Self-publishing hardback vs paperback vs ebook

Of course it is. But why bother? Hasn’t the Kindle taken over everything? Shouldn’t I just publish my ebook and then I’m a published author? There are those who would argue that indeed you are. There are many more that would argue that very few readers will ever get to see your book. Before we investigate these three offerings (and we are ignoring the audiobook for now), let’s get back to the fundamental reason that we write.

We write to illicit emotion.

This is true of business books, memoirs, novels, self-help books; the lot. And if we write to elicit emotion then we also write to reach the widest possible audience. Of the three forms, what would you guess sells the most? The popular perception is that the Kindle (and digital format) has taken over the world, but it isn’t true. The most popular format, by a huge margin, is the paperback. Readers still love to feel a book in their hands.

The official figures (from Nielsen BookScan – those people that compile these things) show that for 2018 this is the breakdown of book sales:

Paperback – 51%

Hardback – 15%

Ebook/app – 25%

Audiobook – 5%

Other print format – 4%

Other print format means graphic novels and similar.

This means that 66% of people love the feel of paper in their hands.

Many readers also comment on how much they love the smell of a new book as well. The odd of the world also enjoy the fustiness of an old book too; I’m not so much of a fan. They smell like dead people. All of which adds up to having a hard copy of your book as an option.

To do this you have a few options. You can go down the print on demand option. This is where you get one to twenty books printed by a print on demand service. This means a low outlay, but a higher unit cost. With our authors, we provide one hundred paperbacks in our offering. This has a dual purpose. Number one, you get to see your book in print. I know you can do this with print on demand, but the feeling of seeing a few boxes of your books is amazing. It gives you a real sense of being an author. I’m not so sure that one book on its own does this. Secondly, it gives you your first opportunity of getting some of your investment back through book sales. Ebooks never have the same feeling.

There is a third reason, one that many people take. And that’s to have a real book launch. This is an event where you get to invite friends, family and colleagues to a celebration of your book. It’s the only time you ever get a taste of being a celebrity as an author. As Bill Bryson once said, ‘Most authors can walk down the street and you’d have no idea who they are, despite the millions of books they may have sold.’ At your book launch, you finally get recognised for the thousands of hours of research, writing, editing and crying you’ve poured out to get your manuscript finished. And you thought writing was the hard part.

This is not to say that ebooks should be ignored. They should be embraced. Many authors will sell far more books in ebook format, but the hard copy should be one of the options.

Which brings us to the hardback book.

Most new books are printed in hardback by traditional publishers, with the paperback following six to nine months later. Does this mean that the self-published book should be treated the same way? I’d suggest not. Hardbacks cost quite a bit more and if budget is a factor then stick with the paperback. I’d also suggest that a hardback is a great idea. Readers love hardbacks. They have a certain following and many readers may buy the hardback and paperback version of your book. All you have to do with this option is weigh up the cost versus the return (in terms of finance and reputation) and then decide how many you want. I’d definitely suggest a smaller print run (100-200 books), with the future books being printed in paperback.

Ultimately, the written word will be the key to if the book sells. Hardback, paperback or ebook, it’s the contents that make the difference. You’d be correct in thinking though, that there is a market for all formats. In another article we’ll also discuss the audiobook in some depth.

As always if this has inspired more questions contact us at 3P Publishing on 01536 560410 or email We look forward to hearing from you.

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