Will a Kindle save you money?

Will a Kindle save you money?

It depends…maybe yes, maybe no.  🙂

Here’s the thing: it saves me money, but it depends very much on your book-buying habits before…and after.

I also want to give you some additional factors you might not have considered.

This is not going to be definitive, because there are so many variables. 

I hope to give you a few pointers, though, so you can assess your own situation.

Buying the Kindle

That’s the gate money, and that’s the scary part to a lot of people.  If you are going to buy a new Kindle from Amazon, these are your choices:

Kindle (Free 3G + Wi-Fi, 6″) (AKA Kindle 3) $189
Kindle (Wi-Fi, 6″ ) (AKA Kindle 3) $139
Kindle DX (Free 3G, 9.7″, Graphite) $379
Kindle DX (Free 3G, 9.7″, White) $359

You can, however, get them cheaper: refurbed from Amazon; used from the Amazon marketplace; used from third party sources; and so on.

You can also reap a lot of the Kindle benefits by using a free Kindle reader app…although you don’t get the E Ink screen.

How long is your Kindle going to last?  That matters a great deal to these calculations.  I honestly don’t think we really know yet.  Since the Kindle 1 wa introduced on November 19, 2007 (not even three years yet), we have had a mass extinction.  Yes, some have died, yes, some people have replaced batteries.  I think we are safe saying your Kindle is going to last at least three years…usually.  On the other hand, I’m on my fourth Kindle since they came out.  I had a K1, went to a K2, had that one lost or stolen, replaced that K2, then got a K3.  One of those went to my Significant Other, though, so it’s like having bought one for another person.

You can also buy accessories…most people buy covers, for example.  You can buy lights, headphones…a lot more.

Book costs

This is likely to be your biggest ongoing cost.  It’s the place where the Kindle saves me money, but it might not save you that much.

The first question: how many books did you buy a year?  Let’s say you spend $189 for your Kindle 3 wi-fi and 3G.  If you only buy one book in a year, you probably aren’t going to save $189 on that one e-book version. 

Let’s split this into two categories: books under copyright, and public domain books.

We’ll talk about books under copyright first.

1. Did you only buy them new?

That’s not true for me, but I bought a lot of them new.  I also bought books at used bookstores, garage sales, library bag sales…I bought a lot of books.  🙂  E-book prices tend to compare pretty well to new paperbook (p-book) prices…especially to hardbacks.  However, if you tended to get your books used, the e-book versions may be more expensive.

2. Did you get your books under copyright for free?

That may be more common than you think.  Did you get books regularly from the library?  Did a family member or friend tend to give you hand-me-downs?  If you got books regularly from the library (only),  that’s going to trump the Kindle…depending on…

3. How rigid are you on which books you read?

This is a really important question.  The more flexible you are on your book choices, the more the Kindle can help you.  If you need the next book in a series from a well-known writer, you’ll probably save something with the Kindle…but not always.  You might find it cheaper at Costco (although you need to take membership costs into account at Costco…unless your work pays for it).  If you are willing to read an author you’ve never heard of before, you’ll do much better with e-books.  There are many Kindle books that are less than three dollars…you aren’t likely to get that in a brick and mortar store for a new book.  21% of the Kindle store books right now are under $3…146,054 of 675,708.  There are also promotional free books…quite a few of them, quite often.  I’ve read freebies I would never have bought…but that did replace one I might have bought otherwise (although I have a lot of TBRs…To Be Reads sitting around in paper).

4. Did you sell your books?

You can’t sell a Kindle store license.  If you regularly took your used books to a used bookstore, or sold them online, that’s  a plus for p-books.  For a new popular hardback, you could perhaps have gotten 25% of the list price.  I never did that, so that doesn’t help me.  Are Kindle books, let’s say ones with hardback bestseller equivalents, 25% under the p-book version?  I’d say that’s not common.

5. Did you read a lot of public domain books?

Public domain books are not under copyright, and that’s commonly because the copyright term has expired.  For example, books first publisher before 1923 in the US are in the public domain in the US.  I did: and I spent some money buying those.  Even thought I bought used paperbacks sometimes, they cost me something.  I get the ones I want to read for free, now.  Talbot Mundy?  Free.  Dostoevsky?  Free.  Edgar Rice Burroughs?  Free (mostly).  The list goes on…

Summing up on books: if you tended to buy new hardbacks and not resell them, the Kindle will likely save you money on books.  If you bought used books, got them from the library, or resold them, p-books could be cheaper.  If you are flexible in your reading, you can get enough free books to definitely make the Kindle cheaper…especially if you like public domain books.

