Ebooks VS Print: What’s The Difference?

A book is a book, some might say, but no two books have the same design considerations — and that goes for the same book when designed for different mediums! A book that will be laid out in ink and slotted on a shelf will not have the same design considerations as one stored on the Cloud. A lot of authors eager to self-publish are startled when they realize that they have to essentially create not one, but two separate books!

So what distinguishes these two written mediums, and how should this effect your design approach for each?

Firstly, we have ebooks. Ebooks are defined firstly and foremostly by their flexibility.

Ebooks are read on digital devices, which means they must be able to conform to the specifications of that device. While a print book is fixed to a single page size, an ebook could be viewed on a phone, a tablet, a laptop… basically, anything with a functioning screen. As such, minimalist approach to ebook layouts is preferred. You can’t predict how your reader’s device is going to be sized and shaped.

Flexibility is also important because many platforms let readers customize their reading experience. Some readers will do this for aesthetic reasons, but many do it for accessibility, so its vital that the formatting doesn’t break if the readers changes the font, fontsize, or leading.

If you have a little coding experience, and a grasp of the platform your ebook will be hosted on, you might be able to get creative with the presentation. Create colored text, centered images with the text wrapped around them, or heck, you could even take advantage of the clickable table of contents sectioning to craft a choose-your-own-adventure experience. You don’t need to ask your reader to turn to page 345 when you can drop a link directly to that chapter instead.

When you design for print, you lose that flexibility. The text is arranged within rigid boundaries; firstly, a specific page size, often between 5×8, 5.5×8.5, or 6×9 in for your typical novel. Secondly, one has to account for margins. The outermost margins provides room for the reader to hold the book without obscuring the text with their thumbs, the top and bottom margins provide room for page numbers, chapter names, and other informative details, and the inner margin ensures that none of the text will be set too deeply in the crack between pages to be read.

This sounds restrictive, but it has its benefits. Unlike an ebook, the inflexible structure of print provides a solid canvas to work on, and this makes it easier to introduce decorative elements to the project if you so choose. You can more readily pour yourself into the book. Floral corners, illustrated pages, galaxy chapter headers, and other aesthetic considerations are easier to implement when you don’t have to figure out how to make them work on every possible screen size.

If you do have illustrations, do ensure that they’re sized and formatted appropriately for print. It’s a good idea to print illustrated layouts before finalizing the book, so that you can make sure there’s no issues with them.

(This goes double for colored illustrations!)

And since the reader can’t change a printed book for ease of eye, it’s a good idea to consider accessibility before finalizing the book as well. Fonts that are too thin and small, text that is too densely-packed together, and light-colored letters against a white page will make reading more difficult for people with visual impairments.

Finally, while the difference between digital and print formats creates an obvious difference between how they are designed, it also creates a difference in how they are priced.

Have you ever noticed that (aside from price-gouging shenanigans aimed directly at libraries and academic institutions) ebooks are typically cheaper to purchase? That’s because all paperbacks come with an inherent print cost — they have to be assembled and inked before they make their way into the reader’s hands.

Meanwhile, an ebook is allowed to just vibe in the digital sphere. Some publishing platforms will charge the author or publishing imprint data-related fees for storing and transferring the ebook, especially if it’s a book with a hefty wordcount and large filesize, but even then it’s typically pennies compared to the dollars spent on physical print. The more page-heavy the print book is, the more it will cost to create. Books with larger page sizes can also cost more.

Both ebooks and print books can be designed directly in Microsoft Word and similar programs, but since these programs’ design aspects are geared more for essays and formal documents, I recommend designing in programs built specifically for creating books. Luckily, I’ve written about some good free options for both ebook and paperback before!

How you design your book is quite up to you. So long as you have a strong vision, a willingness to learn from the other books around you, and patience, you can make something worthy of a place on your shelf.

And that’s my book design advice for today. If you find this helpful, then you can support me as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi or purchasing Shadow Herald, my debut novel! Thank you, and have a lovely day.

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