Salon Magazine has an interesting piece by Kaya Genç, reprinted from the L.A. Review of Books, comparing the cost of reading to other things, following in the footsteps of George Orwell who in “Books v. Cigarettes” calculated that he spent £25 per year on books but £40 per year on cigarettes.
At first the piece looked like it was going to be another one of those “smell of books” stories, with the writer indulging in nostalgia over the printed page in this digital era. But in fact Genç brings up the nostalgia for the printed page to explain how she came across the essay in the first place, and later discusses e-reading as a cost-saving mechanism.
I chose the tablet computer as my primary reading device not out of boredom with the printed page, not out of the allures of cutting-edge technology, but out of an economic necessity. The tablet is no more trendy or posh, at least in my mind, than the hard copy of a book, but it is cheaper. The New Yorker’s yearly international subscription fee is twice its digital fee ($120 compared to $60). And most books, without the costs of printing, are the same. Had I purchased printed copies of my books and periodicals, they would have cost me considerably more than their digital versions. Perhaps I couldn’t have afforded them. I certainly couldn’t have afforded them all.
Though Genç no longer smokes, she does drink a lot of coffee, and in comparing the records of her e-purchases to those recorded on her coffee shop loyalty card, she concluded that she had spent about five times as much on coffee as on e-reading ($1,800 vs $385 over the first six months of 2013.)
She also refers to another article, “Books v. Cigarettes: 63 Years On,” which compares books to other 21st-century forms of electronic entertainment such as video games and movies, finding that the only better bargain in terms of money spent per hour of enjoyment is video gaming.
It really is a fun comparison to make, isn’t it? You can tell yourself that if you gave up some expensive habit, you could spend more on some other expensive habit. I don’t smoke, but I probably spend too much on expensive beer these days.
But on the other hand, money isn’t the only scarce resource pertaining to how many books I can enjoy these days. I also lack sufficient time to read many of the bargain e-books I do purchase. And so it goes…