How much cheaper are Kindle books than hardbacks?

How much cheaper are Kindle books than hardbacks?

When Kindles first came out (more than six years ago now), there was talk about how the fact that they were so expensive (initially, just about $400), that it could create a barrier to reading. The logic went something like this: poor people couldn’t afford the device; books might be eventually produced only for the Kindle; so poor people would not be able to read the same books that rich people could.

Of course, that’s largely always been true.

Books used to really be just for the elite. They were rare and valuable items, in many cases. In the 19th Century, England saw the arrival of the “penny dreadfuls”, and the USA later had “dime novels”, but those were both typically genre fiction…not “good books”. You could read a Western, or about the mysterious “Spring-Heeled Jack”, but you weren’t getting Shakespeare and Ovid that way.

While what we now consider to be classics were often serialized (and those available more cheaply), it really wasn’t until the arrival of mass market paperbacks in the 1930s (first in Germany, then the UK, then the USA) that “regular folks” were able to get the same books that the rich people were reading.

That’s simplified, of course, but a lot of it had to do with the rise of literacy among the poorer classes.

No question, a $400 investment in 2007 was a lot.

E-books were typically cheaper than the hardback equivalents…markedly so, in many cases.

Even under the Agency Model, which raised e-book prices, they still tended to be cheaper than the hardback equivalents. Still, owning an e-book reader was perhaps out of the reach of many.

Well, a lot has happened.

For one thing, you don’t need an EBR (E-Book Reader) to read e-books. You do need a computer (or a SmartPhone, or other things).

For another, they are available through public libraries (although not fully at this point).

Key is that the price of EBRs has dropped…and that the Agency Model pricing structure was broken up through the action of the US Department of Justice, again allowing deep discounting of e-book titles by Amazon and others.

Those aren’t just cheaper prices on independently published books (which may also have created a downward price pressure across the board): the bestselling books are much cheaper as e-books than they are as hardbacks.

Here are the current New York Times fiction bestseller hardbacks, along with their prices and the Kindle store prices:

Title Hardback E-book Difference
Cross My Heart $14.50 $7.50 -$7.00
Sycamore Row $14.87 $6.49 -$8.38
Takedown 20 $14.00 $6.49 -$7.51
The First Phone Call From Heaven $12.50 $8.49 -$4.01
King and Maxwell $15.55 $8.99 -$6.56
Doctor Sleep $15.00 $7.99 -$7.01
The Goldfinch $15.41 $7.50 -$7.91
The Longest Ride $13.87 $6.49 -$7.38
The Supreme Macaroni Company $15.59 $8.00 -$7.59
Dust $16.68 $7.49 -$9.19
The Valley of Amazement $17.99 $8.99 -$9.00
Inferno $15.38 $6.49 -$8.89
The All-Girls Filling Station Last Reunion $15.00 $6.49 -$8.51
White Fire $15.55 $6.49 -$9.06
Mirage $17.37 $7.79 -$9.58
And the Mountains Echoed $16.58 $7.50 -$9.08
We are Water $17.61 $8.99 -$8.62
The Luminaries $16.20 $8.59 -$7.61
Winners $14.38 $8.39 -$5.99
Total $294.03 $145.15 -$148.88

I have not included one of the titles, which is not available as an e-book…or, at the moment, as a hardback (out of stock).

On average, you could save $7.84 buying the e-book over the hardback.

If you planned to buy all of the books in this group, and you bought e-books instead of hardbacks, you would have enough left over to buy two Kindles! The least expensive one, the one I call the Mindle, is $69…buy two, and you’d still have about $10 left over.

You could, of course, buy a more expensive model with that almost $150 savings money…even a tablet. You could also use the money for more books…a lot more books.

That’s quite a change!

You can also get some of the world’s great literature for free for your Kindle…a wonderful part of the e-book paradigm shift.

What about mass market paperbacks (which may be a more direct comparison)?

Not surprisingly, you don’t save as much money…but you still save money:

Title MMP E-book Difference
A Dance with Dragons $5.99 $2.99 -$3.00
Notorious Nineteen $5.66 $5.38 -$0.28
Ender’s Game $4.39 $3.99 -$0.40
The Racketeer $6.69 $4.99 -$1.70
Poseidon’s Arrow $8.99 $7.99 -$1.00
Hunting Eve $7.19 $4.78 -$2.41
Sinister $5.03 $4.00 -$1.03
A Game of Thrones $8.22 $4.99 -$3.23
Touch & Go $8.99 $7.99 -$1.00
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished $4.78 $5.03 $0.25
Angels at the Table $6.29 $5.98 -$0.31
Twilight $7.19 $4.79 -$2.40
Star Trek: The Fall: The Poisoned Chalice $5.03 $4.78 -$0.25
The Forgotten $7.33 $5.99 -$1.34
Speaker for the Dead $7.19 $5.99 -$1.20
A Big Sky Christmas $6.75 $5.24 -$1.51
The Black Box $6.82 $6.48 -$0.34
Best Kept Secret $8.99 $8.54 -$0.45
$121.52 $99.92 -$21.60

Hmm…two of the books aren’t available as e-books…I find that surprising.

