Via our friend, the novelist Venita Coelho, we learn that things are not quite what they seem at Cedar Books. I'm pasting in a letter Venita forwarded to me, with the name of the writer to whom it was sent removed.
We are glad to inform you that we are ready to publish your novel provided you agree with our certain terms and conditions.
Following are some of the terms which you will be required to agree before we take things forward. A detailed contract will be send to you once you agree with these terms.
1. Considering the word count, we will keep the price of your book at Rs 175.
2. You have to buy back 300 copies of the book at a discount of 25%.
3. You have to make one time payment either through DD or Cheque along with the signed copy of the agreement which we will send, after you agree with these conditions.
4. An additional Rs 5000 will be charged if we design the cover for you and if you chose to design your own cover then for the final designing part we will be charging Rs 2000.
5. As we promote our books through various digital mediums we charge Rs 3000 for that.
6. And lastly you will get a 4.8 % royalty on the cover price for each book.
Hope you find these terms suitable.
Do acknowledge the receipt of this mail along with your response. Please feel free to mail your queries, if any.
What this means is that to publish this author, Pustak Mahal would charge her/him Rs 39,375 (75% of the cost of 300 copies s/he would be forced to buy) + Rs 2,000 as a design fee even if s/he designed her own cover (Rs 5,000 of she wanted PM to design a cover) + Rs 3,000 for promotions. That's Rs 44,375 (Rs 47,375 if PM did the cover).
I'm not sure of current prices, but it looks like the author would be paying Pustak Mahal / Cedar Books enough to totally cover the cost of printing, with a handsome profit left over. Note that Pustak Mahal / Cedar Books has no obligation to actually print any more than the 300 copies that the author must buy. Even if they did, the author would get a piddly 4.8% royalty on any sales, despite financing the entire operation.
Sounds like rather more than the 'benign scam' of the poetry.com type of website. There, at least, you can choose to buy only one copy of the book, even if at a high price.
If you know of similar publishers elsewhere, do please tell us about it in the comments.