Which way to publish? This can be a challenging question for an author. There are so many options. You can go the traditional printed book route — hardback or paperback. You can save your book as a .pdf (portable document format), then print it on paper or sell it electronically from your website. (Note: pdf documents can be read on many e-readers). Or you can create an electronic book (e-book), which can be read on a variety of electronic readers (e-readers) and sold from your website or through a number of online book sellers (e.g., Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc.).
There are advantages and disadvantages to each format. But let’s restrict the discussion to simply paper or printed (p-books) or electronic (e-books).
Paper Books (p-books)
No batteries — One of the most obvious advantages of p-books is that there are no batteries. In an e-reader, these sometimes die at the wrong time. And you may not be in a place or position to plug in the e-reader.
Durability — This one is obvious. Given a scenario in which you accidentally dropped a p-book or an e-book, which is more likely to survive the fall?. Even though they’re fairly durable, e-readers are definitely more fragile. There’s also a problem of leaving an e-reader in the sun or in a car, where it can overheat and damage sensitive components. This is not going to happen with a p-book.
Attention — One of the nice things about reading a book is the concentration and focus it requires. This serenity, if disturbed, is usually due to outside interruptions, like the phone, the doorbell, a person, and the like. However, when a person is reading on many types of electronic devices, there are self-imposed distractions, like following a link, looking up a word, checking e-mail, searching for something on the internet, and so on.
Navigation — Knowing where you are in a p-book has a certain satisfaction, i.e., how much you’ve read and how close to the end you are. With an e-book, the page numbering will change just based on how much you zoom into the text. But with a p-book, you can flip through pages — forward or backward — which provides a sense of control. An example would be when you’re reading a work of fiction and you want to re-read something that happened earlier. Good luck in finding the exact place in an e-book. Or, suppose that you’re reading non-fiction and want to go back to check a fact. (One good thing about e-books and navigation is that you can search for a term electronically.) For mystery readers, some people like to find out “who done it”, then go back to read the intervening text. All of these are more difficult with an e-reader.
Highlighting — Depending on whether you’re a book purist or not, it’s often helpful to use a pencil, pen or marker to highlight or emphasize some part of the text (obviously if it’s one you own). This is easy to do in both a p-book and an e-book. The negative of the p-book is that, once you mark it with a pen or marker, it’s permanent. With an e-book, you can change your mind. The same is true for people who like to write notes in the margins.
Sensory — This a subjective characteristic, but there is definitely a difference between holding a p-book versus an e-reader. Some e-readers do have fancy cases that improve the tactile quality, but for many people, there is something about holding a p-book.
Risk — Once you take your e-reader out of your home, you run the risk of losing it or having it stolen. Obviously, you could just as easily lose a p-book or have it stolen, but the dollar impact difference is huge.
Format — Most e-books have a similar look and feel, whether they’re in black-and-white or in color. Most of them have the same font and style. On the other hand, p-books come in hardback, paperback, and sometimes even magazine format. Many, if not most, hardbacks come with dust jackets, which adds to a p-back’s look and feel. And the paper stock can run from cheap to extravagant. Likewise, the typesetting and printing can vary. The range is from inexpensive trade paperbacks to gorgeous coffee table volumes. The variety is almost endless, in stark comparison to e-books.
Electronic Books (e-books)
Availability — An e-book can may be purchased, borrowed and read almost anywhere, and can be read on many kinds of e-readers. This convenience is a significant advantage over p-books. People who live somewhere with limited access to a library or bookstore can still enjoy reading a book by downloading it onto an e-reader. Being able to download a book in the comfort of one’s home has, with no travel, is a definite advantage.
Storage — Many e-readers are capable of storing numerous books at one time. It’s like carrying a small chunk of your library with you without the accompanying weight. For some people, especially those who travel a lot, this can be a real boon.
Content first— If the user’s major goal is to read the text of a work, regardless of the format or whether there’s a dust jacket or not, an e-reader is ideal. An e-book may offer a better choice for those who spend a lot of time on high-featured cell phones or tablets.
Font — Being able to adjust the type size, color, brightness and contrast gives e-books a hands-down edge. This can be a significant benefit for readers with vision problems. And, the ability to read an e-book in a darkened space (e.g., in bed at night) clearly outshines a p-book (pun intended).
Dictionary — One of the challenges p-books have is when the reader comes across an unknown word. They have to stop reading to access a paper or online dictionary. With many e-readers, it just takes a flick of the finger to get the definition.
Longevity — Because they’re electronic, e-books are not subject to the physical wear and tear of p-books. Barring some vast electrical disturbance or even the disappearance of electricity, people will be able to read an e-book anytime in the future, assuming that it’s still stored and is available from some source.
Paper books and electronic books create different experiences, not only for the reader, but sometimes for the writer as well. An e-book can be relatively easily updated or revised, allowing for easy error correcting, and adding or changing content. With a p-book, this can be a lot more difficult and may be rather costly. And if you’re stocking inventory, you won’t end up with a stack of out-of-date paper.
As an author, you need to decide what your goals are, who your audience is, how you intend to use your book, and so on. Then you can determine which medium (paper/print, electronic, or both) will be most effective in achieving those goals.
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