Again, I’m just look at the New York Times bestsellers, here. There are many inexpensive books which are only available as e-books…and as I mentioned above, many free ones as well.

No question in my mind: e-books are making books much more affordable than they used to be…even taking into account the costs of access.

We have to remember that accessing paperbooks also wasn’t free. What if you had to get downtown to get to a bookstore…or a library? There are a lot of kids especially who have internet access at school, and not at home.

We even see this in a big way in third world countries. I’ve written several times about

which gets Kindles to kids in difficult locations. Can you imagine trying to get ten copies of Harry Potter into the middle of the jungle? With satellite internet (which they can help set up…and you might be surprised how many people in a village can maintain something like that…and solar or other nonconnected power sources), remote areas can download e-books much more easily.

Even if it was a question of periodically delivering Kindles loaded with a thousand books, that would be much more cost effective than transporting paperbooks.

Yes: e-books contribute to the democratization of literature, rather than being a barrier to it.

What do you think? Do e-books make books more affordable for more people? Do you worry that the digital divide may grow deeper and more significant if books move much more to one side of it? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) NOte: you can select as the non-profit you support, if you want.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

9 Responses to “How much cheaper are Kindle books than hardbacks?”

  1. Common Sense Says:

    Ebooks are definitely more affordable. I received my first Kindle for Christmas 2009, I think it was $250, a very high price for us at the time. I can still remember how excited I was!

    Before that, I would purchase maybe 5-6 paperbacks a month, usually at the grocery store or Target. I would also get one or two hardbacks from favorite authors each month, depending on how finances were looking.

    When I first got my Kindle, I continued the same practices, at first. But in April 2010, when the agency model was implemented and I saw most prices of books on my wishlist go up, my habits changes. they changes because among all the outrage, I discovered indie ebooks. I started perusing the Amazon Top Free list every day and eventually started following several book blogs that listed free and low-cost ebooks. I never again looked at price the same way.

    I now have over 11,000 ebooks on my account, mostly free or sale books. I rarely spend more than $2.99 and since I already have a lot of books, I’m more discerning even with free or $.99. If I don’t know the author, they have to be rated pretty high and have a well-written description for me to bite.

    The great side effect of all of this is the discovery of new, favorite authors. Authors I would have never picked up if I hadn’t read one of their books when it was free. For those authors, I automatically purchase every book, even now that they’re more than $5.

    Now that the agency model is dead, I no longer find myself interested in most of their books. Even $5.99 looks like a lot. I can get 5 or more books for that same amount of money.

    Ebooks not only give readers more access to a wider range of books, they give authors unlimited, uncensored access to readers. What a wonderful world!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Common!

      I think a lot of people’s paths were similar to yours…and that’s part of why the Agency Model was a mistake for publishers. One of the main things about digital disruption is that the distribution is no longer under the control of just a few. You suddenly lose a big competitive advantage…and it becomes replaced by a much more affordable alternative, bringing more players into the game.

      I’ve said it before, but I think market leaders lose their position not when they underestimate their competitors, but when they overestimate their customers’ loyalty. I think that happened here…

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I think your numbers show that the ebook branch (including the EBR cost) is more affordable than the pbook branch. A couple of caveats: the justice settlement only does away with agency pricing for a few years (varies by publisher)– so the agency model may come roaring back. Hopefully, the facts on the ground at that time will make a return to agency pricing unattractive 🙂 .

    A bigger issue with the “digital divide” has little to do with ebooks, EBR’S, and other mobile devices, but rather with the availability of the underlying broadband infrastructure to the lower socio-economic classes. As you point out some only have internet access at school or the library.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Yes, the Agency Model may return…but I think it won’t return as a collusion between publishers. It would eliminate price competition between retailers again, but not price competition between publishers. In other words, the same Random Penguin book might be $12.99 everywhere…but a HarperCollins book might be $9.99 everywhere, instead of also being $12.99. That might help.

