Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Kindle part 2 - A cost analysis

The Kindle is an electronic book reader produced by Amazon.

The Kindle is not an inexpensive device. When I purchased mine I shelled out $400. Currently, it is down to $299. When the Kindle 2.0 hit the shelves, the desire to possess one burned within me. However, the device is not for everyone. At its core, the Kindle is a luxury and some might argue that it is a status symbol. There are people for whom the Kindle has little allure. I am not one of these people, but they exist. Like all consumer electronics and the lifestyle they either accessorize or promote, there are hidden and not-so-hidden costs.

"I went shopping for some books today," my friend proclaims as we settle in for a delicious night of sushi out and about in Old Town Alexandria.

"Did you find anything you wanted to read?"
I have my follow up questions set to fire. Her fractious combination of shopping and non-possessiveness has always astounded me.

"A few titles,"
she replies and tells them to me. I do not remember what they were but I had not read them.

"So....",
I begin, hoping the mischievous twinkle I felt should be in my eye actually was sparkling away. "I thought you were not allowed to have anymore books in your house?"

"Oh well...that's easy...something has to go,"
she grins. "Four books for as many dollars." And then proceeds to take a bite of her five dollar nigiri.

I've asked my friend for the particulars of her system and have shook my head in amazement at her ability to actively prune her collection. There are surprisingly few books in her home that have tenure track status. And a large number of her transitory books are acquired for less than two dollars. She doesn't burn with the same need to possess as I do and she has incredibly interesting and not too complex rules (once you examine them) about the value of money.

The Kindle is not a good match for her.

When I was a teenager, one of my big birthday presents every year was a season pass to the nearby ski resort. The challenge every year was to go at least the number of times necessary to "break even" on the pass. I always did, and once I had passed that mathematical boundary, I felt like I was skiing for free. The initial buy-in for the Kindle is similar. The break occurs with the discount found on most books (Hey Scalzi, what gives?). So, theoretically, if I purchase enough books, the device "pays for itself". Technically true...however...

I bought my Kindle in April of 2008. The Kindle 2 came out in the Fall of 2008. I decided that, if I had "saved" $300 on book purchases I would upgrade and eat the extra $100. I did the math...and was barely breaking $75. No new Kindle for me. On the other hand, I had saved $75 !!

But did I?

I have no data to show it and I have no method to extrapolate it, but I wonder if my rate of new book purchases is significantly greater now than when I did not have the device. I know...I flat out know...that I am purchasing and reading more books. The convenience factor is just too big when reading a series to move from one to the next immediately. But is the difference in my consumption now, versus a year ago inside the typical 20% discount on purchases? I have my doubts.

In my opinion, based on observation of one subject (myself), the presence of the Kindle drives me to purchase more books and to purchase books I might not have found skimming through my local bookstore.

My friend from the story above does not buy new books, or if she does, it is a rare event. She makes use of her library and she enjoys digging through inexpensive paperbacks at used book stores. I used to do that as well (the digging; even though I am a librarian, I don't use my public library for books).

So far, I have focused solely on books via the Kindle. There are many more types of materials available. The selling point for one of the confirmed sales I spoke of in part 1 was her ability to get the Economist delivered to her Kindle. And she does, and she reads it, and she loves it (and two days ago I showed her how to get her text to speech active for it). There are numerous blogs, magazines, and newspapers that can be delivered directly to your Kindle for a free.

Currently I subscribe to no pay services.

It is not for a lack of content. The amount of pay content is stunning. But I do not use my Kindle that way. My Kindle is read while waiting in line, falling sleep, lying on the couch, or waiting at red lights (yes...I know...that is not a good thing...I am aware that it is, in fact, a stupid thing. If my authors weren't awesome, perhaps I wouldn't have this problem. Hey Scalzi, what gives?). I do not need a subscription to a newspaper, that is why I have Google News. I do not need paid delivery for the various blogs I read, that is the purpose of the first 30 minutes of my work day. However, it is important to realize that for many Kindle users, these ongoing subscriptions are rolled into their cost and their value proposition. They are never going to "ski for free". But then again, I don't think I will either.

The Kindle 2 is currently listed at $299. That is a damn sexy number for consumer electronics. That number combined with the thought collecting I have been doing for Fading Interest this month made me pull out my xls sheet (conveniently named Kindle Math.xls) and update it.

The latest entry reads:
Date 24-Aug-09
Order # …
Title Just a Geek
Price $9.99
AdjPrice $16.99
Savings $7.00
Cumulative Savings $228.70

Since April of 2008 I have saved $228.70 in book purchases that I may or may not have made if I did not have the Kindle. Odds are low that I would have discovered some of the authors I have found in the past year, but that is a conversation for another day. Nearly $230 saved...nearly $300 to upgrade. The trend line of my data says $300 saved on May 10th, 2010...or I could just buy the damn thing now. Even if I waited until May 10, I will still be $100 below what I paid for the device. I will not be skiing for free for a long time yet, if ever. Plus, once I upgrade, the lure of paid content will be strong. My friend with the Economist is delighted with her choice. I might even be able to convince my manager that reading headlines on my Kindle was work related. But the point remains that the Kindle and the lifestyle that comes with using the device, the choices that are made because it exists in your world, mean that the economics will never take you back to positive territory. The Kindle remains a product for a consumer. It is a luxury and a wonderful target for disposable income.

My conclusion for you today is this: do not use the financial cost involved in obtaining and living with a Kindle as your sole reason to have or have not. Take a deep look at how books, magazines, blogs, newspapers, and other rich content touch your life and decide on the level of luxury you want when experiencing it.

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About Me

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Geek - Gamer - Librarian - Writer. Only awesome at one of those things at a time, unfortunately.

About Fading Interest

After writing op-eds and travelogues for several years, after finishing a few books, and after failing to get the ball rolling with project after project I stumbled into an idea that might just hold my interest long enough to enjoy some level of satisfaction with my writing.