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.


  1. Many areas have public libraries with downloadable libraries. I have a Kindle, but I bought a Sony so I could download books from the library. I’m glad that Amazon is going to be adding that capability to the Kindle.

    The downside to downloading books from the library is that there is often quite a long wait.

  2. Although getting books for free from Gutenberg is very good, if you really like an author (like Twain), getting his complete works for less than $5.00 is even better than free (not doing all that downloading) from Mobilereference or other publishers.

  3. I don’t get out much, so I’m content to use Calibre and the Kindle desktop app on my computer. ebooks offer one more alternative for the thrifty. I compare the cost of an ebook to the cost of the same book in print (used, whenever possible), plus shipping, and often opt for the ebook. I’ve also cleaned out every print public domain title I own, knowing that they’re still available, free, when I want them.

  4. We live on a budget these days. I joined a library, download Free Friday books from B&N, and am still able to purchase 1-2 ebooks a month. I still get the classics from Guttenberg. We have not purchased a paper book in years. Frugal is good. I am able to keep my library on a chip seems strange after growing up surrounded by paper(books).

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