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Self Publishing Tips: Should You Publish a Print Book, eBook or Both?

Updated on June 26, 2015
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Heidi Thorne is a self publishing expert, author of 21 (and counting!) business books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

Should you publish a print book, an ebook or both? Before you answer, consider these pros and cons.

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Print Books

Going print is going "old school." Print books have been around for centuries. And with today's digital printing technologies, it has become cheaper and easier to get one's book into print.

PROS to print books include:

  • Print books are STILL popular. Not everyone enjoys reading ebooks. According to an article on the Huffington Post, print books (both hardcover and paperback) outsold ebooks for the first half of 2014.
  • Something memorable to put in their hands. This is exceptionally important if the book is being used to promote a business. A print book can be an impressive "promotional product" and expanded "business card" to give to a client or prospect.
  • Capture book sales at live events. Audience interest in the author, his book and topic can be high immediately following an event where he is speaking. Capture that interest by offering something tangible for attendees to purchase to commemorate their experience. Expecting attendees to remember to download an ebook after they've left an event might be unrealistic. Seize the sales moment! However, see the "cons" below for important tax considerations.

CONS to using print books include a number of business issues if the books are sold direct to customers by the author or self publisher. Note that most of these issues would be eliminated by choosing to let a self publishing platform (e.g., Amazon's Createspace) handle both publishing/printing and direct-to-customer sales for the book. In that case, the author would receive royalties instead of income from direct customer sales.

  • Sales taxes. Print books may be considered merchandise, making it necessary for an author or self publisher selling his own books to register as a business with the local taxing authority. In addition, sales tax collection, payments and tax return forms will have to regularly be done. As well, if books are sold out of the home taxing area (such as at locations outside one's home state), there may be additional taxes that will need to be reported and paid. Contact a CPA or tax professional and applicable government taxing authorities for details and requirements.
  • Shipping to Customers. Other than sales taxes, selling print books direct to customers by phone, mail or online will also require shipping costs. Though mega retailers like Amazon can offer free shipping deals, individual authors and self publishers cannot since it would severely cut into (or even eliminate!) profits from print book sales. As a side note, setting standard shipping costs can be a tricky business in itself.
  • Foreign sales. Selling books directly to customers outside one's home country can open up financial reporting, taxation and shipping problems that could overwhelm most authors selling just a few physical copies internationally. As with sales tax issues, contact a CPA to learn requirements for foreign sales. Shipping may also involve dealing with customs issues. Because of challenges like these, authors and self publishers may choose not to sell direct to international customers.
  • Storage. Print books take up space. Thankfully, print on demand technologies have all but eliminated this problem for authors who self publish. Click here to learn more about print on demand and book binding and technologies.

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Ebooks

With all the handling issues associated with print books, ebooks might sound like the perfect solution. But as with all selling scenarios, ebooks have their advantages and limitations, too.

PROS to publishing and distributing self published ebooks include:

  • Low cost and quick to produce. Got Microsoft Word or other word processing software to create your manuscript? You're on your way to creating a professional looking ebook!
  • Expands publishing possibilities. Since ebooks can be read on both electronic book readers and mobile devices (often with the use of an app), ebooks can be available for reading in many more places than print books.
  • Can build a worldwide audience. Unfettered by physical shipping and handling issues, ebooks can be made available to readers worldwide.

CONS to publishing ebooks include the following. As with print books, some of their downsides can be reduced or eliminated by selling through a self publishing platform instead of direct to customers.

  • Not having the clout of print books. With ebooks being so easy and cheap to produce, they may not be seen as being as valuable... even if they include the same information that would be in a print book.
  • PDF ebooks can drain profits. Ebooks sold direct to customers online as PDF files can easily be shared, almost without limitation! Purchasers can simply attach a PDF ebook to an email and distribute to everyone on their contact lists. Plus, it could be shared on—ack!—social media. Will those who receive a shared copy say "That's a great ebook. I think I'll buy myself a copy."? NO! They already got it for free. True, there can be some controls added to the PDFs, such as passwords, that could help restrict unauthorized access. However, those may provide only limited protection. Might be better to sell via Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing or other programs which have limited and/or structured ebook sharing capability. Click here to learn more about self publishing platforms.
  • Ebooks may be taxed as merchandise. Depending on the local government where the author or self publisher is located, sales of ebooks direct to customers may incur sales taxes, just as physical book sales would. Contact a CPA or tax professional and local government taxing authority for rules and reporting that may apply. Again, this issue would be totally eliminated by letting a self publishing platform handle the sales, with the author or self publisher simply collecting royalties.

