E-book or white paper: which is better?

“What’s the Difference between an E-book and a White Paper? (And When Should You Use Them?)” is the title of a chapter in Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, E-books, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman.
It’s a great question. Sometimes what one person calls a white paper, another calls an e-book. I agree with the author’s statement that the main differences are in style and tone. A white paper is typically more formal and data-oriented. However, some people might call the exact same piece a white paper, while others call it an e-book.

The kind of e-book that Handley and Chapman discuss is, as they say:

  • “Broken into smaller chunks”
  • “Visually heavy main text is supplemented with callouts, bulleted lists”
  • “Casual and collegial; a conversation among equals”

In my opinion, you might lean towards a white paper if you have lots of original data and are addressing an audience that prefers a formal style and has an appetite for detailed analytical support of your statements.

On the other hand, an e-book (at least the kind of e-book created as a marketing tool, as described by the authors) might be better if you want to portray yourself as a friendly person who presents information in a way that’s easy for regular folks to absorb. An e-book will be less technical than a white paper. It may be better  for selling to consumers than businesses.

Personally, I prefer communications that combine the best of white papers and e-books as described above as they help their readers to solve a problem.

Your opinion?

How do you see the difference between white papers and e-books? I imagine that some of you have different opinions. For example, Chris Koch, editorial director at SAP, referred to “an e-Book, an insight-rich short slide deck” in “Don’t Kill the White Paper Just Yet” in Chief Content Officer (August 2014), p. 45.

Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.