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E-book readers are a great choice for the thrifty
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  • April 27, 2011
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On her blog Words About Words, Charlotte English takes a look at the notion that e-book readers are the province of the wealthy, or at least the well-off. There is a perception, she notes, that the readers are expensive, and filling it with e-books is more so if you buy at full price. However, this isn’t quite true in practice.

English suggests that the sort of people who would be likely to buy e-books at full price are the same sort who walk into bookstores every weekend and come out with four or five new books each visit—and nobody would be able to afford many books if that were the only way to get them.

However, as an avowed thrift shopper, English notes, when she did break down and buy a Kindle, she realized the only mistake she made was in waiting so long.

As an enthusiastic reader of old, out-of-copyright classics, I was in the money immediately. We all know by now that these books are readily available for free, or for seriously cheap prices. By the time I’d had my Kindle a whole day, I’d downloaded approximately £300 worth of books onto it for a total price of about £5. I.e. it took 24 hours for my Kindle to pay for itself, and then some.

(My only wonderment is that she had to pay anything at all. After all, Project Gutenberg makes its titles available for free…)

And e-books don’t require paying postage, or guzzling gas on trips to the bookstore. And public-domain titles aren’t the only books being offered for free, and many older and self-published e-books are decidedly less expensive than paperbacks.

Since I moved to digital reading, I’ve acquired considerably more books for significantly less money than even my most dedicated thrift-shopping adventures could get me. Buying an e-reader, then, is an investment. If voracious readers think about how much money they’d probably spend on paper books over a period of a year, or two, or three, then compare it to the combined price of the reader and hundreds of digital books over that time… I reckon it will always come out cheaper to have a reader. By quite a long way.

My Dad has made much the same discovery with his Kobo. Though, of course, he doesn’t have to pay for the books he downloads from Project Gutenberg. In fact, I’d be very surprised if he ever does buy any commercial e-books at al.

And in a way, part of the premise of English’s blog post won’t be true for much longer. E-book reader prices are falling considerably, after all. It may not be long before they’re are no longer that much of a lump-sum investment at all.

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