Why e-readers aren’t just for the rich
April 24, 2011 § 13 Comments
Lately I have repeatedly come across the notion that e-readers are primarily the province of the ‘well-heeled’ middle class – those who have plenty of spare income to lavish on books and never have to worry about the prices.
This is complete nonsense. The only way this conclusion makes sense is if the matter is viewed as:
– The high price of buying the reader to begin with
– Plus the exorbitant price of stocking it with books if the buyer pays the same price for each book as they would pay for a brand new paperback or hardback.
If that’s the approach taken to stocking your e-reader then yes, only people with a lot of spare cash would be able to afford to make much use of it. But then, these are the same people who casually walk into Waterstones every weekend and come out with four or five sparkling-new paper books each visit. If that was the only way to get reading material, most of us would be seriously out of luck – with or without e-readers.
I’ve never really been comfortably off, never mind wealthy, so as an obsessed bibliophile I’ve become very good at thrift-shopping for books. To me, more than £3 is expensive for a book, because I can get most of my reading material for less than that (luckily, otherwise my intellect would shrivel up and die within a year). I’ll admit I was slow buying an e-reader because the prices looked high. As soon as I finally bought my Kindle, though (which was at the end of last year), I realised I’d made a mistake 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.
A few months later and the e-book craze has hit. By that I mean that the world in general has discovered e-reading: how easy it is, how convenient and low on hidden costs (no paying postage on books, no waiting for books to arrive, no petrol-heavy trips to the bookshops). How great sampling is. How broad the market is, all of a sudden: all those old classics readily available, even the ones not usually considered ‘great’ enough to be reliably in print; long out-of-print author backlists cropping up more and more all the time; a growing ocean of self-published books, many of which are really good reads which publishers just didn’t feel they could make enough money on.
And of course, publishers and self-published authors alike are rapidly discovering how beneficial it is to offer new books for free download, for an initial period of time.
So, how is any of this particularly reserved for the wealthy? Let’s break down those points into bite-size pieces.
– Virtually all out-of-copyright classics can be read for free
– No driving down to the bookshop or the library to collect your weekly reading material
– No paying postage to have books delivered to your door
– New books are regularly offered for free download; keeping an eye out for these saves a ton of money by itself
– Even when they aren’t free, many ebooks are very cheap. Cheaper, in fact, than even a tatty old second-hand paperback is likely to be.
– The option of downloading free samples of books helps to reduce the amount of money buyers waste on books that don’t deliver.
– E-book lending is seriously getting started now, which means more free reads that don’t have hidden costs like petrol (and time) to collect.
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.
Which doesn’t mean we’ll spend less money on books over the course of a year. Let’s be realistic, here. It’s an addiction, after all. It does mean getting a whole lot more reading material for that money, and that’s a definite win.