Print vs. Ebook: Where Do Indie Authors Fit in?
Paperbacks are the dream: you can hold them, look at them, leaf through the pages, and sign your name as an author with the knowledge that you wrote an actual book. In an age where ebooks have gone mainstream and when many readers can get their fix of books on a tablet or e-reader, it might come as a surprise to learn that hardbacks and paperbacks still unquestionably reign supreme over the book publishing market.
Maybe it’s the nostalgia or the irreplaceable feel of a physical book in your hands. While I have a dedicated Kindle e-reader myself, I still usually prefer to buy physical copies of books I actively enjoy. I find the experience richer and ultimately more enjoyable.
Recent years have also given us a surprising trend: not only have ebooks reached a plateau, but ebook sales have comparatively decreased over the last five years, and even at their peak in the mid-2010s, they only made up about 20% of the market. That’s drastically lower than enthusiasts ten or fifteen years ago would have guessed. New authors have to consider whether the ebook is a short-lived market past its heyday.
Why are ebook sales shrinking?
Most of it has to do with cost. To stay competitive, many print retailers have worked to make paperbacks more affordable for readers on a budget. At the same time, ebook prices have risen substantially for publishers to afford to keep up.
Free book services like Gutenberg and numerous ebook giveaways enable readers to build up sizeable digital libraries without spending a dime. Ebook popularity has stayed largely stable--but ebook and paperback readers alike have gotten savvy with their reading habits.
Paperback Sales Patterns
Is paperback a better choice for authors looking to rise above their competition? Not exactly.
Print might be more popular among readers, but most of those print sales are made through brick-and-mortar stores with major publishing houses. Having a paperback option listed next to your ebook online will mostly help you look more credible, and nothing else. Self-published authors have yet to distinguish themselves selling print titles, while they have held a steady position in the ebook market for years.
If you do wish to focus on paperbacks, such as in the case of a picture book or a set of short stories about your hometown that you could sell at a local fair, you will need to spend extra time working on distribution and getting your book into stores. Ebooks don’t typically have this problem, since listing your book on a store’s website is usually as simple as filling out a quick form.
What do you think about the ebook bubble? Is it worth the effort for authors to prioritize print copies instead of ebooks? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below or join my Facebook group for self-publishing fiction writers for further discussion.