Paper vs. Pixels: Which Form of Published Work is Better for a Writer?

In some ways, I consider myself an old soul. One of the ways this manifests itself is my love for books. Books made of paper that is. Having been an avid reader from a very young age I find almost nothing compares to the experience of turning the pages of a good novel as its story fills my mind. But I am not everyone and the conception of the e-book, and other forms of digital print, have called the value of traditional ink-on-paper into question.

From a standpoint of public relations, being in tune with the public and its collective preferences is vital to success. You have to understand not only WHAT the public wants but HOW they want it. Do most readers still prefer a familiar, well-worn book page they can turn with their fingers? Or does this generation demand easy, digital access and the ability to store hundreds of novels on a single device they can fit in a purse or coat pocket? As a burgeoning writer, you must consider the preference of the public, not what format you yourself prefer. That is why PR knowledge is essential.

In this post, I will examine each side of the print vs. pixel argument from a public relations point of view and try to clarify what you, as a prospective writer, should pay attention to when beginning to publish your work.

The Argument for Print

Printed word is where it all started. If was the first form of mass media, in the printing press invented in 1440. Since then print has been a staple of media and culture, be that novels, magazines, the newspaper, or even the textbooks that university and college students haul around.

Some had begun to write printed work off as obsolete when the first e-book came along in the early 2000s and for awhile it truly seemed as if the rise of this new electronic medium was going to doom the physical print form of books.

But that was not the end of it.

In 2015, for the first time since coming onto the market, the sales of e-books began to decline. It seems that after a few years of the new novelty technology, the interest has decreased and people have either abandoned the e-book or began to use devices and paper equally.

Part of this return to paper may be founded in science. Studies have shown that people reading from kindles are less likely to retain the formation than when reading a paperback. This could mean the difference between your book being remembered and recommended or forgotten upon finishing. As well Harvard Medical School released a study that shows reading a light-emitting e-book before you go to bed disrupts your sleep, your alertness the following morning, and can even have an impact on your overall health.

Finally, (and this is the most important part for a writer to consider) printed book sales are much better for the writers. The Author’s Guild has given evidence that publishers give writers a much lower percentage of the royalties for e-books. As you can imagine that would only make it harder for a burgeoning author to earn a living and to produce more work.

So, a strong argument for print is still to be had but we still need to examine the other side of this coin.

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The Argument for Pixel

Much of the arguments made for the e-book model panders to a reader’s perspective, not necessarily a writer’s. But since readers are a writer’s prospective audience, to discount what they prefer and will more likely purchase is foolish at best.

Numerous advantages abound for readers when you look at the e-book way of publishing. E-books are generally much cheaper than their printed counterparts and as well, social media channels and the internet make searching for and buying them an exercise in ease of effort.

As well there is the convenience factor too. One e-book device can store hundreds to thousands of novels, magazine articles, and textbooks. Much easier to carry around than unwieldy printed books. So, despite the recent slow in e-book sales, they can hardly be discounted as a competitor to print when it comes to books. As for news, media, and even magazines, the trend seems to follow that the digital medium will certainly relegate print to more of a niche market.

One final point that should be made is the environmental one. In the modern day one cannot discount the environmental movement. From a public relations standpoint, it certainly looks better to able to say your works have not contributed to the killing of numerous trees to manufacture the paper the words would otherwise be written on. This is especially important to note as younger generations, weaned on environmental awareness in school and by the media, mature and become your potential readers.

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The Verdict

To me printed publications seems like the smarter choice for a writer to invest their work in, however I will hasten to add that is in this moment in time. Printed books still offer a sense of reliability and culture that e-books have yet failed to replicate. As well, with so many devices becoming prominent in everyday life, many who enjoy reading may view a traditional book as a welcome respite from the digital world.

If you spend all day staring at the screens of phones, laptops, video games, and television do you really want to read off one too?

However, e-books and their like have changed the playing field significantly and brought competition to a market where previously none had truly existed. It seems that printed newspapers, magazines, and textbooks will continue to be eschewed for the convenience of tablets but for books that tell stories, be they fiction or non-fiction, there is a still a strong want for the traditional.

But as any public relations person will tell you, never fall out of touch with the market and its trends.

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