I love books. I have shelves and shelves of books in the basement—not to mention assorted “pretty” books on display in the living room and stacks and stacks of to-be-read books in my office.

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to get rid of them and read everything on Kindle. And then I give myself a good shake. No paper books? That’s just crazy talk!

But I do get the legitimate question from clients whether it’s really necessary to have paper books. If they publish an ebook, isn’t that enough?

In my opinion, an ebook usually is not enough. Let’s look at three reasons why a print book—paperback or hardcover—is still important.

Pricing strategy

If you self-publish, you control your book pricing and whatever sales or discounts you offer. (I’m excluding traditional publishers from this discussion because they, not the author, control the price.)

As a marketing and pricing strategy, giving your potential customers two price points creates a greater likelihood of turning them into actual customers. Some will choose the $2.99 ebook; others, the $8.99 paperback. Especially for relatively unknown authors, a lower price point reduces the purchase risk.

Additionally, the higher price of the paperback can anchor perceptions of the book’s value, and make the ebook seem like a great deal. If I see a book by an unknown-to-me author listed for $10.99 in paperback and for $5.99 in ebook, I think, “Oh the ebook is a deal; it’s only half the price of the paperback.”

If I see only an ebook by an unknown author listed for $5.99, I’m more likely to hesitate. I wonder if it’s only in ebook because it was slapped out there with marginal quality, or if it’s too short for anything else, or if the author didn’t know how to produce a hard copy… and so on.

To me, pricing strategy is the least important reason for a hard copy book. The next two reasons are much more compelling…

Branding strategy

Books hold a special power. If you give someone a nice marketing brochure, it may sit on their desk a few days before they toss it in the recycle bin. But if you give someone a book, even if they never open it, it rarely gets thrown away. It may get donated to a charity or regifted, but it rarely hits the circular file. In short, physical books are a good, sticky marketing tool.

Additionally, the physical feel of your book can affect brand perception. At the AMA-Triangle High Five Conference last month, Ryan Robinson and Beth Cherry gave a fascinating talk about haptics, the study of touch and how it influences our interpretation of information. (I could go on and on about this subject, but instead I’ll point you to a cool little video series from a real expert.)

The presenters described a 2015 study that tested consumer impressions of fictitious companies in three forms of marketing material—high quality paper (e.g., thicker, coated), lower quality paper, and electronic. (The content and design were consistent.)

It may not surprise you that subjects who read information on high quality paper had more positive feelings about the company than they did for companies with lower quality paper or electronic only. However, a week later subjects still preferred the companies whose marketing was on the high quality paper.

If your brand were a person—if your book were a person—what impression would it leave? Does an intangible ebook equal an invisible brand? Not exactly, but physicality, and especially appealing physicality, appears to give your brand greater staying power.

Message retention

In the same haptics talk, the presenters described how media—especially digital versus paper—shapes the way our brains process information. Time and again, studies show that we prefer paper to screens—even “digital natives.” The physicality of paper helps us navigate, map, and retain the content more easily.

Think of your experience reading a paper book. You touch each page as you read. You can see and feel how far you’ve read; the thickness shifts from right to left as you progress. You link an event in the book’s plot with being two-thirds of the way through. You may even remember that something happens on the top of the right-hand page—you can see its location in your head. When you stop reading, you bookmark your place, anchoring it visually and physically.

You do not get the same visual or tactile cues in an ebook. There may be a “percent complete” or “pages read” indicator, but it’s abstract rather than concrete. You cannot see or feel the volume of pages left to be read.

If making your message stick is important, your readers may benefit from a physical book.

But what about ebooks?

Is there a time when just an ebook will suffice? Sure. It always depends on your goal and strategy. I might recommend an ebook-only strategy when:

  • Your book is short – A book that’s under 25k words can sometimes feel like a booklet. From a format and price standpoint, an ebook may be most suitable.
  • You want fast deployment – If you want to write your book and get it out fast, ebooks are great. Paper books involve extra formatting work and lag time.
  • Information changes rapidly – If you’re in an industry that’s constantly changing, you may want the option of updating your book regularly. Ebooks give you a little more agility to do that.

For the vast majority of people I talk to, I recommend both an ebook and a paper book. Do I read ebooks myself? Of course!

But there’s nothing like the feel of a book in my hands to make me smile.

Need help deciding whether you should go with print or ebook—or both? Give me a call and we’ll talk through the advantages each format offers you, your business, and your readers.