I find it hard to believe I am writing an article about the pros and cons of printing paper books. For over a decade we have been hearing about um curso em milagres and debating whether they would ever take off and win an audience. Even a couple of years ago, the jury was still out, but with the advent of the new Kindle and Nook and other e-readers, I can firmly say that I believe e-books are going to remain a major part of the publishing industry for years to come, if not forever.
In the last year, a new trend has started where I’ve actually seen authors produce only e-books. Granted, most of these authors are self-published and publishing their first book. They may not have the money to print paper books, or they simply do not want to risk the costs of printing on paper when producing an e-book is so less expensive. It’s hard to believe that a few decades ago a person would have spent tens of thousands of dollars to self-publish a book. By the beginning of this century, print-on-demand had reduced that cost to just a couple of thousand, or even just in the high hundreds. Now, producing an e-book might cost you only a couple of hundred dollars, or you could even do it yourself and just have the cost of your time to produce it. You can then sell it without ever having to do anything more-no printers, no printing costs, no delivery or mailing costs.
But are e-books really books? I’ve heard various publishing experts talk about how we are now in the information age, and we are no longer selling books but selling information. That’s a good point to make because e-books do not resemble books. Granted, e-readers like Kindle and Nook try to give the perception still that we are holding some sort of book, but it’s a different feeling to hold a plastic electronic device compared to paper that is pleasant and yielding to our touch. I still like the feel of a book better, and I think e-readers still have some bugs to be worked out, but I have to admit that the low price, the convenience of storing multiple books on an e-reader, and the speed of delivery are all preferable over printing paper books.
So is it no longer worthwhile to publish paper books? I know at least one author who has gleefully told me, “No more paper books for me.” But all I can say to that is, “Hold on. The paper book hasn’t died yet.” Maybe in ten years it will be dead, maybe sooner, but it isn’t dead right now. I think authors should continue to print paper books in reasonable quantities. I would recommend smaller print-runs-perhaps only 1,000, or 500, or even 100 books-just what you think you might be able to sell in a year or two and not beyond that, and then reassess whether you want to continue printing on paper. You need to be very realistic and savvy about how many paper books you can sell so you don’t end up with a basement full of paper while your e-book sales continue to climb, but a need for paper books still exists.
Here are some reasons why paper books are still a good idea. First, they are relevant to an author’s marketing strategy. If you plan to connect with readers only online, perhaps you don’t need this advice, but to produce only e-books is to alienate a good percentage of your audience.
Many readers like to connect with the author whose books they read. If that were not true, we wouldn’t have book signings and poetry readings and all manner of author events. Yes, perhaps a reader can connect with the author by sending him a Facebook message, and in some senses, the Internet has made author-fan connections much easier. But meeting someone online can never compare to meeting someone in person.