October 23


How To Choose a Book Format: Paperback, Hardcover, E-Book, Audiobook & More

When you go to self-publish a book, there are many formats available to you. Each format has its pros and cons, so it’s worth understanding which ones may be best for you. Ultimately, it may be smart to go with all available book format options to give your audience the most choices. Let’s have a look at what's available…

There are two format categories: Print books, and digital books. Before computers and the internet, books only came in print formats. Today, digital books are also available and have come a long way from their simple beginnings. Let’s first compare the two categories:

Print Books

Having been around since ancient civilisations discovered paper and how to bind it, print books are the most familiar, and thus naturally preferred by many over digital versions. 

Some advantages of print books:

  • Ability to flip to any page in a split second
  • No battery or internet connection required
  • Overall easier on the eyes (other than e-paper)
  • Some people love the texture & smell of the paper

Some disadvantages of print books:

  • They take up physical space
  • They can be heavy or awkward to store
  • Difficult to fit into a pocket or small bags when traveling
  • Get worn down physically over time, sometimes even fall apart
  • Can only take a few with you on holiday
  • Fixed font size, what you see is what you get

Digital Books

Digital books are in comparison quite new, and only in the last two decades since the first e-readers started to flood the market, did digital books really start to take off. The first ever e-reader was released in 1992, called the Sony Data Discman, however, the trend became more popular with its successor, the Sony Librie, which was introduced in 2004 in Japan. Then came the Amazon Kindle in 2007, and the rest was history. Because of our reliance on digital devices, many of us prefer digital books or e-readers over traditional print books.

Some advantages of digital books:

  • Ability to digitally bookmark pages to skip to instantly
  • Can fit hundreds, thousands, or even millions of them on a single device
  • Can read on multiple devices with a single copy
  • The only space they take up is disk storage, and the size of the device
  • If in a small device, can be easy to fit into pockets or small bags when traveling
  • Can take all of your digital books on holiday
  • Flexible font size, can make larger or smaller

Some disadvantages of digital books:

  • Require batteries or electricity for the devices to function
  • May require an internet connection to first download it
  • Have a fixed screen size based on the device it’s read on
  • Can’t quickly flip through pages like in a physical book
  • Lack the texture & smell of real paper (if that’s what you like!)

Let’s break down each of the above two categories into the individual book formats available:

Paperback Books

Paperbacks are print books that have a flexible and relatively lightweight cover, usually made of paper or a thin cardstock. They are also called softcovers due to these characteristics. Paperback books are a popular and accessible format for most readers and are typically used for mass-market editions, fiction novels, as well as non-fiction works.

Some advantages of paperback books:

  • Flexible covers, making them lighter weight than hardbacks
  • More affordable to print & sell than hardbacks
  • More portable & suitable for traveling than hardbacks
  • More accessible as it is used for most genres of books

Some disadvantages of paperback books:

  • The soft cover is more prone to wear and tear
  • In mass-market versions, the paper is lower quality, thinner, and prone to tearing
  • Priced higher than digital books because of printing costs & shipping
  • Distribution can take longer than digital books

Hardback Books

Hardbacks or also known as hardcovers or hardbound books, are a type of book characterized by its durable and rigid cover. This cover is typically made of thick paperboard or cardboard and is wrapped with a protective layer, often made of cloth, leather, or a paper dust jacket. The pages of a hardback book are usually sewn or glued into the spine of the cover, making the book more sturdy and longer-lasting than a paperback. Hardback books are prized for their durability, visual appeal, and the sense of permanence they convey, making them a popular choice for certain genres, special editions, and gift books.

Some advantages of hardback books:

  • Durable cover provides more protection and resistant to wear and tear
  • Many have protective dust jackets, adding a layer of visual appeal and protection
  • Higher quality production leading to a superior reading experience
  • Designed to last for a long time, especially for reference or collector books
  • Perceived as premium versions, often released before or at the same time as the paperback version
  • May have collectible value, especially first editions when well preserved

Some disadvantages of hardback books:

  • Heavy and more awkward to transport or bring on holiday
  • Priced higher & cost more to produce than paperbacks, and much higher than digital versions
  • Distribution can take longer than digital books


The term E-Books or electronic books covers a variety of digital formats, including ePub, Mobi, AZW, iBooks, and PDF. The compatibility with the file formats varies depending on the device being used, so we’ll briefly cover each of the aforementioned formats for more clarity. Many authors choose to convert their book in as many formats as possible for the most compatibility. But first, we’ll look at the pros and cons of e-books overall:

Some advantages of e-books:

  • Appeals to the audience that prefers e-books over print
  • Zero production costs
  • Instantly available for download & reading
  • Highest profit margins compared to printed books
  • Widest distribution channels available
  • Can create unlimited digital bookmarks for easy navigation
  • Ability to store hundreds, thousands, or even millions of e-books on a single device
  • Can read on multiple devices with a single copy
  • Takes up minimal space, relying on disk storage and device size
  • Adjustable font size for personalized reading comfort
  • Portable and easily fits into pockets or small bags, ideal for travel

Some disadvantages of e-books:

  • Limited to reading on device(s) available
  • Requires the device to be charged or have power to read
  • Requires an internet connection to initially download the e-book
  • Inability to flip through pages swiftly, a characteristic of physical books
  • Lacks tactile texture and smell of real paper that some readers value

Let’s explore each of the specific e-book formats in more detail to outline their pros and cons:


EPUB, short for Electronic Publication, is a widely used ebook format introduced in September 2007 by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). EPUB files are designed to be versatile and compatible across various platforms and devices. They were developed to create a standard format for ebooks, allowing publishers to produce digital books that can be read on different reading devices and applications and offers readers the flexibility to adjust text sizes and layouts.

