What Format Should I Self-Publish My Book In?

In this article, I’ll be exploring the pros and cons of self-publishing your book across the three main formats…printed books, ebooks, and audiobooks.

Working out which format to self-publish your book in is a common issue faced by all the authors I work with. Printed books vs ebooks vs audiobooks have become a battle in many author’s minds, much like the PC vs Mac or the Holden vs Ford wars that have raged for years. Let’s put this battle to bed once and for all.

Take a Rational Approach

For those that don’t know me, I’ll let you in on my secret to making a living from publishing your work. I simply take a very pragmatic approach that centers around what will make an author the most money.  I believe that self-published authors need to make a profit from their writing. This enables them to be rewarded for their efforts as well as providing funds to develop and market their work. Using the profit approach quickly and easily resolves which formats you should publish your book in.

What formats are there?

There are a wide variety of ways of making your message available to the World…books, videos…podcasts etc. For the purposes of this discussion I’ll focus on the three-book formats being:

  1. Printed books…hardcover or softcover is a topic for future discussion. The printed book format is the format that we’re all familiar with and can be traced back some 2,000 years, however, it’s only been in the last 570 years that it has been produced in a way that becomes affordable for the general public to access. The first book produced using the “modern printing” method was the Gutenberg Bible with 49 copies from the original run still in existence today, making them among the most valuable books in the world today.
  2. eBooks…low cost and easy to carry, it’s understandable why they quickly gained a foothold in the market. It’s also opened up a pandora’s box of issues around copyright theft. There is a wide variety of ways to make a book available in electronic format however most of these are easily pirated which has spawned a burgeoning copyright pirating industry. It’s very much a case of “self-publisher beware”.
  3. Audiobooks…a relevantly recent addition to the stable of formats. It originally started as audiobooks for the blind however the advent of modern mobile phones has made books published in this format very accessible. It’s also the format I personally prefer to consume my “business” books in.

Show me the facts.

The following is based on a general consensus / averaging across a number of country-based publishing associations and is most relevant to textural based books. Leaving children’s picture books, recipe books, and educational textbooks to one side gives us a clearer picture of the formats favored by the majority of books sold in the World, these stats also hold up for books sold in Australia.

The following analysis is based on volumes (not the dollar value) of books sold in 2019 and the growth trends based on 2018 vs 2019

  1. Printed books represented 77% of the volume with a growth rate of 4%
  2. eBooks represented 19% of the volume but declined by 3%
  3. Audiobooks represented 4% of the volume with a growth rate of 25%

the eBook decline has been a steady trend over the past few years as people swing back to printed books as their preferred format.

The audiobook growth rate is impressive however it’s coming off a low base and when you look at the self-published author profit, it has a way to go before it becomes attractive.

Let’s look at author profit

This analysis is where it gets really interesting.

To keep it simple I’ve looked at the potential profit for a self-published author who sells 1,000 books in total across all three formats and I’ve applied an approximation of the typical selling prices and royalties an author would earn from the Amazon’s platform for a 200-page business book.

  1. Printed Book…770 books sold at a royalty rate of $9.00 results in a profit of $6,930
  2. eBook,… 190 books sold at a royalty rate of $3.50 results in a profit of $665
  3. Audiobook…40 books sold at a royalty rate of $4.00 results in a profit of $160

On the surface a rational self-published author wouldn’t pursue the audio format however I think it’s still worthy of consideration, especially if your book is a business book. Anecdotal evidence is showing that many buyers of audio business books will go on to buy the physical book if they find value in the content. It’s also a growing format which one day may take over the eBook volumes.

Key Takeaways for deciding on book formats:

  1. Printed books still reign supreme, they are the most popular and deliver the highest earnings.
  2. eBooks are a worthwhile addition provided they are properly secured.
  3. Audiobooks…watch this space

I know, self-publishing can seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be. In the coming episodes, I’ll be exploring the simple, no BS, and fast approach to becoming a successful author.

Finally, I want to leave you with one piece of advice:

Don’t use your personal book format preference to make a decision on what format to self-publish your book in. You need to get over yourself as the real winners in the writing game will format their books to suit the platform their readers prefer.