Monday, May 16, 2011

E-Reader: A Cost of Ownership Analysis

Yet another e-book post, but in this case, I'll show some math.

I'm still debating the e-book purchase, and still unable to make it happen. See, I don't understand the math.

For example, let's say I want to read These Dark Things by Jan Merete Weiss. I picked that book only because it popped up when I looked up e-books on Amazon as a top seller.

Here's the cost:
e-book: $10.00
Amazon: $8-15, depending on which you go with. I buy a lot of used books, personally.

But now you have the added expense of the e-reader. You can spend anywhere from $120 to $300, so let's assume you get the cheapo and go with the $120.

These Dark Things ran you $120+tax+$10

Hardcover it ran you $8-15, depending on which you go with. I buy a lot of used books.

If I lose my e-reader, or get it wet at the pool, or drop it in the crapper because I am a potty-reader, read until my legs go to sleep and then stand up and recirculate and sit back down, then I lose all my books.

Any of that happens with a book, I lose only that one book, not my whole damned library and movies and music I downloaded!

I can't let my brother have my book when I'm done with it. We swap a lot.

I guess the advantage of an e-reader is it gives you access to $0.99 books, and your entire library is in your hip pocket.

Certainly, though, cost of ownership of the e-reader is far beyond what you get with a book.

If you want the actual break-even point for the number of books where you reach a break-even point, then here is the equation:

n = eR / (hb - eb)

n = number of books purchased in either venue
eR = cost of e-reader
hb = cost of hardback book (or paperback)
eb = cost of e-book

For instance, let's use the below numbers:

eR = $200 + tax = $218 (medium-quality e-book)
hb = $10 (median price for hardback or paperback)
eb = $8 (use a fudge-factor that suggests e-books are about $2 less than the same printed book, which is NOT accurate)

We get a break-even point of

n = 218 / (10-8) = 218 / 2 = 109 books

So you'll need to read over 100 books to break even with your e-reader, and that is making the BAD assumption that the same e-book costs less than the same printed book.

Plus, I am not factoring in the $0.99 books you'll buy as e-books that are not available in print.

My guess is you will never break even with an e-reader. E-readers will never be cheaper than printed books, not at today's price.

If you check Amazon, you'll see little if any separation in price for the same book, and in many cases, you can find a less-expensive hardback, gently used or from overstock.

Example from Amazon's Kindle Homepage defaults:

The Fiery Trail: $13-17 hardback, $15 Kindle
Washington, A Life: $15-23 hardback, $20 Kindle

I could go on, but I won't. Do your own research.

Furthermore, if we use MUSIC as a prior example, you'll note that music CD (printed) still costs the same as electronic music downloads. Music still runs you $0.99 to $1.50 per song.

I'm sticking with print, and downloading e-books to my PC-Kindle (free application), if I should need to read an unpublished $0.99 e-book.

Of course, I still buy CDs, and who the fuck still buys CDs.

How about you? I know many of you purchased e-readers. Do you actually see any cost-benefit, or are you happy with the convenience despite the higher cost-of-ownership?

- Eric


Stephanie Lorée said...

You actually don't lose all your books. I recently bought a Kindle. I have about a dozen paid books, and another couple dozen of free classics I downloaded. If my Kindle gets run over by a tractor, all my books are still mine. Amazon tracks them. I buy a new Kindle, and re-download.

If it's non-Amazon books, like pdf's I've moved onto my Kindle, I have those backed up on my computer. Again, I just re-download to my new Kindle.

It is more likely my house will catch on fire and I'll lose my paperback library than my digital one.

I still read paper books, and I'm still an avid library user. The main focus of buying my Kindle was that I wanted to support the book industry and authors. Effectively, I wanted to give people my money, but I was running out of physical shelf space. I had previously been a majority library reader due to this space concern.

With my ereader (which I absolutely adore), I have the convenience of carrying around one, light-weight library, and I can support authors and books I love.

Of course, I still buy hardbacks of my faves and am a big enough nerd to send off to try to get the author to sign them for me. :)

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Stephanie is right. Your books are stored in the Amazon mainframe. Plus you get access to free chapters of any book that you are interested in.

Then, there is the "Kindle for PC" application (also Kindle for MAC) which, for free, allows you to make your PC or laptop a giant Kindle.

You find yourself with a ready library of books that you can take with you in your backpack. Amazon service repairs or replaces quickly and happily.

It saves space for those of us whose bookshelves are without room.

The free internet connection comes in handy when wanting to look something up on Google. The highlighting tool allows you to see what others across the country feel are important lines in your fiction and non-fiction.

As for the Amazon print books, you have to factor in the shipping costs of at least $3.00 per book.

You also have access to free Kindle books and, as you say, the .99 ones.

If I read a review of a book in THE NEW YORK TIMES that interests me, I can instantly, without traveling to a book store or waiting for the mails, download the free sample of the first chapters and see if I want it -- if I do, I can instantly have it at my fingertips.

My Kindle is worth it to me. But that's just me. Have a great new week, Roland

Anne Gallagher said...

Nope, I'm not buying one, nor do I really want one. I'm a tactile person/artist. I want to feel the creation in my hands. Books smell too. You can't beat that fuzzy aroma with an e-device.

And yes, I still buy CD's.

Wine and Words said...

ACK ACK ACK! Kindle...Nook. Not for me. Where is the FEEL, where is the SMELL, where is the HEFT? Where is the tangible element that puts paper in my hands like skin...layers and layers of skin the writer sloughed? Blerk! Can't do it. See Williams 5 part (so far) series on Why A Book?

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

I, too, am a tactile person. I will never give up physical books. Which is why it was imperative for me to offer my own book in both e and print format.

But yes, some people only publish in e format so I think owning a device of some kine is inevitable.

You're not losing a daughter, you're gaining a son!

Stephanie said...

As a consumer, from a money stand point, no you don't save any money with an eReader. For me, it's more about convenience and it allowing me more opportunities to read. I take it to the gym. I could never read before. The print was too small to read on a paperback and it was hard to hold it open. It's much easier for me to read in bed with my eReader than a large hardcover, or even most paperback too. many thick books can be very cumbersome to hold and give me cramps in my hands.

I do not want to see paper books disappear either.

But as an author, if these gadgets are getting readers to buy more books, as opposed to borrowing or buying from used book stores, yay for authors! More change in our pockets.

Sophia Chang said...

I was seduced into a Kindle for a second, then changed my mind. But it was too late and my bf bought me one for Valentine's Day. I did grow to love it when I flew to Taiwan, since I hate heavy carry-ons, but I still prefer actual (cheaper) books.

I loved your comment on Danyelle's post at querytracker so I had to come by and say hi!

Unknown said...

I don't know if you are aware of all the free or really, really cheap books that you can get with an e-reader. Publishers often make a book free for a limited time, sometimes before they are even published, then like magic, on the publishing date, it is delivered to your Kindle. These are brand new, traditionally published books that cost upwards of $10. I have at least a dozen of those, so right there is $120, but that doesn't even include many other freebies that are not pre-orders. I like non-fiction books, but I won't fork over $15-$20 for them. I have a whole collection of them now that I didn't pay a dime for. Oh, and they are good ones too.

All together, I have probably $400 worth of free books, and that doesn't even include the ones I have borrowed. (the whole Hunger Game series, for example)

If you break your Kindle, your books are still there. You can access them via Kindle for PC or any number of similar applications.