Digital v. Print

If you Google “digital books versus print books” you’ll find plenty of posts about the joys of holding a book in one’s hands (no disagreement here); the effect of each on the brain, for example, retention is a bit better with print; comments about the inherent eye strain of digital reading; and also about the ease of sharing a print book.


From a sales point of view, digital books are readily available to readers around the world, with no shipping costs. But, authors who anticipate any speaking engagements, readings, or events also want physical copies on hand for sale. And, the good news for authors there, is that print-on-demand is readily available and means you can affordably print a few books at a time, as needed.

Whether you self-publish or go with a traditional publisher, you will likely have both versions. Some people do only digital, but it’s less common for anyone to do only a print book. There are exceptions such as art, architecture, fashion, or nature books that rely on glossy colour photos. Even some family history authors opt for print version only.


If you plan to self-publish, the two options—print and digital—require different formatting (preparing the files for printing) and you, or your book designer, will make decisions on size (6″x9″ is the most popular nonfiction paperback in North America); paper colour (white or cream); ink colour; and typeface for body copy and headings. You may also decide to add some design flourishes with a larger font for the first letter at the start of each chapter.

As a reader, you may not even notice the design elements in the books you read. If poor choices are made, such as a hard-to-read font—you will notice! Good design aids comprehension and can often go unnoticed.

Digital books do not have page numbers, nor a back cover, nor a spine. Print books have all of these.


Digital books are read on all different sizes of screens, so your reading device lets you know where you are in the book, but the pages don’t have a number, as a print book does. This is why endnotes (at the end of a book) are easier to format than footnotes (at the bottom of the page) in digital books. What a digital book has that readers love is a hyperlinked Table of Contents.


I mention the back cover and spine as, along with the front cover, these are art files, and for print, they need to be a higher resolution than digital. This is true also for any illustrations or photos in the book. Even in digital printing, charts and graphs need to be inserted in the document as art files, but high resolution is not required.

Another quirk of print books is that the number of pages in the book must be divisible by four. If not, the printer will add blank pages—usually to the back of the book—to make it so. This is because pages are printed on sheets of paper four times the page size and then folded before binding. Even though page numbering often starts at Chapter 1, your page count includes front matter and back matter pages, too.

Formatting a print book is more challenging than a digital book, so you may need professional assistance from a book designer, for instance. If you prefer to DIY, know that Amazon offers tutorials on print and digital formatting.

My new book, The HOW TO WRITE A BOOK Book, It’s Not about the Writing, available now on Amazon.

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