We’ve all heard and read multiple stories and interviews sounding the death knell for print publishing. Self-publishers especially are bombarded by those who suggest that, with the low threshold and speed to market of ebooks, you shouldn’t bother spending the time and money that can go into creating a print edition. It’s true that creating a print book can have more and higher costs associated with it than an ebook, but not as much as you might think. Consider this comparison of possible outlay for services:
|book editing||book editing|
|cover design||cover design|
|ISBN purchase||ISBN purchase (?)|
|file/account set-up||file/account set-up|
Of course, for an ebook you only need a front cover whereas a print book requires the addition of spine design and back cover design. Hiring someone to format your ebook is likely to be less expensive than hiring an interior layout designer. And there are some good, free tools out there, like Smashwords’ Meat Grinder, that will help you do the former for free, whereas many times DIY for the latter immediately brands your work as that of an amateur.* Similarly, some point out that to publish an ebook on the Kindle platform you don’t need to purchase an ISBN—Amazon doesn’t require one.
However, if you intend to publish an ebook to any other platform besides the Kindle store, most experts agree that you will need that ISBN to help distributors and purchasers distinguish between the different editions of your book. And many in the know suggest that you should use an ISBN in the Kindle store regardless. The major cost difference, then, perhaps comes in with actually printing the book. However, if you use Print on Demand (POD) services, even that cost is mitigated—in a POD model, you only pay for the book when it’s ordered. Let’s say for example you’re selling a book through CreateSpace on Amazon. Instead of paying up front to print and warehouse your book, for each customer order CreateSpace simply pays you a “royalty” that takes the printing cost into account. Easy peasy.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, Americans still overwhelmingly prefer print books to ebooks. In fact, only 5% of those participating in the survey responded that they read ebooks, but no print books, last year. That’s up from 2% in 2011—growth, to be sure, but certainly not the overwhelming turnover of “dead tree books” that some sources would have you believe. Only 4% of participants were “ebook only” readers. Does this mean you shouldn’t bother with ebooks at all? Not so fast. As of 2012, ebook revenue represents approximately 23% of the total book market. Though last year saw a slowdown in growth, it’s clear that ebooks are here to stay. After all, Pew research also reveals that last year saw increases in both the number of Americans with e-readers and the number of Americans who have read an ebook. Not only would it be foolish to overlook digital formats, in some cases, it may make sense for you to publish an ebook first and then follow up with a print edition—the complete reverse of what most publishers do. So how do you decide?
Putting an ebook version out first (or only an ebook version) may be a smarter route for you if:
- you have a minuscule to nonexistent budget
- your target audience is always on the go or is very into gadgets (i.e. heavy tablet, smartphone, and e-reader users)
- your book is of the type that needs frequent updating to stay relevant
- your subject ties into a trend or current event that is rapidly fading from memory
- you want to tie your release into an upcoming event or anniversary and have very little lead time
- you don’t have an existing audience and need to keep the price point low to attract readers
- you want to make a lot of money and have the time and energy to market relentlessly online (it takes a lot of copies at $0.99-$2.99 per book to earn a living)
On the other hand, print first may be the best route for you if:
- you speak in public frequently on a subject related to your book
- you intend to give your book out as a supercharged “calling card”
- you have a large enough platform to get your book into brick and mortar stores
- gift shops or other specialty stores feature big in your distribution plans
- your target audience is more traditional or less tech-savvy
- you have an established audience who will tolerate a higher price point
- you care more about profit than the number of sales or the size of your audience
- you plan to use your book to attract high-end clients to your business
Don’t forget, when it comes to self-publishing, there is no one way to achieve success. You need to create a plan that best suits your unique product and your unique situation. For some, it will be a choice between one edition or another. You could also choose to publish only in one format or publish in all formats simultaneously. Regardless of which format you go with first, I encourage you to follow up with the other as soon as time and budget allow. Why not get as many sales from as wide a readership as you can?
*If you decide to DIY, I encourage you to check out Joel Friedlander’s book design template packages. Created for use with MS Word, these kits come complete with instructions and templates for print, digital, or both. You can’t beat the price, and the results will be far better than single-spaced and Times New Roman.
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