Cost of obtaining the books

This is going to go to the Kindle, almost certainly.  With a Kindle, you have electrical costs, and possibly data service costs.  For most people, it doesn’t up your data service costs…you’d pay for internet connection whether or not you had a Kindle.  The electrical costs are quite small. 

P-books, on the other hand, cost you quite a bit to buy, although you can finesse that.  Let’s say you went to a brick and mortar store to buy them.  You need to figure the mileage on that…not just gas, but wear and tear.  It’s going to vary based on your vehicle (and maybe you took public transit), but the IRS figures fifty cents a mile.  Is your bookstore five miles away?  Add five dollars to your book purchases that day (round trip costs).  You could combine that with other errands, of course.

I’ve taught project management, and I always tell people to figure you are paying yourself for your time.  You make twenty dollars an hour?  Add twenty dollars for a one hour trip (including travel) to the bookstore.  No, I don’t think you’d be working an extra hour at work and getting paid for it if you didn’t go to the bookstore on Saturday, but it’s good to put a value on it. 

You also have less risk buying e-books from the Kindle store.  You can get free sample.  You can “return” a Kindle book within seven days of purchase, right from your couch.  You often have reviews and ratings, and “people who bought this also bought” data.  If you shopped at an independent bookstore, especially, you might have had an employee who knew you and could give you fail-safe recommendations.  But seriously, how many of you have that right now?  If you have it, are they also discounting those p-books like Amazon or Costco do?  This point has to go to the Kindle store.  The further you live from the bookstore, the more this is worth to you.

If you bought on-line, you often had shipping to consider, of course. 

Oh, and here’s one in California (where I live): California does not charge sales tax on e-books delivered electronically…they do on p-books.  Even if Amazon doesn’t collect sales tax on p-books you bought on-line, you are still supposed to pay it on your annual taxes.  But for e-books in my state, no sales tax (unless you buy the on a CD or something).  That save me North of 8%.

Maintenance costs

People think of p-books as not costing you anything after purchase, but that’s only true if you get rid of them.  If you keep them on bookshelves, that’s quite expensive (even after buying the bookshelf, which could cost you what a Kindle does…just for one shelf). 

Here’s how it works:

Let’s say your bookshelf is three feet wide and a foot deep (that’s kind of a big one, but not too big…I have a bunch that size).  That’s three square feet, right? Let’s also say your house is 1400 square feet.  Now, let’s say you pay $1500 a month…in rent, mortgage, and/or property taxes.  Your numbers may be wildly different from this, of course. 

I have a room with 9 bookshelves that size…27 square feet.  I don’t think that’s typical, but I have a lot more bookshelves beside that.  I also have books in boxes, but we’ll be nice and ignore those for now.

If my house was 1400 square feet and I was paying $1500 a month for it (I’m not, by the way), that’s about $1.07 per square foot per month.  That’s $28.89 a month.  Twelve months in a year…that’s $346.68 a year for that one set of bookshelves…a lot more than a Kindle.  My actual expenses are probably much higher than that…I’ve even got books in a storage unit. 

So, that one is an argument to convince your reluctant Significant Other…if you are willing to get rid of your p-books (I haven’t yet, but I may get rid of some of them).  🙂

If you ever move, there are big costs there for boxes and boxes of p-books.  Even if you don’t pay movers…how many of you have taken more trips or rented a larger truck because of the p-books?

Amazon stores your Kindle store books for you for free.  E-books from other sources can be stored very inexpensively as well.

Those are some of the arguments.  I’ve left some others: we don’t know yet how good the new web browser will be…I’d be surprised if very many people could drop paying for a data connection with it, but maybe you can.  You might not have to buy a dictionary.  🙂  If you have a fire/flood/gnawing beasties, you don’t have to pay to replace your Kindle store books.  There are a lot of factors, as I mentioned.

Is a Kindle going to save you money?  Maybe.  For me, the question is: could I afford to be without e-books?  Yes, but it would be a lot more expensive for me.

What do you think?  Have you been able to drop reading glasses with a Kindle?  How big a difference does being able to share the books with other people on your account make?  Does the one device limitation on periodicals make those more expensive?  Have the higher prices on New York Times bestsellers since the Agency Model eroded your savings signficantly?

