E-Books vs. Print Books: Which Should You Choose?

E-books have become a mainstay of the publishing industry. However, the demise of printed books as a result of the introduction of e-books has not materialized as some may have predicted.

Still, in 2022, total revenue from published decreased 2.6% from the year prior, and both formats of books experienced decreases in revenue. Let's take a deeper look at both options and the publishing industry in general. Book Printing Services

E-Books vs. Print Books: Which Should You Choose?

According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales in the U.S. declined slightly to $983 million in 2019 from a year earlier. The lower growth rate followed several years of double-digit declines in e-book sales. Hardcover and paperback books still rule the market, with approximately $3 billion and 2.5 billion in sales in 2019, respectively.

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic was a boon to print publishing. Sales rose 8.2% year over year to a total of 751 million copies, according to Printing Impressions, a publishing industry journal. More leisure time and a need to educate children at home were cited as reasons for the book-buying spree.

2022 brought about several unique trends. First, paperback and hardback revenue both decreased, with hardback coming in 13.6% less than the year before. E-books also declined, falling 6.5%. It's interesting to note that digital audio revenue grew 71.7% from 2021 to 2022.

Print books have the feel of a book that many readers love. You can hold it, turn the pages, and feel the paper. People who love to read spend a lifetime acquiring books. They may find it wrenching to abandon their shelves of books for a single slab of plastic.

Readers may also compare the quality of illustrations between the two formats and find the print versions superior. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes can be bought in either hardcover or Kindle versions but readers may find the Kindle version lacking due to the shrunken size of the illustrations and the relative clumsiness of toggling between story text and annotations.

Some readers also experience some eye strain using an electronic device instead of a printed book.

Books on paper are difficult to carry around, especially hardcovers. If you're an avid reader and you're going on a trip, or if you're just stepping out to a coffee shop, an e-reader or iPad is a far lighter burden than a book or a stack of them.

An e-book might be priced about the same or differently than a printed book. Because of the difference in format, there is an entirely different economic consideration for the good.

There's also the satisfaction of having an entire library at your fingertips, not to mention an infinite supply just a click away, ready to download instantly.

In addition, e-book buyers have the advantage that the internet gives consumers of any products: No space constraints. Just about everything ever published is available, all the time.

There are some drawbacks. You must recharge an e-reader or any other electronic device. Some screens are not easily readable in sunlight. And, if you are one of the millions who spend the entire workday in front of a computer, reading your favorite author on a computer screen in the evening may not appeal.

Avid e-book readers can stray beyond Amazon or Barnes and Noble and read for free.

The nonprofit Project Gutenberg offers 70,000 free downloadable books, most of them classics well beyond their copyright protection expiration dates. The site Free Classic Books offers just that, in an alphabetized list from Alcott, Louisa M., to Wodehouse, P.G.

Google Books also brags that it has more than 10 million books available to download for free, including textbooks and government documents as well as literary classics.

E-books may omit some of the traditional costs of publishing, but it imposes other costs. Added technology costs involve formatting the e-book so that various electronic devices and browsers can properly download and store the book.

Whether it's printed or downloaded, a percentage of the e-book price must be paid to online sellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This can be anywhere from 30% to 50% of the sale price.

Smaller publishers and independent authors have more leeway with pricing, but they still have many of the same costs. They must give a percentage of their e-book sales to the online distributor, and unless they are graphic designers, they must hire an illustrator to create their cover art.

Most independent authors have to hire someone to convert their books into e-book format. Plus, they still have the marketing and promotional costs that are required to get their books noticed. However, e-books are overall lower in cost to produce, and that is typically reflected in their lower price than print editions.

With the overview of the industry behind us, let's talk about the finances of owning books. There's a handful of personal finance considerations to make about which to buy.

Purchasing an e-reader may involve a higher initial investment than buying a single printed book. However, the economic advantage lies in the long-term savings as e-books may be priced lower than their physical counterparts (as they may cost less to produce). The upfront cost of an e-reader can be considered a one-time expense, and PCMag has several e-reader recommendations that cost less than $100 in 2024.

