The easiest and fastest way to publish a book is to create an ebook, which is also why there is so much variation in the quality of ebooks out there. For example, it’s possible to create an ebook in a few hours, although you most likely wouldn’t want to. But in reality, ebooks are generally created much faster than books you’ll find in the bookstores. However this doesn’t mean to say that all ebooks are lower quality, there are some amazing ebooks and some terrible printed books. All I’m trying to say is that on average creating an ebook takes the least amount of time to get to market out of the four publishing options.
For those who aren’t familiar with ebooks, an ebook is generally a document that has been converted to the PDF format. In it’s most basic form, it can be as simple as a Microsoft Word document converted to a PDF file. Ebooks can vary greatly in length, from a few dozen pages to several hundred pages. I’ve yet to see an ebook that’s over 1000 pages, although I’m sure there’s at least one that exists.
Because ebooks are digital in nature (a computer file), they’re mostly sold online. Which also means you won’t find ebooks in book stores, or any other store where you can buy tangible products. As well, because of this, ebooks are more often than not sold on the author’s website (or an affiliated sites). Ebooks aren’t generally distributed through many online stores, they’re sold on the author’s website (maybe a few affiliate sites, but that’s about it).
Cheapest publication method
Ebooks are the cheapest way to publish a book. At the very lowest, they can only cost your time (assuming no editing, etc.). Which means that if you write a book in a week or two, the cost would just be your time. Of course you probably don’t want to do this, you’d want to get other people involved, such as an editor, etc. But it’s definitely possible to significantly limit your costs and exposure. You can decide exactly how much effort will go into the book.
As well, since most ebooks are only read online or printed on a regular printer, you can get away with lower quality images in the ebook. For instance if you want to include a screenshot it’s easy to do. You don’t have to deal with 300dpi images that are corrected and set in your pages. You can just paste an image into the book. Again, you probably don’t want to do this (you should take care in your images so that they look good), but it’s possible. Unfortunately too many people just slap on very badly edited images. Don’t do this.
Cheapest to duplicate
Ebooks have a zero cost to duplicate. With the other three methods of publication, there is a cost for each additional copy. If you print millions of books, the duplication cost can get to as low as $1 or less. With lower volumes it can be as high as $20 or more (the higher price is usually with POD – depending on the size of your book). With ebooks there is no cost to duplicate the book, it’s just a file copy.
There’s an oddity that I can’t explain with ebooks, and that’s pricing. For normal printed books, there are some general rules of thumb on pricing. You can go outside the norms a bit, but you’re still very limited. For example, it’s virtually impossible to sell a pocket book for $50. Similarly, you don’t sell a thousand page book for $5. However the same isn’t true with ebooks. I’ve seen ebook prices all over the spectrum. I’ve seen ebooks that are only 40-50 pages successfully sell for $50. I’ve seen ebooks with barely a hundred pages sell for $200. I’ve never seen a similarly traditionally printed book sell for that. I’ve seen ebooks with hundreds of pages go for $10.
The reality is that the price of an ebook has almost nothing to do with it’s size. But in the printed world, the rule of thumb is to base your price on the number of pages, plus or minus a small variation. This is absolutely not true with ebooks. Which means that price is also not a good indicator of the value of an ebook. But it’s a good thing for you, it means you can play with the price of your ebook to where you’re comfortable. As well, you can price it to what the material is worth rather than the size of the material.
Ebooks offer the highest margins by far. There are no costs to print each copy of the book. There are no shipping costs. There are no warehousing costs. There are no costs to register an ISBN, etc. Basically your costs are much lower.
Of course, you may not sell as many ebooks, especially if you focus on narrow niches (discussed shortly), but because the margins are higher you can still achieve a nice profit. As well, because most people are used to higher prices for ebooks, the per ebook revenues can be higher.
Quickest way to publish a book
You will never ever ever beat the time it takes to get an ebook to market. Publishing a printed books takes a lot longer, there’s no way around it. You cannot publish a printed book in less than a month, no matter how hard you try. And anything under a few months means you have to make some serious sacrifices. Even if you have an incredibly fast team (editor, etc.), you still have to get the book to the printers, finishing the typesetting, have the book printed, etc.
If time to market is crucial than an ebook might be your only choice. For example, a book on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) should be published as an ebook. Trying to publish a printed book about SEO would be a loss cause. By the time it got to the bookshelves it would be obsolete. The SEO market just changes too fast. It needs to be published in internet time.
Books can be image loaded
Generally the more images you include in a printed book, the higher your costs. Not just for printing, but to get them setup right (the right resolution – 300dpi, working with a typesetter, etc.). There’s also the fact that a color book costs a lot more than a black and white book to print. With ebooks all these considerations go away. You can include as many images as you want with no additional printing costs.
No expectations on number of pages
This one might seem minor, but with printed books there are expectations on the number of pages. For instance you generally won’t buy a pocket book if it only includes 50 pages. The same isn’t true for ebooks. Of course I would suggest the opposite, you should overwhelm your readers with value. But I’m including it here to let you know it’s possible.
And if your book is going to be distributed for free, then there’s nothing wrong with a 50 page ebook. You can definitely offer more value in 50 pages than the time it takes someone to read the book. Plus you have to remember that many ebooks don’t have indexes, etc. in the book so there are fewer pages.
You can write for niches
If you’re writing a printed book, it’s very hard to write to a niche audience. This is because to make any money in printed books, you need to sell at least a certain amount of copies. And to be honest, selling anything less than a three to five thousand copies will probably result in a loss (not including POD).