So Which Format Wins?

Both! And with today's advanced self publishing platforms and technologies, it makes it easy and cost-effective to do both, reaching wider audiences than ever before.

Disclaimer: Any examples used are for illustrative purposes only and do not suggest affiliation or endorsement. The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2015 Heidi Thorne

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    • emge profile image

      Madan 23 months ago from Abu Dhabi

      Great hub with excellent suggestion

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 23 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Very good rundown and advice on the pros and cons of print books and eBooks Heidi. Voted up.

    • word55 profile image

      Word 23 months ago from Chicago

      Hello Heidi, this is a great hub! I agree that internet marketing is a great advantage for any type of promotion especially books. I released a book in 1982 as a hard back. Now, I have re-released it as an ebook on ebay. The ebook is more economical and broader today. Thanks for sharing. Voted up!

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 23 months ago from USA

      Great hub! This is a very helpful discussion of the pros and cons of each medium. I had never thought about some of these issues. Thanks for this great information and thoughtful discussion. Pinned, voted up and useful!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi emge! Thanks for the kind words. Have a great day!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hello Jodah! Glad you found it helpful. Thanks so much for the vote and support! Have a great day!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi word55! Indeed, re-releasing an earlier book in a new format like an ebook is a great way to revive interest... and maybe royalties, too. Glad to see that you saw the ebook opportunity for your work. Thanks for stopping by and adding your insight to the conversation! Have a great day!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi purl3agony! Glad you found the discussion helpful. True, there are so many issues when deciding where and how to publish a book. Thanks for your kind words, as always! Have a lovely weekend!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Nice summation as always. I'm still struggling with this....well, maybe not struggling. I'm still debating the pros and cons. I'll let you know how it turns out. :) Have a great weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi billybuc! Yep, I think we're all debating the pros and cons. For a few books, I've gone strictly ebook. But for all the others, I've done both print and ebook. I'm always anxious to hear more about your publishing adventures. So I'll be looking for updates. In the meantime, have a delightful weekend!

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 23 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I have decided that publishing both way is a good idea. Very useful and interesting hub.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 23 months ago from Oklahoma

      Great overview. Both formats have pros and cons, but in the current climate, I think you're best to employ both forms.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 23 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Definitely a useful hub!

      If at all I get to that level, I will go for print version ha-ha.

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 23 months ago from Hollister, MO

      Always nice to see an update on this important issue we each face. I'm still quite happy using both CreateSpace and Lulu.com. They provide the books in the form I need, I just need to do a better job of promoting them, myself! ;-)

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, KoffeKlatchGals! Yep, I'm with you on using both formats. Glad you found the info useful. Have a great weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Totally agree with you, Larry! At least for right now, I think it's a good idea to provide both. Sometime in the far (or maybe not so far?) future, that may change. We'll have to watch the trends. Thanks for stopping by and have a terrific weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Well, Suhail and my dog, we'll watch for updates on your publishing adventures. :) Thanks for your kind comments and have a great weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Homeplace Series! Indeed, both Createspace and Lulu are providing great service to the author community. And, yes, the marketing and promotion is the tough part of the whole process. Thanks so much for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a great weekend!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 23 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Btw, a hearty congratulations on Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup for 3rd time in 5 years.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 23 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      LTNS (long time, no see) Heidi. Interesting page. I do both - have I said that before somewhere else? - because there's a market for both.