Subscription services like Kindle Unlimited or Audible offer a cost-effective way to access a vast library of e-books. From an economic standpoint, these services can significantly reduce the per-book cost for avid readers, making it a financially smart move as opposed to buying individual books. However, you will not retain ownership during this subscription period, and you won't keep books like you otherwise would like a print book. Note that this section is not consider subscription costs for print books (like a free library card).

The resale value of physical books adds an economic dimension to owning a print collection. Used bookstores, online platforms, and book swaps provide avenues for recovering some of the initial investment in printed books. E-books, unfortunately, lack a resale market, making them less financially flexible in this regard.

Physical books incur storage costs in terms of space requirements and furniture like bookshelves. The economic advantage of e-books is they eliminate the need for physical storage, meaning readers to amass a vast collection without incurring additional expenses. Just think about how much it may cost to move those physical books if you need to relocate homes.

From an economic perspective, the environmental impact of printed books, including production and disposal costs, contributes to the overall expense. E-books, unfortunately, may not be as sustainable as some may think. Between the fossil fuels and continual need for electricity, e-books stlll contribute to environmental costs in a different way than printed books.

The cost of producing and distributing physical books encompasses expenses related to paper, printing, transportation, and warehousing. E-books sidestep these costs, offering a potentially more economically efficient model for publishers and authors. Though the costs may range and vary based on each book and genre, some unofficial estimates have the total cost to self-publish a book to be several thousands of dollars.

The economic advantage of e-books in terms of accessibility is evident for readers with visual impairments. Digital formats allow for features like adjustable text size and screen-reading technology, enhancing the reading experience for a broader audience. Perhaps it for this reason that 25% of U.S. consumers listen to audiobooks.

Changes in reading habits have implications for e-books and printed book owners. Think of someone who's preference may shift from one genre to another very quickly. If this sounds like you, having greater flexibility with electronic media may make more financial sense.

The long-term cost-effectiveness of buying e-books versus printed books depends on factors such as individual reading habits, the frequency of book purchases, and the availability of discounts. While e-books often have a higher upfront cost with the purchase of an e-reader, the generally lower prices of digital copies may result in greater savings over time, especially for avid readers who buy books regularly.

Printed books often have a resale market, allowing readers to recoup some of the initial investment. In contrast, e-books lack a formal resale market due to licensing restrictions.

The rise of e-books has had a notable impact on local bookstores, with potential economic challenges such as decreased foot traffic and competition from online retailers. However, many independent, small bookstores are partnering with affiliate partners to allow patrons to buy e-books.

E-books offer a potentially cost-effective solution for avid readers. The absence of physical production costs, reduced storage needs, and frequent digital promotions may make a digital library more cost effective. On the other hand, printed books may have resale value, no subscription cost, and greater sentimental appeal to old-fashioned readers. There are many factors to consider when choosing between e-books and printed books from a financial perspective.

Association of American Publishers. "AAP StatShot Annual Report: Publishing Revenues Totaled $28.10 Billion for 2022."

David Derrico. "Cost Breakdowns: E-Books vs. Printed Books."

Association of American Publishers. "AAP StatShot: Trade Book Publisher Revenue Increased by 4.6% in 2018."

Association of American Publishers. "AAP DECEMBER 2019 STATSHOT REPORT: PUBLISHING INDUSTRY UP 1.8% FOR CY2019."

PIWorld. "Pandemic Drives Printed Book Sales in the US to Highest Level in a Decade."

Project Gutenberg. "Welcome to Project Gutenberg."

Google Books. "About Google Books."

Barnes & Noble Press. "Make More Money by Self-Publishing with B&N Press."

PCMag. "The Best Cheap Tablets for 2024."

Kindlepreneur. "How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Book?"

Row House Publishing. "Key Book Publishing Trends to Explore in 2023."

E-Books vs. Print Books: Which Should You Choose?

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