Self-Publishing Series: Physical, Electronic or Both?

print v ebook

To print or not to print, that is the question!

We’re constantly told that ebooks are on the rise, so should you even bother creating a printed book? This argument could also go the other way, you’re only thinking of paperbacks because you want to sell them at a particular event, or give them away to clients etc. So should you bother with an ebook?

In Write to Launch, there is a fair bit of time spent explaining the how to’s for each of these formats. I thought it might be worthwhile briefly tackling the question here. Noting that there is also the option now to easily self-publish audio books, but I’ll leave that out this (it’s in the book).

Electronic Formats

I’ll talk about Mobi and ePub together here, but not PDF. Technically PDF is not an ebook, it is an electronic copy of the printed book – ebooks are a format that can be read on an ereader. Mobi is the format for Kindle; ePub is the format for all other ereaders (iBooks, Nook, Kobo etc.).

Ebooks work really well for fiction but there has been a decline in the sales of non-fiction in ebook format. There has been a lot of research about how we don’t retain information as well when we read it on a device, as opposed to in a book; maybe that’s had an influence. Just a point to note.

Pros for a self-publisher:

  • they are cheaper than physical books to make – cover design and conversion usually takes less time, therefore less money.
  • many online stores will allow you to create your own account and manage your files – this means you don’t need to pay a third party.
  • you can charge significantly less for the book and still make the same sort of profit.

Cons for a self-publisher:

  • some people do not like ebooks – you could lose market share if this is the only way to buy your book.
  • if the formatting is done poorly, people may stop reading – remember most ebooks are flowable, so if the user changes colour and font size it could have an adverse effect.
  • you can’t sell it in a bookshop – or physically in any shop, your business or any speaking event you might be part of.

Physical Formats

Be it a paperback or a hardcover, a physical book is that ancient device for reading information. Most people will self-publish in paperback, due to the cost, but you might choose hardcover. The pros and cons below are for people using a print-on-demand publishing service only.

As much as ebooks were touted to be the ‘death of the book’ that has definitely not occurred. As mentioned, in some genres people appear to be going back to physical books, and they are still the preferred format by the majority of people.

Pros for a self-publisher:

  • many people still enjoy holding a book to read – bibliophiles usually like to own physical copies.
  • you can ensure the look and feel of the book, allowing you to make it something visually spectacular – you will create printable files that don’t change depending on the reader.
  • you can sell them anywhere (you’re allowed to) – bookshops, in-person events, conferences, clients etc. Having a copy with you at all times can be a great way to take advantage of opportunities. Note: using a POD vendor also means they can be purchased in online bookshops.

Cons for a self-publisher:

  • there is usually more to formatting and cover creation – which means they will cost more to publish.
  • you need someone to print and distribute the book – this can be done quite cost-effectively through a print-on-demand (POD) service, but there are still greater costs which are out of your control.
  • you need to be concerned about storage and shipping – to some degree you will be buying books to sell locally; you will need to store them and possibly ship them.

So which should you do?

You should pursue whichever option meets your known needs and requirements – remember you can always do the other one later, if the need arises.

Consider the following questions:

  • What am I using this book for? Awareness, entertainment, growing platform/business, making money (don’t count on it).
  • Who is my audience? Demographic and location.
  • What is the genre of my book and how well does that sell in ebook format?
  • How long is my book? Would it look ridiculous as a printed book because it’s less than 15,000 words (ballpark).
  • Do I need a physical copy to sell at speaking engagements, exhibitions, to clients etc.?
  • Are there aspects of my book that need particular formatting to work? Where you have to be guaranteed that a table, words or picture will appear on the same page as other content.
  • Do I have the time/ability/funds to do both right now? If not, which fits my requirements better.

Once you have honestly answered these questions it should be clear whether an ebook, paperback or both is the way to go. For me, both is the best option, as long as the length and format of the book would work in both. There is a cost-effectiveness of doing them together, as well as dramatically increasing the potential audience. But if you have to pay other people to design and develop the cover and content, then seriously consider whether you need both in your strategy.

Tip: If you are starting with the ebook, but plan on doing both, consider the paperback cover in your design process. Remember that the ebook cover is just the front cover, but for the paperback you’ll need a spine and backcover too. Ask your designer about the cost difference to do the full paperback cover up front, so you don’t have to go back and get additional design work done later. At a bare minimum, if you’re thinking of a wrapped design (image that goes front to back), you need to know that before you get just the front cover done.

What do you think? Do you like to read ebooks and can’t see why people would even consider paperbacks these days? Or do you prefer paper and aren’t interested in pursuing an ebook format?

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