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« Why wireless | Main | Emotional reactions to the Kindle »

Can the Kindle pay for itself?

plasticbooks.jpgHere are the last three books I've purchased and their relative costs in paper and as Kindle-readable e-books:

  • Stephen Hunter's The 47th Samurai. Hardcover $17.16; Kindle edition: $9.99 Cost savings: $7.17
  • Laurence Bergreen's Marco Polo. Hardcover $19.11; Kindle edition: $9.99  Cost savings: $9.12
  • Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Paperback $9.60; Kindle edition: $6.39 Cost savings $3.21.

So, let's add this up...  Carry the two, add the five... $19.50 less for the Kindle book versions. Let's tack on another conservative $4.50 for postage for these three purchases. I'll have saved $24 on my three purchases or an average of $8 per book. That means my Kindle should pay for itself after purchasing about 50 books.

A few observations:

  • I could not find 2 of the last five books I bought in Kindle format (Don Norman's The Design of Future Things and The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.) This limits the economic viability of the device. Will availability increase?
  • If I am willing to wait for the book to appear in paperback, the costs of the two products are more similar.
  • I can't re-gift, donate, or display my erudition and fine taste via my physical bookcases.
  • (On the other hand, I could read trash on the Kindle, free from worry that others may think less of me because of my reading tastes.)

It would probably take me at least two years before I broke even economically on the Kindle. A pretty long pay-back time even for a regular book buyer like me. There are "value-added" benefits that should be factored in: lower carbon footprint for the e-book format than the paper book format; convenience of ready access to both my collection and new materials; the search/annotation feature of the e-book.

What if one did the math, however, with textbooks? Say we could buy (or lease for five years) a textbook for a fourth of its $80 cost? The typical five $80 textbooks at a $60 savings would be $300. Hand that 7th grader an e-book reader with all texts, novels, supplementary materials that have been updated, leveled for reading ability, customized for the curriculum, supported by a built-in dictionary/encylopedia/atlas. Cut out the printing costs of worksheets, lessen clerical costs of tracking, inventory physical texts, eliminate school lockers, etc. Do I smell a sea-change?

Maybe a blend of the OLPC or ASUS eee and the Kindle - readability, interactivity, portability, productivity and affordability. Can't we have it all? Tomorrow wouldn't be too soon. 

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Reader Comments (21)

Hi Danny,

I would say the payback time I estimated is staying the same. It looks to me like Amazon is lower its device cost but raising its book costs. I'd like to see some competition in book costs as well as hardware costs soon.

(I deleted your business link so this is not taken as spam.)


August 4, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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