“Ebooks are the hip and stylish younger sister of the nerdy white paper.” So says David Meerman Scott, speaker, author, and content marketing coach.

As a modern marketer for a financial advisor or asset manager, which type of popular content – white paper or eBook – should you produce to maximize prospective engagement and lead generation?

To help increase impact for your inbound marketing program, here’s a brief breakdown of white papers vs. eBooks.


White papers in the financial services realm may be the preferred moniker for serious thought pieces, at least for those who have a primarily institutional audience of broker dealers, banks, pension funds, investment managers, family offices, or ultra high net worth investors.

Ebooks might be the appropriate name for guides that have a more retail audience –  such as the mass affluent, mutual fund holders, and retirement plan investors.


White papers tend to be a “long, linear, deep read,” said Ann Handley, author, content marketing specialist, and Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs. White papers can be anywhere from 8 to 80 pages long, and are generally meant to provide in-depth coverage on one subject.

Ebooks, on the other hand, are typically shorter than white papers, with shorter paragraphs, and more call outs. “Ebooks are designed for skimming and scanning,” Ms. Handley said. “They can also be used as a collection of information for the reader, like expert tips, quotes, facts, and myths, so they can learn valuable insights on a topic, all in one, easy-to-read spot.”

Tone and Visuals

White papers “tend to be formal, text-heavy and expert concept-centric – based on ideas and trends of interest,” said Ms. Handley. They are often data centric and based on formal research. White papers may be great for presenting research, results, and statistics. To detractors, though, white papers can be just plain visually boring. And the color scheme? It’s often black and white, or perhaps two colors maximum.

Ebooks aren’t nearly as formal or scholarly, and tend to have more fancy graphics and Crayolas of colors. The tone of eBooks is generally “casual and collegial, a conversation among equals,” said Ms. Handley.


White papers may have too much jargon. “Most white papers use too much gobbledygook,” said Mr. Scott, “the flexible, scalable, cutting-edge, mission-critical, world-class, innovative sort of words.” If this is your white paper style, well, stop it.

Ebooks by contrast, may have a more jaunty, colloquial, easier-to-read style.


White papers are often thought of by its intended audience as an authoritative report that addresses and helps solve issues. White papers, if done right, may provide deeper insights and a more comprehensive explanation than an eBook.

Ebooks may be perceived to have less authority simply because of style, format, and tone.


White papers are typically more static and less interactive than eBooks, meaning they have few or no links from the paper to the creators’ website, blog, or original source material.

Ebooks, by contrast, may often include links for more information.


White papers are old school – the origin of the term “white paper” dates back to the Churchill White Paper of 1922. That’s so yesterday, Winston. But like a vintage brandy, some things never go out of style.

Ebooks, by contrast, are new school. Just the idea of putting a lower case “e” in front of a word dates eBooks to modernity, or at least as youthful as the late 1990s.


White papers may often come with a registration requirement to get them. For asset managers and financial advisors, this can be a good thing – a prospective investor gives you his or her contact information in exchange for your (hopefully) educational and informative content.

Ebooks, or at least some of them, are not designed to be “gated content” which is a new-fangled way of saying that prospects don’t have to give you contact information to download.

So Should You Create White Papers or Ebooks?

Why not both? The best approach may be to know your audience, their needs and expectations, and design your white papers and/or eBooks that best educate and inform.

Whether you and your personas prefer white papers or eBooks, quality counts. According to P.J O’Rourke, “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”

For our eBook (or is it a white paper?) on how asset managers and investment advisors can make their website a top salesperson, please click below.