I know there are other reasons to get a Kindle…including the convenience, the text-to-speech (a big plus for me), the increasable text size, and so on. 

Feel free to let me now what you think…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

8 Responses to “Will a Kindle save you money?”

  1. Vic Says:

    For me, the very basic idea that it saves shelf space is already a great money saver for me already. I live in a very tight space and budget. The fact that I don’t need space for shelves for my books means I have more money saved. Furthermore, now I can continue buying ‘books’ on impulse (just like I used to when I had p-books) without the worry that I will run out of space, I am super duper happy!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Vic!

      Absolutely! We have friends who said they would never help us move again because of the books. 🙂 We have a floor to ceiling library in one room…and books are doubled and tripled on many shelves. I’d much rather have the books displayed nicely on the shelves…but there just isn’t enough house for that…

  2. elaine Says:

    the kindle has saved me more than money- i can READ again- the print was getting so small on the DTBs i was buying and i already wera trifocals- i was not able to read- now i can read and listen to my books- i also was able to get rid of most of my books and have clean bookshelves- some i have even given away

    btw- love your blog

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, elaine!

      Yes, the Kindles are great for easier accessibility. I try to be careful to always point out their value for people whose print challenges do not rise to the legal level of a disability. That’s important, because there are very different legal aspects to the two groups…and market aspects. You, presumably, don’t qualify for free, specialized, accessible editions. A lot of the people who do would also be willing to pay for them for convenience, but I think that’s a market that it is risky to avoid. I would guess that, with our aging Boomer population, that’s becoming more true.

      Thanks for the kind words! 🙂

  3. Barbara Says:

    I agree that the lack of shelf space is a big plus. For me, the most important thing was the convenience. I travel. A lot. I read. A lot. I used to lug a briefcase full of work material and a couple novels on every trip. That gets heavy. I’ve finished books in the middle of a plane trip, or while stuck in an airport or delayed trip of some type. None of that is an issue now. Everything and more is loaded on my Kindle. And even more important — my husband no longer complains about the number of books stacked on every table in the house!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Barbara!

      Oh, I totally understand…and so does my Significant Other. 🙂 I have actually packed a separate (carry-on size) suitcase just for paperbooks and magazines on a trip…no more. We are also less worried about being crushed in an earthquake, or me ending up on Hoarders. 😉

  4. Deanna Says:

    Good points about the economics of Kindling.

    It does save me money. Shelf space, check. Reading more public domain books, check. Trying out new authors and even genres for free or lower-than-paperback coast, check.

    Also, fewer buying mistakes, because I generally spend more time getting to know the book through the sample feature than by the flip-and-thumb routine in the bookstore or reliance on reviews on Amazon for paper books.

    I thought I might be buying fewer audiobooks (I get them at audible.com), since I use the text to speech feature frequently. But it turns out I’m buying more audiobooks this year, not less. (Take that, publishers too paranoid to enable text to speech on their kindle books.) Occasionally the audiobook I buy is the same one that I have on kindle because I also want an author-read or actor-read version of a book that really speaks to me. It surprises me how many times I make that choice, despite berating myself that I don’t really *need* to have both formats, and I don’t have a huge budget for books either.

    Other times, it’s just that I’m buying different books, one appealing to me for some reason as something I want to listen to on my ipod (my blackberry really, is my ipod), then something else appealing to me as something I want to look-read or listen-read on my kindle.

    But what prompted me to comment on your post was your comment about reading glasses!

    I wear bifocals, and in the past few months I’ve been noticing that the font everywhere is growing smaller! A paperbook with less than a generous sized font will make me crabby. Ditto a website, a menu.

    I only realized, or admitted, lately that the problem is my eyes. I need to get new glasses. What kept me in denial for quite a while was that so much more of my reading now happens on the kindle, where I see just fine.

    And I’m considering that since we have only about 4 months left in the year, Kindle will keep me a happy enough reader until January when my health care spending account is replenished and I can get new glasses much less painfully than buying them now.

    I’m going to count that a money savings thanks to Kindle!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Deanna!

      What a nice long informative comment! I’ve been saying that I think text-to-speech increases audiobook sales…glad to have some confirmation.

      I do have reading glasses I got at the dollar store, and probably should get checked for “real glasses”. I see fine most of the time (no problem driving or anything), but some of those laundry labels are impossible! With some of my old paperbooks, it is definitely harder than reading on the Kindle. I wrote something about that a while back, wondering if eye problems may be treated later than they are now due to the ability to increase text sizes…

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