Some advantages of EPUB format:

  • Its open standard makes it widely supported across various devices and platforms
  • Supports responsive design, allowing ebooks to adapt to different screen sizes and orientations
  • Text can be reflowed, enabling customized font size & layout according to preference
  • Supports embedded audio, video, and interactive elements

Some disadvantages of EPUB format:

  • Limited support for fixed layouts, especially for books with images like comics, cookbooks, or children’s books
  • May still require software on certain devices to open and read


MOBI, developed by Mobipocket, is an ebook format that dates back to the early 2000s. It was designed to work specifically with Mobipocket software and devices. MOBI files gained significant popularity due to their compatibility with older Amazon Kindle devices. MOBI format offers a simple structure, making it suitable for early e-readers and basic reading applications.

Some advantages of MOBI format:

  • Supported by older Amazon Kindle devices, and still a valid format for submitting an e-book through print-on-demand platforms such as Kindle Direct Publishing
  • Easy to create because of its simple format

Some disadvantages of MOBI format:

  • Limited compatibility (primarily compatible with Amazon Kindle devices)
  • Limited advanced features when compared to EPUB format, such as complex formatting and multimedia support


AZW, or Amazon Word, is Amazon's proprietary ebook format introduced alongside the first-generation Kindle e-reader in 2007. AZW files are optimized for Amazon's ecosystem, providing a seamless reading experience on Kindle devices and Kindle apps. Amazon developed AZW to enhance control over digital rights management (DRM) and distribution, ensuring secure ebook purchases and preventing unauthorized copying or sharing of content. When the DRM option is checked in KDP, the book will be converted into the AZW format for higher security.

Some advantages of AZW format:

  • It’s exclusive to Amazon’s devices & apps, for maximum Kindle compatibility
  • Supports DRM support, allowing publishers to control distribution & prevent illegal file sharing

Some disadvantages of AZW format:

  • Locked to a single platform, so they cannot be read on non-Kindle devices
  • Must convert to another format to be compatible with other devices


PDF, or Portable Document Format, was created by Adobe Systems and introduced in 1993. While not specifically designed for e-books, PDFs are widely used for digital books, documents, and publications. PDF files preserve the formatting, fonts, and images of a document, ensuring that it appears consistent regardless of the device or software used to view it. Because of its versatility, many self-published authors use the PDF format to sell their book in digital format on their own website or other online platforms.

Some advantages of PDF format:

  • Universally compatible across virtually any device with a PDF reader
  • Maintains a fixed layout, perfect for books with complex formatting, illustrations, or detailed designs

Some disadvantages of PDF format:

  • Not always ideal for small screens as they are not inherently responsive
  • Generally has a larger file size compared to other e-book formats

iBooks (Apple Books)

iBooks is a proprietary ebook format developed by Apple for its iBooks app and ecosystem. The format is optimized for Apple devices such as iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. iBooks format supports interactive features, multimedia elements, and enhanced layouts, offering a visually rich and engaging reading experience. Apple introduced iBooks as part of its initiative to create a seamless reading experience for users of its devices, integrating ebooks with the Apple ecosystem and providing authors with tools to create dynamic digital publications.

Some advantages of iBooks format:

  • Supports interactive elements such as multimedia, quizzes, and animations
  • Seamless integration with Apple devices and services

Some disadvantages of iBooks format:

  • Limited to Apple’s ecosystem, so can only use on Apple devices
  • Creating interactive iBooks can be more complex & time consuming than other formats such as EPUB

To decide which e-book formats to go with generally is determined by which platform(s) that the e-book will be submitted through. Chances are that the e-book will need to be converted into several different file formats to ensure it is able to be submitted through different platforms for maximum distribution.


Audiobooks are books that have been read out loud and recorded by either the author themselves or a professional narrator. The recording can then be listened to rather than using your eyes to read text on paper or a screen.

This format has become increasingly popular over the past few years for many reasons including the rise of podcasts. Some of the key reasons they have become more used is the fact that they can be consumed while driving, commuting, or multitasking (like doing boring household chores). They are also an essential alternative to those with visual impairments who cannot physically read.

Some advantages of audiobooks:

  • Can consume them while multitasking
  • Allows those with visual impairments to ‘read’ books
  • Easily listen to audiobooks on various digital devices
  • Familiar to those who like and are used to listening to podcasts
  • Engages the mind with the layer of the narrator’s energy and any music or sound effects that may enhance the message or story
  • Portable, and can be taken anywhere a digital device can be taken

Some disadvantages of audiobooks:

  • Fixed pacing of voice means the listener cannot control the speed of narration dynamically (other than accelerating all of it), or easily flip back to re-read a passage
  • Some people prefer visual cues to absorb information
  • Some people learn or remember better through their eyes rather than their ears
  • Requires the digital device battery to be charged or have power
  • Requires an internet connection to initially download the audiobook
  • Inability to flip through sections quickly, a characteristic of books with pages & text
  • Typically more expensive than print or digital books, or requires an ongoing subscription to get access
  • The quality of the audiobook (other than the information itself), directly depends on the quality of production and the voice of the narrator

In Summary

As you’ve come to learn, there are many different book formats to choose from. To decide which ones to go with depends on how many people you would like to be accessible to. The more formats available, the more options to those who prefer certain ones, and the more devices and platforms you can distribute through, meaning a higher reach to more people globally. 

Bottom Line

We recommend a minimum of having your book in paperback, hardback, and e-book formats. Then, if you’d like to increase your reach to even more potential audiences & add another income stream, audiobooks are definitely the way to go.


If you have any questions about choosing your self-published book’s format, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us and we’ll be more than happy to assist you in answering your question and guiding you in the right direction.


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