reach its relevance from its profits or wide readership, but from how it influenced people. To quote Gandhi: "Satyagraha would have been impossible without Indian Opinion."

source: National Gandhi

In Part 2, we will explore what learnings we can get from Gandhi and Indian Opinion, how they can be adapted to the digital publishing revolution, and how komiks self publishers, actually, any self publisher, can be like Gandhi.



South African History Online,

Images: Wikimedia Commons, National Gandhi

You can see more previews of Indian Opinion here and here.

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