With ebooks this isn’t true. You can create an ebook for a very small niche because the costs to produce it are much lower. Not only that, because it’s to a small niche, you can also increase your price without people complaining. Which means you can sell a $50 ebook to 500 people for $25,000. It’s not a huge income, but it can be enough to make the effort worth it. With ebooks you can afford to write to smaller audiences.
And because you can write to smaller audiences, it also means you have less competition. As well, if your ebook is amazing, word will spread like wildfire that there’s a good book in your niche. After all, if there’s only a small amount of people involved in the niche, you can be assured they communicate to each other much more attentively. For example, if there was an amazing ebook on how to setup a home theater system, you can be certain that the audiophiles would all refer to “the” book. There can’t be that many good books that are up to date on this topic.
Ebooks can be given away for free
It’s possible to create an ebook with the only intention of giving it away as a promotional item. For example, early on John Chow wrote an ebook on how to make money blogging with the idea that people would subscribe to his blog (and thus help increase his readership). This would be very hard to do with a printed book. Above the bigger costs of preparing the book, there’s the printing costs for each copy, shipping costs, warehousing costs, and so on. This is why you very rarely see people print a book for promotional only purposes but you see it here and there for ebooks.
Just a quick tip, if you’re going to publish an ebook for promotional purposes only, make sure it’s of real value. Please don’t pollute the web with another really bad and awful free promotional ebook that’s totally useless. Do offer something of value otherwise it will hurt you more than it helps.
No ISBN, etc.
When you create an ebook, you don’t have to register an ISBN. With ebooks, you don’t need to have a publishing company (either your own or a publishing house). With an ebook you generally don’t have to worry so much about indexing it (most ebooks don’t have indexes). You also don’t have to worry about creating the back or spine graphics for your book. In other words there are many things you can skip.
Because of the lower costs to publish ebooks, there’s lots of garbage ebooks out there. And I do mean garbage! There are even people just copying material that is now in the public domain and selling it!! There’s ebooks that are absolutely worthless.
And don’t think this doesn’t affect you. Books that are ebooks only overall have a perception of being less good than printed books, and for good reason. Most are not as good as their printed counterparts. There are of course exceptions like everything, but as a general rule of thumb I’ve also found this to be true. Some amazing ebooks include the SEO Book (no longer available), The Definitive Guide to Adwords, (warning: shameless plug) my own How to Generate Traffic to Your Website, and so on. There are lots of great ebooks, but overall the landscape is polluted with lots more duds than with printed books.
Which is why many people don’t put as much faith in ebooks. There’s a lack of credibility. So unless you’re already known, it’s going to be harder to sell ebooks. You’re going to have to fight to prove your ebook’s credibility. Whereas for a printed book, just being a printed book gives you a lot of credibility.
Generally you won’t find poor quality printed books. Books with images that are all pixelated or just bad looking. Books with all kinds of random typesetting. Books with odd and random images of different sizes and resolutions. Books with poor spelling and grammar. Books which haven’t ever been edited or even re-read once. Unfortunately with ebooks these issues happen far too often.
Although it doesn’t have to be that way, the quality of ebooks is generally lower than printed books. But again this could be due to getting the ebook to market before the material is obsolete. For example, spending the time required to have multiple editors, proof-readers, professional typesetters, graphical designers, etc. go through a book about SEO would render it useless. In other words, by the time the book had gone through all the same edits as a printed book, the material would be obsolete. Which means that this can be considered the cost of getting the material in a timely manner.
That or the size of your niche just doesn’t lend itself to those types of costs. For example if the most you can ever make is $25,000 in total revenues, then you just can’t justify the costs of full out editing, typesetting, graphical design, etc. Maybe all you can spend is $5000-$10,000 on these things to make the project worth it. Nothing is ever free.
Harder to market
Because there’s so many bad ebooks out there, it also means it’s a lot harder to market to consumers. People are much more leery of ebooks, and rightfully so. So be prepared for this. Just because you write an ebook, it doesn’t mean you’ll get tons of sales right away.
Harder to get reviews
Many people just simply outright refuse to review any ebooks, they’ve just had too many bad experiences. And I can’t blame them. It’s much easier to ask for a review of an ebook since it costs you nothing compared to a printed book (where you have to pay for the book, pay to have it shipped, etc.). But mostly, it just goes back to the credibility issue. There’s so much garbage that you’ll really have to convince people much harder to review an ebook versus a printed book.
You need to be a good marketer
Because of everything mentioned, and the fact that you’ll probably only be directly selling your ebook from your website, you need to be a good marketer. You need to get people to come to you and buy your book. So you need to be good at generating traffic AND converting that traffic to sales. If you’re not very good at this, you probably won’t generate much, if any, revenue. This is a requisite to publishing a successful ebook.
Having published an ebook (How to Generate Traffic to Your Website) and a printed book (Blog Blazers), I can attest that they both have their places. I will very likely publish more of each in the future. Both have been very positive and rewarding experiences.
I would recommend publishing an ebook if:
- you want to limit your exposure/costs
- you’re writing to a small niche audience
- you’re writing timely information
- you want to generate buzz through promotional books
I would NOT recommend publishing an ebook if:
- you want to become a famous bestselling author
- you want to leverage your book in a professional manner (career, business, consulting services, etc.)
- you have the time/money to print a book
- you want to make quick money
- you’re not good at marketing AND sales