E-books have become increasingly popular in recent years. How can publishers decide whether an e-book or a print book will be more successful?

In recent years, e-books have become a popular form of media. In fact, many books that were originally published in print have since been published electronically and been highly successful, indicating that the format of a book can have a huge impact on how well the book sells. Today, traditional publishers and self-publishers have to ask themselves a question: will a particular book be most appealing to its intended audience as an e-book, a print book, or both? 


In 2013, Yin Zhang and Sonali Kudva examined the growing popularity of e-books in their study “Ebooks vs. Print Books: Readers’ Choices and Preferences across Contexts.” Zhang and Kudva based their research on a Pew Research Center survey that gave 2,986 Americans a particular scenario (e.g., reading to a child or reading while traveling) and then asked whether they would prefer a print book or an e-book.

The survey data showed that readers overwhelmingly preferred print books when reading to a child or sharing a book with another person. In other situations, however, such as traveling or accessing a book quickly, most readers preferred e-books. Survey participants also indicated that e-books make accessing a wider selection of books easier. 

When asked about their overall preferences (regardless of the situation), 36% of readers preferred e-books,  24% preferred print books, and 40% had no preference. Among those who preferred e-books were many young people who regularly used the Internet. Zhang and Kudva concluded, “At this point, ebooks and print books provide unique functions in different reading situations” (3). Readers might prefer one format in certain contexts; however, neither format has completely supplanted the other.

“Ebooks and print books provide unique functions in different reading situations.”

—Yin Zhang and Sonali Kudva (2013)

It is important to note that this study about reading habits is now nearly ten years old. In the last decade, the statistics have certainly changed. E-books have become more accessible because readers no longer need to have dedicated e-readers to read digital books. Audiobooks have also risen in popularity.


Zhang and Kudva’s study indicates that the situation in which someone is reading a book can influence whether the reader prefers a print book or an e-book. Thus, publishers should consider the contexts in which their books are likely to be read. Publishers of children’s books may want to print books, while publishers releasing a highly anticipated best seller may want to release the e-book first so that readers can access it quickly. Because young Internet users are more likely to read e-books, young-adult fiction and middle-grade novels may experience greater success as e-books. The e-book industry is still changing, and publishers would do well to monitor its trajectory as they decide which formats to use for their books.

To learn more about readers’ preferences for e-books vs. print books, read the full article:

Zhang, Yin, and Sonali Kudva. 2013. “Ebooks vs. Print Books: Readers’ Choices and Preferences across Contexts.” Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 50 (1): 1–4. https://doi.org/10.1002/meet.14505001106

—Avery Andros, Editing Research


Find more research

Check out Weijing Yuan, Marlene Van Ballegooie, and Jennifer L. Robertson’s (2018) article for an analysis of print books vs. e-books in academic settings: “Ebooks Versus Print Books: Format Preferences in an Academic Library.” In Collection Management, 43 (1): 28–48. https://doi.org/10.1080/01462679.2017.1365264.

Read the Pew Research Center’s (2012) full survey and subsequent study to learn more about readers’ habits and preferences: “The Rise of E-reading.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2012/04/04/the-rise-of-e-reading-5/.

Take a look at Fan Li, Shengli Li, and Jiarong Gu’s (2019) article to learn about the importance of timing when it comes to publishing e-books vs. print books: “Whether to Delay the Release of eBooks or Not? An Analysis of Optimal Publishing Strategies for Book Publishers.” In Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research, 14 (2): 124–137. https://doi.org/10.4067/S0718-18762019000200110.