Printed-Paper Books versus Ebooks
Costs & Benefits

Comments by
Robert Wilfred Franson
September 2018


If you already know all about book formats, this way to the egress. The gatekeeper will punch your ticket, but take a deep breath before stepping through.


Physical costs

Print-on-demand books (such as those created via Kindle Direct Publishing and sold online by Amazon) cannot benefit from the traditional-print practice of printing heaps of books in one press run and then warehousing them until sold. These print-on-demand books generally are printed one at a time.

The cost of storing a digital master copy of an ebook indefinitely, and electronically delivering a copy upon purchase, is not quite zero but is very small.

The major cost for ebooks and print books lies in maintaining the platform. Kindle's breadth and reach is enabled by the already vast amount of hardware, software, and personnel deployed by Amazon. Even so, the actual publishing process (instructions, upload, review, feedback, categorization, and so on) provided by any platform requires specific support.

Staying in print

Traditional-print books may stay in print for years, or may be pulped after the first flush of buyers' or publisher's enthusiasm fades. A substantial percentage of copies of a given, perhaps as much as half even of "bestsellers", wind up destroyed rather than sold.

Print-on-demand books as well as ebooks may remain "in print" indefinitely, as long as there is a selling and delivery platform for them.

What length means

Print-on-demand books have a precise number of pages, exactly as traditional-print books. How pages are numbered varies depending on whether the creator includes front matter such as copyright, contents, and other overhead or prefatory pages, and back matter such as an index. In the case of Sphinx Daybreak, I chose to begin numbering with the main text beginning at Part I, not including the excerpt from Shelley's poem and the several overhead pages. So this novel's page numbering runs from 1 through 604.

A particular ebook generally varies greatly in pages displayed depending on the size of the reader's current screen, from phone up through desktop computer. An ebook online platform such as Amazon provides an ebook's length in equivalent printed-paper pages with each ebook's description. This may not match the page numbering of the physical book (if any), and likely won't match at all the number of screens that the reader goes through in the course of the book. It does give you a good idea of the size of the book.

Pros & cons for the reader

Possession. A printed-paper book is a physical copy which the reader possesses inalienably. An ebook is purchased as a license to possess.

Planning. A printed-paper book requires at least minimal planning to read: the reader must have it physically at hand or accessible. An ebook can be downloaded when convenient for reading at pleasure.

Loss. A printed-paper book is subject to physical loss such a fire or theft. An ebook can be downloaded again for free to a new device if one's device fails or is lost or stolen. Unless a printed-paper book is rare, its replacement cost probably is much less than for a reading device. Printed-paper books are subject to wear-and-tear; ebooks are subject to various electronic disasters both at the reader's device and at the source. Which format will prove better for long-term survivability, only time will tell.

Shelving. Printed-paper books can fill many bookcases. (My home as I grew up, and still true.) Ebooks may not overrun one's device storage, but switching devices will require re-downloading (not re-purchasing) anything currently desired on that device. This can be laborious. (My situation.)

Travel. A printed-paper book has weight and mass but may be read even where electronic device use is prohibited, given light to read by. Ebooks have neither weight nor mass beyond that of the reading device which provides its own light.

Privacy; or Ostentation. Whether shelved in one's bookcases or read in one's hand, printed-paper books are far more visible to passers-by than ebooks on one's device.

Gifts. Depending on the selling and delivery platform, both printed-paper books and ebooks may be ordered as gifts and delivered directly to recipients.

Having it both ways

Searching. Ebook applications such as Kindle allow full-text searching. Even if a book has a good index, this may be invaluable. For some of my important references, this was sufficient reason to buy ebook editions when I already owned hardcover editions.

Well, now you know. There is no quiz.

© 2018 Robert Wilfred Franson

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