That's the question somemone asked online recently, and the person received a ton of bad--no, make that horrible--advice. So, of course, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to set things straight, which I did.
* * *
First, regarding the respondent who claimed that print books "often have a short shelf life, lay unused or are discarded," he couldn't be more wrong. Dead wrong. In fact, just the opposite is true. Whereas eBooks are never really part of your physical property, print books are. Unfortunately, eBooks can vanish from your possession at the drop of a hat—or the bankruptcy, sale, or merger of an eBook or eReader manufacturer or the whim of some corporate CEO. And most eBooks aren't transferable to another person, while print books are generally around for dozens of years if not longer and rarely lay unused or are discarded. Just the opposite. If someone no longer needs or wants a print book, he often sells it or gifts it to someone else to enjoy.
As for the same respondent's contention that "traditional bound books use precious resources," is he kidding? Books come from paper, which comes from trees, both of which are manageable and renewable. You can hardly say that about the high-tech, carbon-heavy imprint of an eReader or eBook manufacturer. Digital manufacturing is far more labor-intensive and worse for the environment. It's also subject to the fluctuating influences of foreign component manufacturers, worker strikes, unstable prices, and the unavailability of some exotic materials for manufacturing. Also, the last time I checked, eReaders don't remove deadly carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with purified, life-sustaining oxygen, but renewable trees do. And, the last time I looked, trees don't require costly, environmentally degrading electricity in anywhere near the amount that digital publishing gobbles up in order to grow and remain viable throughout an eBook's lifetime.
So, kicking those two ridiculous contentions to the curb, your original question with its implied assumption that eBooks are advantageous over print books is, alas, incorrect. In fact, while some readers prefer eBooks, most (according to the most recent industry studies) prefer the heft and physical existence of print books. That said, if you want to utilize all avenues available to you in selling your own books, take other people's advice seriously and create your books in both formats—digital and print. If you can afford it, also check out audio books, which are the single fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry. Don't ask me why. They just are.
Despite all this, there are some notable advantages to publishing eBooks as opposed to print books. For one, they're usually less costly to edit, format, and mass produce, although Amazon's KDP will crank out both formats for no up-front costs to the author. Still, with a print book, you need to provide original front and back cover art to be viable. With an eBook, you have the cost of only front-cover art. That's a consideration if you're hiring an artist to prepare your covers, which—unless you're a professionally trained graphic artist skilled in cover designs—you should do.
Also, eBooks can be any length you want and still attract buyers, as long as the subject matter is perceived to have value. You can produce a twelve-page eBook and sell it for ninety-nine cents, for instance, and expect some sales and a modest profit. You couldn't possibly print a twelve-page print book and hope to break even at anywhere near that price: The printing and distribution costs, alone, would kill you.
And, don't forget that most publishing aggregators such as Amazon KDP, Barnes & Noble, etc., don't require costly ISBN numbers for eBooks, whereas they do for print books. Unless you decide to accept an aggregator's free ISBN number for your book (which has some potential sales- and distribution-related drawbacks), you'll find that buying ISBNs for all your print books can run into some serious cash.
And, while we're at the nit-picking stage, eBooks are definitely easier to search than print books. If you want to find a certain word, date, name, or concept in an eBook, you run a search, and up come all the responses. For a print book, you'd have to turn to the index (assuming there is one) or to the TOC to find what you're looking for. Then, you'd need to look up that indexed search term on whatever page is given. And then, you'd have to do it all over again to find the next instance of the term.
Finally, eBooks are simpler to revise than print books. Just make your corrections to the digital file and upload it. Bang. Done. Revisions are virtually instantaneous. Making changes to a print book, on the other hand, can be a lot more daunting, time-consuming, and costly, especially when an index is involved.
So, does it sound as if eBooks are the future of literature? I'd have to agree. Except for one fly in the ointment: Most people prefer holding physical print books than they do fumbling with an eReader. And that, for many readers, is that. Game, set, match.
Hope this helps a little more than some guy bemoaning the fact that print books eat up precious resources. To quote Rodney Dangerfield in Caddy Shack: "Now I know why tigers eat their young."
Smoke if you've got 'em.
* * *
D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.