Niche Non-Fiction: Ebook or Paperback?

Nobody is going to get rich writing niche non-fiction books on local history or other similar narrow niche topics. But if you can get a some sales it will give you a great feeling. You will have provided a useful resource to the community.

If you are lucky, writing a niche non-fiction book might allow you to buy a few beers. But you most certainly should not give up the day job!  So if you want to maximise the number of beers what should you publish? An ebook? A paperback? Or both?


I have found that ebook non-fiction is more difficult to sell than paperback. The last non-fiction paperback title I published (for a friend – a book on how to collate and format your ancestral records! – Here On Amazon) we did not even bother to publish an ebook version.

Although the royalties would potentially be higher per ebook I suspected that from previous experiences an ebook version would sell substantially less well than a paperback.

In this case an ebook would also (due to the narrowness of the niche) simply cannibalise the sales of the paperback. The potential gain from a lot more work was simply not worth it.

Self-publishing a paperback is as easy as publishing an ebook these days. So there seemed simply no point in producing an ebook version.

There is another fact that means you should prioritize paperback production over ebook production. UK local libraries love free gifts of non-fiction paperbacks. Especially on local subjects. I know of none who accept ebooks.

Most folk who spend long hours building a non-fiction book do it for the love of the subject rather than the money. For them getting their book into the local library may be just as important as selling to the public.

So, you have a narrow niche. You have a manuscript. What can you expect?

The first thing to realise is that while you may love the subject, most people who share your interest do not share your avid delight. So do not price it as if it were the crown jewels.

A cheap paperback servicing a niche market will always sell better than an expensive one. That is simply because you will draw in those who are interested but not fanatical.

The majority of your sales will be to those on the periphery of your subject, who are looking for a route into the subject. The zealots who (may) pay more – are few.

There is one cost associated with paperbacks that you don’t have with ebooks. You have to have an ISBN number. Buy a single ISBN is quite expensive (See this POST) but you can get a free one from Amazon – as long as you solely publish through their platform.

If you want to avoid locking yourself into Amazon you can buy a batch of ten ISBNs. Then the price is substantially less. While these ISBNs never expire it does mean you have to commit to publishing another nine books to maximise the saving. In which case you can (like me!) set yourself up as a publisher for family and friends!

You can find out more about buying ISBN numbers On this LINK.

I’ll be looking more into niche non-fiction in the next couple of posts with some graphs of sales in both the UK and USA for a niche non-fiction book.

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