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Print vs Digital – Do You Need to Publish Your Book in Both?

When I went to publish my first book, I never asked myself the question of print vs digital. I knew that I wanted my book to be published in a physical form.

Without holding my book in my hands, signing copies, and seeing it on book shelves, I would never feel like an author. 

That’s me, though.

Your goal may be to publish at the lowest possible cost or, to make the most money on every copy of your book sold. Because of that, you may be thinking that a digital only version of your book is best. But, is that really the case?

Print vs Digital? Or, do you need both?

The answer is, it depends.

Whether you go print vs digital, or do both, depends on your niche, your goals and your target market. And, to a smaller extent, your budget may play a factor in the decision.

If you write fiction, you may not need a physical book.

If you’re in the romance genre specifically, digital is going to reach a huge portion of the market. For a great break down of the numbers on this check out Author Earnings presentation at Digital Book World 2017.

If you’re a non-fiction author the print vs digital decision is simple.

You should have both print and digital formats for your book. 

Print vs DigitalLooking at three years of sales data (June 2013 – June 2016) for my first book, More than Cashflow, 14% of my retail sales were from the digital format.

If you add in the 1,500 copies of my book sold at the back of event rooms and as part of speaking packages, the percentage of books I sold in digital format was even smaller.

More importantly, a digital only format would have limited my ability to use the book for a lot of marketing. Without a physical copy, I wouldn’t have been able to partner with Canadian Real Estate Wealth Magazine to do a big promotional campaign. They wanted physical books to give away to new magazine subscribers. If my book was only in a digital format, real estate clubs across Canada wouldn’t have bought my books for author signings when I came to town.

Now, that’s just a couple of marketing methods that worked really well for me. What about you, and your goals? Maybe you aren’t considering selling your book with those kind of promotions, where does the print vs digital decision land for you. Here’s my thoughts …

Print vs Digital: 5 Reasons To Publish in Both When You’re a Non-Fiction Author:

  1. Costs Aren’t Much Higher When You Look at Print Vs Digital. Most of the costs you’ll incur as a publisher are going to be incurred no matter what.If you’re producing a high quality product, you’re hiring an editor (or maybe a few different editors), a layout designer and someone to create a compelling cover design no matter what version of your book you are doing. (If you’re wondering what each element might cost – download our Book Publishing on a Budget Workbook).

    You’ll spend a little extra to have your book formatted to suit digital as well as print formats but many  layout designers will include it in a design package.

    For my first book I paid an extra $500 to have it laid out for digital. Three years later, for my second book, that formatting was included in the layout charge. When I hired a cover designer one price included digital and print covers, as well as thumbnail and 3-D versions of the cover.

    And, the days of having to pay for a big print run to get copies of your book are gone. CreateSpace and Lightning Source’s Ingram Spark really support the indie author with print on demand solutions. You, and your distribution network, can order books as needed, one at a time.

    For roughly less than $7 USD you can get a copy of your book printed. This blog post breaks down costs for a 202 page paperback. There are no minimum orders and you don’t have to mess around with taking orders or shipping.

    So, really, except for the fact that you’ll incur costs to buy and ship copies to give away for marketing purposes, the costs involved with printing a book minimally more than that of creating a digital copy.

  2. The Sales Happen in Print: 70% of Non-Fiction Books Sold are in Print. Author Earnings studied print and digital sales, and found that non-fiction authors should pay close attention to print. 72% of books sales are happening online, but non-fiction readers are still buying print.
  3. Print Books Have a Long Marketing Life. Very few people will throw a book out (unless you don’t create a high quality book… another reason to produce a book that is comparable to a traditional publishing house). When your client gets your book, it usually sits on their desk or shelf for awhile. Other people will see it. Your client will be reminded of you. It may even get people talking about you. When they are done with the book, they will probably give it away rather than throw it out – so now you get to reach new people your business card or pamphlet never would have reached. A digital book doesn’t get any of this marketing juice.
  4. Your Marketing Opportunities Are Endless. You can use your digital book as a free give away when you speak, or as an opt-in gift online.

    If you’re a speaker, many organizations will pay you to speak and buy a copy of your book for every person in the audience. I had a lot of real estate clubs who would buy a case of my books when I was in town. They would promote my presence at their events to draw people to their event and offer a certain number of signed books as an incentive to get there early. Or, they would sell the books at the back of the room.

    I also used my books to generate revenue at events that I spoke at. If I sold my book for $25 I would make about $15 a book. At a larger event, that allowed me to pocket another $600.

    Digital books can be given away as part of other author’s promotions too. This is a high value give away to the author and potentially great exposure for you, with no out of pocket expenses.

    As a non-fiction author, you’re probably writing the book to share your message, help people solve a problem and make more money for yourself, right? That means the more marketing juice you can squeeze out of your book, the better you’ll do. Because of this, print vs digital isn’t really a question in my mind.