      What I can't do for folk who buy the KDP versions of my books is sign, date and provide a bookmark. That could add value if I 'croak', but people like to see something in their hands that they've bought at an event (in mid-October I'll be back at Battle Abbey for the 949th commemoration of Harold's stand near Hastings) or direct from me. I usually buy ten copies of my book from the publisher (New Generation) to sell to friends.

      A free copy of each of the RAVENFEAST saga series goes to my 'kids' (age 24-30 now); one goes to a cousin who'll buy me a drink by return. As an ex-squaddie (soldier) he'll understand the sentiment behind the writing that revolves around loss of comrades in fighting, evasion of the enemy and carousing.

      So there it is, the ethos behind solid printed copies: sentiment. There's no sentiment in the electronic word, but there can be profit.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi alancaster149! I couldn't have said it better myself! I do think that print editions do have the sentimental value that an ebook just cannot provide. My personal library is full of books that were gifted to me, signed with kind and personal greetings (some by the authors themselves), that are prized items in my possession. In fact, I saw one article that said many people who fall in love with an ebook, go and buy the print book later. Also, Amazon has a program where people can buy the print book and get the ebook, too, at a reduced price. If Amazon recognizes the value in both, why shouldn't we?

      I think some topics just lend themselves better to ebooks, e.g., business or tech topics that may have a short shelf life and/or are reference materials. Then, indeed, there is value for readers and profit for authors.

      THANK YOU so much for adding this heartfelt insight to the conversation! I so appreciate your support and participation. Have a beautiful weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 23 months ago from Chicago Area

      Oh my, yes, Suhail! It's been quite a ride for the Blackhawks. We're so proud of 'em! Now if we could just get the Cubs to the World Series... :) Thanks for the kind congrats!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 23 months ago from USA

      I look forward to the day when I have to choose this (I'd choose both). In the mean time, you have provided an excellent education regarding advantages and disadvantages of both. As a reader, we tend to reader things about 30% slower online and I like to digest as much information as possible if given a choice of formats.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 22 months ago from Chicago Area

      FlourishAnyway, we look forward to the day you'll be announcing that you're publishing your first book (both in print and ebook)! And, yes, I think it's a good idea to give readers a choice. Glad you found it helpful! Have a lovely week ahead!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 22 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Your article is always full of useful information. I was looking for this and you have some great suggestions that I would refer to when I publish my print or ebook.

      Thanks for sharing the tips. Voted up and pinned on my self help board!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 22 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Chitrangada Sharan! Glad you found it helpful. We'll be watching for announcements on your new book. Thank you and have a beautiful day!

    • breathing profile image

      Sajib 17 months ago from Bangladesh

      For those who are self-publishers, both eBook and print book are good options. Both have their own pros and cons which are clearly highlighted in the post. It depends on the writers’ adaptability to the formats. If you are comfortable with print book and find it more suitable for your publication, go with it. The same is true for eBooks too. As long as the writer is in conformability with one, there is no need to think of the other. But yeah, there are certain aspects where you might need to choose the other format. In that case you should not be rigid with your usual choice as the only thing matters is the best outcome.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 14 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Heidi

      Some good points to think about here. I want to go the 'both' route but that all depends on 'up front' costs. If 'print on demand' has none then that might be the option along with eBook.

      Lawrence

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 14 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi lawrence! Glad to hear you're considering both print and ebook versions. Makes sense these days. In my experience with Createspace, I have not had to pay any upfront costs for print; only when I purchase copies. However, you have to do the formatting and upload yourself (some self publishing platforms may offer to do that for you). Best of luck with your publishing adventures! Thanks for stopping by and have a great week ahead!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 9 days ago from Long Island, NY

      Interesting pros and cons. I find it so easy to create a Kindle version after having a print version completed, that I've done both with all three of my books.

      As per my experience, they are about balanced as far as sales go, but neither is as good as income from online articles (which is a third option).

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 9 days ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, Glenn, for sharing your experience with us! Agreed, with as easy as Createspace makes it, there's no reason not to do both print and eBook. I've also found that I have about equal results from both print books and eBooks. And if you can build a good online article income, sometimes book revenues (print or digital) can be secondary. So appreciate your support! Have a great day!

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