Choosing the Right Format for Your Book

June 6, 2014

Once upon a time, making a book format decision was fairly straightforward: you had to determine which print format was right for each book. You’d ask yourself, should it be published in hardcover or paperback, or both? Should the paperback be a high-quality trade paperback or a mass-market paperback with a smaller trim size and thinner paper? If you decided to publish in several different print formats, the only real question to address was about timing: how much time should elapse between the launch of the first edition and the release of the second or third? As technology evolved, audiobooks and the now-extinct CD-ROM were introduced, but these formats weren’t widely adopted and they weren’t a significant point of consideration for many authors and publishers. 

Enter ebooks, which changed the landscape entirely. When ebooks were initially introduced, most publishers didn’t consider them to be a format that could compete with print editions in the market. They were accounted for in publishers’ contracts as “electronic editions” and they were initially included in the subsidiary rights section of a contract, where they were considered rights that could be licensed to third-party companies that would handle production, sales and distribution. That quickly changed when consumer demand for ebooks skyrocketed and they became a viable book format in their own right, as far as many book buyers were concerned. Publishers began to produce and sell ebooks themselves, and they began to include them in the primary grant of rights in their publishing contracts.

Now authors and publishers must decide on a case-by-case basis whether they should produce ebook editions alongside their print counterparts – and vice versa. Some are choosing to publish “digital first” or even “digital only,” eschewing print altogether. So what goes into that decision-making process?

Some content feels destined for the ebook format. Perhaps you have a book that’s particularly short or time-sensitive. Or perhaps you’re publishing a book that needs to be updated regularly. Ebooks can be distributed at very little cost, so that makes it easy to experiment with the format. If your readers are likely to be ebook-friendly consumers, this can be an excellent way to sell your book.

But some readers aren’t likely to be ebook-friendly consumers, and some content still works beautifully in print. Illustrated books tend to sell better in print, whereas works of fiction and narrative non-fiction sell very well in ebook format. Many people still feel that print books have intrinsic value that ebooks don’t – especially for gifting purposes.

There are other digital formats that have become popular as a result of the rise of digital. Some companies have produced impressive ebook apps, and sales of audiobooks have dramatically increased since they became available as digital downloads. Digital technology has also allowed for the development of print-on-demand systems, through which books are printed one at a time after an individual order comes in, so that they don’t need to be printed and stored in bulk.

For many authors and publishers, the print vs digital question isn’t an either/or proposition. If you have the resources to produce several formats, and if your market base is likely to purchase your book in all editions, so much the better.

At Page Two, we help our clients determine what their format strategy should be. When an author publishes with a traditional book publisher, the publisher will make those decisions in consultation with a sales and marketing team. Our self-publishing clients wear the publisher’s hat, so they need to decide. As with many publishing decisions, format decisions tend to be market-driven. We ask our clients: how would your readers want to access your book? The answer to that question will lead you down the right strategic path.

This is the third post in our four-part series, The elements of a non-fiction self-publishing success story

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