White Paper vs. eBook: Examining Content Marketing Strategies

Content marketing is one of the most effective strategies for reaching potential customers and positioning your brand as a thought leader in your industry. Two common long-form mediums are white papers and eBooks. But what are the differences and benefits of each, and how do you know which one is right for your brand? Read on as we discuss each type of content and how to decide between a white paper vs. eBook in your marketing strategy.

What Is an eBook?

The word “eBook” (also spelled “ebook” or “e-book”) is just what its name suggests: a digital “book” that’s published electronically for lead generation, knowledge sharing, and building through leadership. This format is ideal for busy readers to download and read at their convenience.

In the marketing world, eBooks offer an opportunity to showcase thought leadership and capture leads. While you can sell an eBook, most companies will offer eBooks for free as gated content unlocked after visitors enter their contact information on a form for lead generation.

Standard eBook Formats and Design

An eBook is shared online via a digital file, typically through your resource library. The most common file type is a downloadable PDF (which means that you can’t make changes once uploaded, so your team must ensure the file is proofread and edited).

There are no strict rules on how long or short an eBook should be. One of the greatest strengths of eBooks is the amount of space available to provide an in-depth discussion.

When it comes to length, there are a few ways to break this down based on industry examples:

  • Short-form eBooks (up to 15 pages), such as HubSpot’s handbooks, are ideal for a quick introduction to a topic.
  • Medium-form eBooks (up to 50 pages) are the most common length and allow you to dive deep into technical information without overwhelming your reader. Oracle’s eBook on Fusion Cloud Applications is a strong example of balancing graphics with content.
  • Long-form eBooks (50+ pages) are rare but valuable for discussing highly technical topics or summarizing critical findings. Red Hat has a series of eBooks for developers, like this 400+ page guide to Java.

Speaking of graphics, an eBook is a place for your design team to shine. Be sure to include infographics, visually appealing images that fit the theme, and your company’s branding. At the end is a call to action (CTA) that connects the eBook to the company’s products and services, along with contact information. Most marketing teams will use a combination of creative tools to design the layout before converting the content into its final format for upload.

Topics Discussed in eBooks

An eBook aims to explain complex issues in an easy-to-read manner, which is why this format can be found across all industries. Just make sure that your subject matter is relevant to your customer base. Some common topics include:

  • Educating non-technical readers on technical information
  • Showcasing your product in a case study
  • Discussing critical findings from research
  • Providing a checklist or guide on a procedure

What Is a White Paper?

Like an eBook, a white paper is a type of long-form content used to showcase an organization’s authority in its industry. However, a white paper, sometimes called a “technical white paper,” is more formal in tone. This medium is intended to educate a reader with in-depth evidence, not sell a product.

Due to its authoritative style, companies commonly use white papers in the technology, medicine, and science industries. They’re heavy on research and citations, so white papers are also used in academic settings and think tanks. While they are a gated marketing asset, white papers focus on the research and data to sell a product or idea instead of a straightforward sales pitch.

Standard White Paper Formats and Design

White papers are rarely sold for profit and are typically a gated form of content. Most companies provide downloadable files on their resource libraries as PDFs. Due to the high level of professional aptitude most white paper readers possess, a white paper could take months to write, edit, proofread, and format.

There are no set rules on how long a white paper can be. Most white papers are typically around 2,500 words, but the content should dictate length rather than a page requirement. For example, a brief on a technical topic, like this one on Platform Security by Apple, will be shorter than an in-depth research discussion like McKinsey’s study on developer velocity.

Regardless of their length, there are a few key traits of a white paper:

  • Clear section titles, headings, and subheadings with a table of contents
  • An introduction or abstract summarizing the discussion
  • Authoritative and educational tone
  • Analysis supported by a list of citations
  • Written by subject matter experts with years of experience

Topics Discussed in White Papers

A white paper’s focus is on the research and analysis. Some examples of topics include:

  • A problem and its solution
  • Research findings and analysis
  • Discussion of technology and its applications

What Are the Differences Between a White Paper vs. eBook?

Technical Aptitude

While an eBook often explains complex issues in simple terms, white papers typically assume the reader has some existing knowledge of the subject matter. An eBook would be better suited for a non-technical reader, whereas the audience of a white paper tends to be practitioners.


Both eBooks and white papers utilize graphics, but a white paper will have fewer stock images to break up text and more charts and graphics illustrating a point. An eBook offers the opportunity to include graphics and add creative visual touches.

Research and Analysis

An eBook can introduce a topic, while white papers should dive deeper and provide analysis. However, research is critical to supporting the analysis and conclusions presented in both, and a complete list of citations from respected sources is needed.

What Are the Similarities of eBooks and White Papers?

Long-Form Content

As long-form and persuasive content, eBooks and white papers allow your writers, designers, and subject matter experts to showcase their expertise. Their detailed narratives establish your organization as a thought leader and trusted source.

Gated Content for Lead Generation

Because they’re gated content, eBooks and white papers are excellent for lead generation. If the reader is a new visitor, sales can reasonably assume this new contact is exploring products. If this visitor is an existing customer, it may indicate an opportunity for upselling or cross-selling.

Repurpose Your Strategy in Multiple Channels

If your company has other types of content in your resource library, you already have a head start on subjects for white papers and eBooks. Long-form content also provides opportunities to repurpose your content, diversifying the ways readers will digest your thought leadership.

From taking sections of your eBook and translating them into a blog series or creating a webinar from a white paper, eBooks and white papers offer unique ways to get the most out of your company’s marketing assets. Their digital format also allows hyperlinking to other pieces in your resource library.

How to Decide Whether to Write a White Paper vs. eBook

Choosing between a white paper vs. eBook isn’t easy. Common decision-making factors include your content goals, how in-depth you want to explore a topic, your audience, and the graphics you’d like to include.

If you’re unsure where to start, consider outsourcing your content writing to trusted experts who have experience in both eBooks and white papers. With a team of professional content creators on your side, we can take the heavy lifting of translating technical ideas into captivating marketing copy to drive leads to your business. Contact ContentWriters today.

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