Why Print Books Still Matter in Self Publishing

I am in bed with my iPad, realizing my relationship has soured with the book I intended to spend the day with. This book suddenly feels like work. In fairness, that’s partially because it’s a book about work. But, I realize, it’s also because it’s on my device. A device I could work on and one I take on work trips when I can’t fit print books into a carryon. With so many books on this device, they feel like pressing obligations to finish something. Worse, this book tells me I’m only 52% finished–already I’m behind on one book in the digital library that’s becoming a to-do list. If I want to finish today, I’m going to have to work harder at it. I begin deleting books.

I start to muse: What makes the experience of reading a print book, so inherently different, and occasionally, better?

Is it the fact it’s actually not as easy to bring with me all the places I might want to take it? Is there a luxury in its impracticality? Or does the generally higher price point of print books make for a selectivity that weeds out clutter? A print book is a commitment. It will occupy physical space in my living environment, and possibly accompany me if I move.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love books, in any form. When I am an old woman, I will do nothing but read them, and, I hope, write them. The convenience of being able to store a library in my purse has kept my spirits alive on numerous airport layovers. And as a writer, I believe the ability of any independent author to distribute their book worldwide today is nothing short of revolutionary. As the marketing manager for Pressbooks.com, sharing the gospel of self publishing ebooks is, after all, what I do.

But there’s still something about an old-school, tangible book, something I feel every indie author should also tap into. Something they shouldn’t neglect as they self publish.

A physical book can be found. I don’t know what I want to read today, just that I don’t have it. This problem feels like one that can only be solved by a bookstore (preferably a used one) or a library or library bookstore, or even a coffee shop in which I can stumble across a mishmash of accidental inventory and feel it’s fate when I discover that book or author that has been waiting to meet my need. I can touch the book, wonder how it came to land there and if it’s meant for my eyes. I can flip through it, judge its relative value and potentially discover similar books in a tangible way. In ebookstores, I’m not so picky. I can buy anything, instantly, and the convenience can lead to regret. Yes, ebookstores are searchable by nature, and with a near infinite inventory. No doubt they house more books I would enjoy than my local physical bookstore or library ever could. But sometimes shopping is about knowing what you want when you stumble upon it. Ebookstores can be like Netflix. If you don’t know what the content you’re searching for is called, or if that content isn’t tagged, categorized and optimized for search, you may never find it. Browsing a bookstore is an enjoyable pastime, regardless of whether I’m successful. Searching for books online is outcome-oriented.

I can take a physical book anywhere. Like into the bathtub. Or to the beach. I confess, I own one of those supposedly waterproof plastic covers for my ipad, but with limited battery time in the roasting sun, devices outdoors still have their limitations. A print book doesn’t have these problems. Print books don’t lose their charge on a five-hour flight or have to be stowed for takeoff when you’re midway through. Print books give readers added choice on where to engage with them.

A physical book can be recycled, shared and read repeatedly. I like to give away, sell or trade my physical books when I’m done. This way, I feel l’ve done the book some justice by enabling another reader to benefit from it. My mother-in-law and I are fans of the same writers, so each book we buy becomes both a gift to ourselves and, after we read it, a gift to each other. We might even share it with a third friend or trade it in or donate it after we’re done. Printed books have a slight leg up in shareability. Sure, you can share ebooks, but the karmic chain isn’t as long. You can only loan a book you’ve bought on Kindle once, for instance, and only for 14 days.

Reading books on my device feels like work. Reading a printed book is an escape. Reading a book on my device feels like work. There are so many other things I could be doing with that same multitasking device if I’m going to stare at it for hours. Like checking the news, or Facebook, or responding to that email I was hoping to ignore for one more day. Why would I use my time for leisure when so many pressing tasks are conveniently at my fingertips? Too many distractions. Come to think of it, I read different types of books in different modes: digitally, I download books mainly about business. In print, I read for pleasure.

For authors, print books make great takeaways. Yes, you can autograph your book digitally. But you can’t give it away to potential readers or clients as effectively. You can hand out cards promoting the book, but you’ve left a step in the transaction. Will the person follow through and seek out your book online later? Print books can become promotional collateral with a high perceived value. And they increase the ease with which your intended audience can engage with them.

Of course, I’m not advocating you skip ebooks when you self publish. Wherever you publish, ebooks are the best format through which to make your book accessible to a worldwide audience, and you should start with them.

But don’t stop there. Don’t neglect print. (If you’re using Pressbooks.com, there’s no extra labor involved to produce a print-formatted file–it’s instant. And nowadays you can print as few copies as you want with print-on-demand.) Your core audience may just want to read your book on a plane, in the woods or in the bathtub. Which is where I’m taking the physical book I ultimately bought now.

Happy reading. Let us know of your latest books. I hope to read them in print.

Elizabeth Mays is the marketing manager for Pressbooks.com and a self-published author.

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