Ebooks differ significantly from paper books

Often when publishing a manuscript, new authors think of the ebook as simply a digital copy of their paper book. Indeed, the largest producer and seller of ebooks – KindleDP – unintentionally reinforces this thought by offering a simple online conversion of one’s just-published paper book to ebook. In truth, ebooks are a much more complex product than what a quick online conversion suggests.

Arguably, an ebook is as different from a paper book than a TV show is from a radio production. While both the TV and radio show may tell the same story or provide the same information, how they do so is significantly different. So it is with a paper back and an ebook.

Ebooks differ from a paper book in five major ways:
• Page numbers – Ebooks don’t contain page numbers. That’s because the reader can change the ebook’s font and size on their ereader, tablet or mobile device. Because of this, the table of contents is constructed slightly differently than in a paper book, and an index is all but obsolete.
 Interactivity – An ebook page is essentially a website page. It can contain hyperlinks that actually can take readers away to the book, instantly to other parts of the book, to photo albums, and even to videos. Readers also can change the way the screen shows the ebook page.
• Article-like content – As a website page, an ebook lends itself to shorter writing than does a paper book. Bulleted lists often appear repeatedly in a single ebook. The reading of such quick blurbs would be tiresome in a paper book but are easy to digest in digital form. This is not to say that long paragraphs and swaths of text don’t work on an ebook – they do – just that quick, list-oriented writing can work better in ebooks than paper books.
• Not conducive to poetry and tables/charts – The line breaks and word placement in poetry tends to get messy when the reader can alter the book’s font size and when the piece appears on a small screen. The same applies to tables and charts, which usually work best on a page/screen that is at least a few inches wide and high.
• Shorter overall lengths – The price of ebooks are invariably lower than paper books if only because the former don’t require extensive production costs, such a ink, paper and the labor to run and maintain a printing press. This affects the structure of the ebook as many writers, to get more return on their investment, deliberately pen shorter ebooks; sometimes, they’d even be too short to be printed or sold as a paper book! Sales figures suggest that readers are okay with purchasing ebooks with low word counts.

As writing your book – and especially if you plan to release it first as an ebook – you should consider how these differences affect the way you can best present your story or information. You may find yourself creating two at least slightly different versions of the same book!


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.