  5. Book Events are Weird without …. BOOKS! Try getting your local library to host a book event for you if you only have digital books. You have nothing to sign! Book stores won’t carry your book on it’s shelf in digital format.

    My two favourite moments as an author were seeing my book on the shelves of Chapters Indigo in Canada, and signing books after speaking at a major event.Plus, for events, an e-book just doesn’t have the same perceived value as a physical book. And, nobody is ever going to carry your e-book around waiting for you to sign it!

Ultimately, given the data and the market, the REAL consideration is:
First, what type of book are you writing? Fiction or Non-Fiction

Second, and most importantly:
What is YOUR GOAL for your book?

But, here’s one last thought to consider. It’s even more difficult to stand out if you JUST do an e-book.

There are over 4 million titles today in the Kindle Store on Amazon. This is from the New York Times in late 2015 … so those numbers are even higher today.

Your single biggest issue when you write and publish a book is:

How can I get my ideal readers to find my book?

How do you stand out?

When you focus on e-book sales you face a lot more competition. And, your competition prices their book anywhere from FREE to $19.99.

So … it is a tough battle ahead if your goal is sales volume and you go e-book only.

Every option has trade offs … but let me ask you this:

Are you REALLY going to miss out holding your book in your hands?

I don’t think I would have felt like a true published author without an actual copy of my physical book in my hands.

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And … if you enjoyed this, here’s something else you might like.

Wondering how to hire an editor. Here’s a video I created to help you:

Why You’re Wasting Your Time Chasing Amazon Bestseller Status

With sleepy eyes, I glanced at my iPhone to see the time. I figured my alarm was going to go off soon.

That’s when I saw the text message:

“Julie – your book is #1 on Amazon! OMG – Way to go!”

Amazon Bestseller Status in Business and InvestingI was still half asleep so the message didn’t really hit me at first.

But, after a few seconds I felt a surge of adrenaline.

Did my friend mean my book was #1 OVERALL on Amazon?

I jumped out of bed and ran to my laptop.

If it was true, I needed to see it on the big screen.

My book had hit the Top 10 overall on Amazon the day before. Could it possibly be #1 overall?

I shrieked when I saw it.

It was true.

My book, More than Cashflow, was sitting at the top of ALL BOOKS FOR SALE ON AMAZON! I could legitimately claim Amazon Bestseller status!

Amazon Bestseller Status for Julie Broad

 

My self-published niche non-fiction book that was turned away by publishers, had surpassed all other books to sell the most copies that day.

There were no tricks or gimmicks that put my book on the top. My book was selling for full price. A Kindle version wasn’t available yet up yet. I had a solid marketing launch plan with some incredible supporters … and they helped push my book to the top of the heap – taking home a status few will ever get: Overall #1 Amazon Bestseller.

[I shot a video shortly after this happened called 5 Ways to Sell Your Self-Published Book to explain what worked and what didn’t work to get so many book sales. The video is a bit outdated now … but it tells the story of what worked in 2013].

I admit to checking the Amazon page every hour. It just doesn’t get old seeing your book at #1.

And, my book stayed at the top for nearly 36 hours.

It was a pretty cool day.

Definitely one of the best days I’ve ever had in my career.

Despite the joy and sense of accomplishment I felt hitting #1 overall, I think that pursuing Amazon Bestseller Status is not a good goal for an author.

You may even want to steer clear of anyone who promises to make you an Amazon bestseller.

Do a quick internet search and you’ll find a dozen companies who promise to make your book a Best Seller. They say it’s a huge credibility boost. They will celebrate your ‘success’ when you hit #1 …(some even have awards they give all their authors so you can say you’re ‘award winning’).

Some even guarantee your book will be a #1 bestseller, and show you hundreds of success stories so you think nothing of spending $5,000 on their weekend course or their bestseller training.

In most cases, your #1 Bestseller status it’s actually a #1 book in a sub-sub-sub category like Motivation (see image to the left).

Motivation is under:

Books > Professional & Technical > Business Management > Management & Leadership > Motivational

Sometimes a Best Seller Means Selling Only 5-10 Copies!

Now, looking at the heavy hitters who are in this category, I suspect it’s actually a pretty competitive category. You’d have to sell a large number of books in order to hit #1 in this category. That’s not the case for a lot of the categories. As a result, it can take very few sales to hit #1 in one of the more obscure sub-sub-sub categories. That’s why these companies can guarantee you’ll be a #1 bestseller. All you have to do is sell 5-10 copies in an hour to get there.

Congratulations! 🙂

My favorite story of this comes from a marketing guy named Brent Underwood. Tired of everyone saying they were an Amazon Bestseller he set out to prove how bogus it was. He took a picture of his foot, put it on the cover of a book, uploaded it to CreateSpace and made it an Amazon Bestseller.

His article in the Observer, called ‘Behind the Scam: What does it take to be a Best-Selling Author? $3 and 5 minutes‘ is a hilarious, eye opening and a rather sad read for every author.