      Some cities are becoming giant wi-fi hotspots (even though it might be slower than many people have, you can get free wi-fi pretty much everywhere. Again, that should help with the digital divide. In terms of e-books, you could go to a limited spot (like a school or library) and download a hundred free books…you don’t need to have access to the library every time you want to read something. Some libraries limit you as to how many p-books you can check out at a time, but if you are getting the books from somewhere like Project Gutenberg and just using the library’s internet to access that site, there are no limits.

  3. skubitwo Says:

    you note some surprise that some of the mass market pbooks are not available as ebooks. while i lurv all of my kindles and reading them, i have found quite a few of my favorite scifi/fantasy authors are not available in ebooks. for some, none of their books are available. for others, one or two books of a series are not available; for example, c.j. cherryh’s foreigner series. that, i assume, is a publisher’s choice. elizabeth peter’s mystery series are another where one or two books of a set are not available in ebook form.
    i actually find that more irritating than simple not making any of the authors books available. but, i’m not selling books, just consuming mass quantities — they know they have me already .

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, skubitwo!

      Looks like I could have elaborated a bit more on that…thanks for asking, and giving me the opportunity! 🙂

      I’m not surprised that there would be any e-books not available as mass market paperbacks…I’m surprised that there would be recently published, bestselling ones which aren’t.

      I’ve written about the situation with older books quite a bit in the past, but it has been some time…partially since, fortunately, the situation has been getting better.

      It has to do with copyright, for the most part, which is a way of codifying respecting the author’s right to control their own work (within certain limits).

      Books first published prior to 1923 in the USA are widely available as e-books in that country. Those are no longer under copyright protection (they are in “the public domain”…the public owns the rights).

      Books first published in the USA after about 2000 commonly (but not always) have e-book versions.

      What about the time period in-between, which I call “The Well”?

      Essentially, rights remain with the author (or the author’s estate) unless negotiated. Rights were typically licensed by a publisher based on both territory (a country, perhaps) and format. Just because a publisher licensed the paperback rights doesn’t mean that they licensed the e-book rights. Random House tried to assert that in court…and did not prevail.

      So, prior to about 2000, there wasn’t much of an e-book market, commercially speaking (it actually really accelerated after the first Kindle was released in 2007). Authors and publishers weren’t negotiating those rights. Not only did they not think about them, rights cost money, and there wasn’t much point in spending that money.

      That’s why many books in The Well aren’t available. Once the e-book market started accelerating, it still would require a return to negotiation to secure those rights…and that can be quite complicated.

      In the case of

      Cherryh’s Foreigner series
      at AmazonSmile…benefit a non-profit by shopping

      most of them are available in Kindle editions (at least in the USA).

      One that wasn’t, when I checked was Defender…right on the cusp there in 2001.

      Why would earlier ones in a series be available as e-books and not later ones?

      In some cases, it could be because the books had different publishers (but that doesn’t seem to be the case here). In others, it may be because the contracts were simply different. As a third possibility, it may be that the publisher felt it was worth negotiating for one title and not for another.

      Another thing that can complicate this is if one book has had other rights purchased, say, for a movie that was never made. Yes, those are separate rights, but additional things may have been licensed to go along with the movie (in some cases, to make merchandising easier).

      For me, it’s better to have available what you can. For example, let’s say that someone was licensing the original 181 Doc Savage adventures…and they couldn’t get the rights to #145. A lot of people might already own #145 in paper…and want to get others in e-books.

      Another situation is that of a new title in a series being published. Let’s have a hypothetical series with ten titles in it, originally published in the 1980s. Now, an eleventh book (perhaps a “lost title”) is being published. It doesn’t make sense to me for them not to publish the 11th as an e-book because they can’t get the rights to the first (in that situation, perhaps the author has died, and the estate politics are messy on the earlier books).

      I don’t think publishers choose not to put out an e-book version (which is relatively inexpensive) just on a whim. 🙂 There certainly may be a cost/benefit analysis involved…or it may simply that the rights are unavailable.

      Sometimes, authors do choose to release a book only in paper, and negotiate that with the publisher. Stephen King did that recently. I disagree with that, since it can make things much more complex for people with print challenges (especially those that do not rise to the level of a legal disability), although I do think the author has the right to do it.

      Whew! You probably didn’t expect such a lengthy answer, but I hope that helps explain my surprise! 🙂

  4. Leanne Pitman Says:

    Great blog!
    I send out a daily list of free and discount kindle books
    Thank for sharing how affordable they can be.

    Yours truly,

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Leanne!

      I appreciate the kind words.

      I’m quite careful about not posting something which is simply advertising (my readers prefer it that way), but it does appear to me that you read the post. 🙂 I took a look at the site, and subscribed. It seems legitimate (I apologize for my caution), and I may write something more about it after I’ve gotten a few of the free e-mails.

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