How to Determine Which Book Formats to Offer for Sale


There are three book formats: print books (paperback and hardcover), eBooks and audiobooks.

Print Books

According to industry reports, in 2018 print books totaled 31% of online book units sold. While print books sold fewer units than eBooks, print books generated significantly more revenue than eBook sales. Nonfiction books accounted for the majority of print book units sold online.

For decades, independently published print books were printed exclusively using offset printing techniques. Print-on-demand technology has changed the book publishing industry – in most cases it eliminates much of the financial risk involved in publishing your book. 

Today, as an independent publisher you have the option of having your books printed in bulk (large quantity orders), and then distributing them yourself directly to the customer or through a bulk distributor - or - via a print-on-demand (POD) distributor (such as IngramSpark or BookBaby) or print-on-demand retailer (such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble). Digital printing technology allows print-on-demand to fill an order for as few as one book at a time, and to print it quickly.

Advantages of print-on-demand for you as a publisher: It eliminates the need to keep books in inventory (stocked in your garage or spare bedroom) that may never sell, it allows books that don’t have substantial sales to stay in print, and it vastly reduces the initial upfront investment of having your book published. The disadvantage is that print-on-demand books cost more per unit to produce than books that are printed in bulk, reducing your net profit.

eBooks

In 2018 eBooks accounted for 63% of online book units sold. Industry reports also noted the top-ranking nonfiction eBook sales categories in 2018 were business and money (#5), and health and fitness (#9). Some nonfiction books may not sell well as eBooks, such as those that include writing exercises. Consider your audience, your content, and the genre expectations when deciding if you will release your book in digital format. eBooks can be the least expensive book format to produce.

Audiobooks

In 2018 audiobooks totaled 6% of online book units sold. Sales of audiobooks are on the rise. However, they continue to make up only a small percentage of overall units of books sold and revenue generated. According to Audiobook Creation Exchange, the following types of nonfiction books do not work well as audiobooks: reference books, travel guides, cookbooks, fitness guides, design books, and any book that relies heavily on visual elements (such as charts, illustrations, etc.) or that include extensive step-by-step instructions that require the listener to follow to complete a task or assignment.

Audiobooks can also be one of the most expensive book formats to produce. On average, a publisher will pay $200 to $500 per “finished hour”, which includes production (recording the narration) and post-production (editing) to produce an audiobook. A “standard” business audiobook (between 50,000 and 60,000 words) utilizing a professional voice actor, costs a publisher $1,000 to more than $3,000. The time investment for an author to record, produce and edit the narration on his or her own (utilizing a home studio setup) is between 20 to 35 hours or more for a “standard” business book.

3 Tips to Help You Determine Which Book Format(s) to Offer for Sale:

1. Define What ROI Means for You. Most authors of business, self-help and how-to books garner financial profits not from book sales, but from revenue-generating offers for services, products and programs related to the content delivered in their books. As an entrepreneurial expert-author, you may consider your book a lead generation tool and a marketing expense - with any money earned in book sales simply an extra benefit. To make an informed choice about which book formats you should invest in producing, you will need to determine the amount of time, finances and other resources you consider a worthwhile expense for the return in branding, positioning, credibility, media or business sales the book will generate.

2. Know Your Reader’s Expectations. All practical or prescriptive nonfiction (which includes business, self-help and how-to books) promises a specific result or experience for the reader. As previously noted, some content is not conducive to certain formats, such as cook books in audiobook format. If a specific format will not produce the author’s promised result, avoid the risk of disappointing readers and don’t release your book in that format - or determine if there is an alternate way you can present the material in that particular format. For example, if you plan to release an eBook but your content requires the reader to complete written exercises provided within the pages of the book, perhaps you could present the same material as embedded links that direct the reader to download the exercises or to complete them in an app or an online interactive document.

3. More Options Equals More Opportunity for Success. People like to consume content in different ways. When you give readers options, you increase your book’s potential for success. Ideally, it’s best to release your book in as many formats as possible. Also, remember, most nonfiction books sold are print books, so always make your expert-book available in print format.