Thankfully, Amazon is finally starting to crack down on the bogus Best Seller claims.

Before you waste time, energy and money trying to become a bogus best seller, carefully consider your goals when you create a marketing plan:

What is most important?

Perhaps you want to attract new clients for your business. Maybe you have an important message to get out in the world. You certainly have important expertise and experience that others will benefit from. In most cases you’re doing it to make money at some point – whether from book sales or some other back end strategy.

A book can beautifully position you as THE expert in a niche. The credibility boost that comes with being a ‘Bestseller’ is nice … but only if that status really means something and you aren’t giving up other goals to get there.

Hitting #1 in a sub-sub-sub category does very little for you or your book.

To achieve this, you’ll often have to give away your book for free or sell at a severely discounted price as a pre-launch strategy. It doesn’t do much for you, but it does have some benefits to hit #1 in a sub-sub category:

  • Ranking highly in a category is good for your visibility. It DOES help other readers find you. For this reason it’s smart to consistently run promotions to boost the ranking of your book on Amazon. [I actually talked about this as one of the 5 things you need to do once your book is on Amazon.]
  • It builds momentum for your book. If you have a smart marketing plan, including securing reviews, being featured on a variety of media and doing speaking engagements, there is nothing wrong with a big push to kick off to hit #1. Marketing is a part time job for an author – and one push at the start isn’t going to do anything. You have to plan for at least a year of marketing post book launch to generate any sort of solid results as a result of publishing your book.
  • It feels good. Yup – when your book is sitting at #1 in a category beside a well known author it does give your ego a little boost. You can post that on Facebook and your friends will all congratulate you. We can all use a little ego boost now and again, but you can’t take an ego boost to the bank. Your ego doesn’t pay your bills. And, your ego certainly doesn’t attract new business through your door … so how much is this really worth to you?

What Amazon Bestseller in a category doesn’t usually do:

  • Sell a lot of books. To hit #1 overall on Amazon, I sold over 2,500

    books in a 24 hour period. This was Amazon.ca by the way. I’m Canadian and my first book, More than Cashflow was a Canadian focused real estate investing book. You probably have sell more than 5,000 to top the charts on Amazon.com.

    There is no ‘magic number’ to hit to make #1 overall Amazon Bestseller. The number required is relative to how other books are selling at that time. If launch alongside a famous author with a huge following, you’ll have to sell THAT many more books to rise to the top.Selling 20-35 books per day over a year is pretty good. In one day, to hit #1 in a sub-category once … well … that’s not my idea of success no matter what ranking I hit.

  • Boost Future Sales. Amazon collects a massive amount of data. There is some speculation that the rankings, while calculated based on hourly sales, is also based on a historic trend of performance for your book. In other words, if your book only has one single sales spike and then drops off, Amazon is not going to feature it anywhere else. There’s also speculation that a consistently strong performing book can climb the sales ranks more quickly if it’s sales history has been consistent. If it’s true, you can see #1 in a category more frequently if you have a more steady sales performance history versus a one time hot day.
  • Generate Revenue. Unless you are really clever with your marketing inside of your book and people actually ready it, what has your pre-launch really done for you if you did a freebie or $1.99 launch? Books in readers hands without considering how it will generate leads for your business doesn’t show a good return on investment. It’s just not enough to get someone to get their hands on your book if you want to reach your goals.
  • Lead to more sales. Again, without an extensive plan to market yourself and market your book, one big boost at pre-launch doesn’t sustain itself. In fact, your biggest fans (the people who would have happily paid $20 for the book and told friends about it) are the ones that will be first in line for your pre-launch. They will get the book free or at a low cost, if that’s the prelaunch strategy you use. If your biggest fans get the book free, who is left to buy your book without a whole bunch of marketing? It can work, but you need to be strategic with your entire marketing plan.
  • Provide a Big Credibility Boost. The volume of authors who say they are Bestselling is definitely reducing the credibility boost the title will give you. Being a New York Times Bestseller isn’t as clean and clear as people once thought either. If you have a few hundred thousand dollars the title could be yours too.

    Amazon Bestseller status is not all you need to establish yourself as an expert. You need a high quality book, great reviews, a sustainable marketing plan to generate consistent sales for your book, and the expertise to back it up. That’s where your real focus should be. Write and publish a book you’re proud to hand to anyone!

Ultimately, it comes down to understanding what’s important to you. There is a price for every choice to make. The price of pursuing Amazon Bestseller status can be quite high depending on the strategy you use to achieve it.

When you sit down to write your book and work through a marketing plan, know what you want to achieve with your book baby. It’s easier than ever to write and publish your book, but it’s more difficult than ever before to sell it. Success will come from a good plan from the start. And, if you still want to pursue an Amazon Bestseller status, go for it. May you hit the Top 100, or top the charts overall. Now you know to back it up with a whole lot of other things to ensure your overall project is a rocking success.