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Is an eReader a Wise Purchase?

By , December 28th, 2009 | 9 Comments »

Since I love to read, I have to admit that I’ve been drooling a bit over the Kindle and now the Nook eReaders. I love the idea of being able to carry a ton of books with me when I travel without throwing out my back. I like the thought of freeing up some shelf space and the lower environmental impact appeals, too. Fewer trees killed is a good thing. And I like the idea of having books in my purse for anytime that I’m stuck waiting in a doctor’s office. The screens on the units have become more legible and the functionality is so improved that I wondered if now is the time to finally buy one. In the process of looking at these eReaders, I started wondering if one could also save me some money which would make it a very wise purchase.

I’m a heavy user of the library, but I do buy a fair number of books, as well. I buy reference works, favorites that I’ll read over and over, and books that the library does not have but which I really want to read. Since a new hardcover is around $15 at Amazon (discounted) and an eBook is usually $9.99, I thought there might be a money saving aspect to an eReader. After researching the types of titles that I normally buy, only a small percentage of them are currently available in the e-format. Many of the books I read are kind of obscure so they haven’t hit the eReader world yet. Maybe they will someday, but for now there’s not enough of the books I like available to justify the purchase of an eReader. So many books that I want will still have to be purchased at the higher print rate. And, since paperbacks are cheaper than the eReader format, I do better money-wise by waiting for my favorite books to come out in paperback.

I was enthralled with the number of free titles available, however. I discovered that lots of authors give away books to drum up sales. Some classics that are past their copyright limitations are also free, as well. I found quite a bit in the free department that might interest me. However, many of these books are also in my library’s system so I can still read them for free. Once I removed the ones I could get from the library I wasn’t left with enough books to justify the eReader’s price tag.

There are other drawbacks, too. I’m not thrilled with the idea that not all eReaders use the same format. It means that I’m what I can buy and where is determined by the unit I choose. I’m also not happy that my purchases may one day be incompatible with a newer version of the eReader. A print book is always compatible and you don’t have to re-buy it if a new model comes out. And it makes me nervous that Amazon or Barnes and Noble could, technically, remove purchases from my unit without warning in the event of a rights dispute (Amazon did this with Orwell’s 1984). Then there is the issue of digital rights management. I can’t discover a great book and then pass it on to a friend as I can with a print book. If I want to loan out a book, I have to loan out my whole eReader. And when the day comes when I’m finally done with an eBook, I can’t sell it at a yard sale or donate it to the library for a tax deduction as I can with paper books. I don’t get a fortune back by doing this, but it is a little money that an eReader can no longer save me.

After careful research I’ve decided that an eReader isn’t for me at this time. I have no doubt that I’d enjoy it and use it. However, I doubt that I would get enough out of it to justify the hefty price tag. The portability factor and the smaller space requirement to house books are the only strong arguments I can make at this time. Perhaps in the future when more books are available and some of the kinks are worked out of the system as far as compatibility and rights management it will be a must buy for me.

I imagine you could save money with a eReader if you buy a lot of books (mostly in hardcover) and you’re into popular works. If you don’t have a good library where you can score lots of good, free books, an eReader might let you read a lot for less money than always buying books. But if you have a good library system you’re probably better off just using that. If the space saving and portability arguments are enough for you to justify the purchase, then you’ll probably be very happy with an eReader. For me, I need to wait for a while before it becomes a financially sensible purchase.

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  • Hilary says:

    I just got a nook for Christmas, for many of the reasons that you mentioned. I’m betting on the .epub format being the one that lasts (rather than Amazon’s proprietary formats, for example). I care a lot about making everything in my life digital, and this is a natural extension of that. I also spend a lot of time reading scientific papers, so it’s nice to have the e-reader for that as well (b/c the nook can read .pdf’s). But I do admit that I won’t be saving a ton of money, as I do use my local library pretty regularly. But for me the convenience, space-saving, and lifestyle change was worth it.

  • Analise says:

    I have a Kindle (global wireless) and I love it. Not only has it saved me money (even though I also use the library), it has features that a lot of folks don’t know about.

    One of the best uses for me is to take along a variety of reading material when I travel. On a recent trip I read The Zookeeper’s Wife, The Help, and U is for Undertow. Plus I read my Lonely Planet Central America travel guide and referred to it frequently. I also used it to store all our travel documents in pdf format and learned how to use my Kindle to send email (using wireless feature). Wish I’d gotten it years ago!

    For me, saving money was not the driving reason to get a Kindle, the convenience factor was. And with over 360,000 titles from which to choose, I now have the capability of taking along as many books as I want whenever I travel.

  • miclason says:

    hmmm… I don’t see myself with one. For one thing, living in a country where you can get killed for a cellphone, I’d rather not carry that sort of thing in public, if I can avoid it. Secondly,I generally take books to places where I know I have long waits, like banks, or public buildings (to renew passport, license, ID cards, etc) and, electronic devices have to be shut off or even left at the door at many of those.

    But, mostly, maybe I’m just old school, each of my books is a friend and, I love it that each of them look, feel and even smell differently.

  • Jackie says:

    I love the idea of an ereader, for all of the convenience and environmental reasons you already listed. Unfortunately, I also decided that it wasn’t really financially feasible yet. I think the prices of ebooks are still a little (or a lot) high considering their smaller overhead and lack of brick and mortar stores. I also researched to see if I could replace my current book collection (500+ books) with ebooks and even if they were significantly less expensive, there are still many many titles unavailable. Plus, from an environmental and financial standpoint, the damage has been done. I could make a commitment to buy all future books in ebook format but right now, my finances are devoted to other things.

  • Jay Gatsby says:

    I carry around an old Dell Axim x50 that I bought used for $50. Gutenberg.org (sp?) has thousands of books for free. Even better, my library allows me to “check out” Adobe pdfs of new releases (the same ones you’re $$buying$$ on Amazon). Why buy a Kindle or other eReader AND electronic books when you can get basically the same thing for free?

    Oh, and my old Dell Axim can run Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc… has WiFi, Bluetooth and a whole host of other features, making it essentially a portable computer without the keyboard.

  • Just Me says:

    I could never buy one of those… I would miss that lovely smell that accompanies books! I love the way a book smells! Well, unless it gives off a moldy stale book but that never happens where I live here in sunny dry Phoenix, AZ! 😀

  • Cindy M says:

    No ereader for me. I have to spend at least 8 hours daily at home facing a screen on the job, so I do my best to avoid much time in front of a screen of ANY kind when not working. I gotta get outdoors. It just is not healthy, mentally or physically, in my opinion. I can see it’s certainly the wave of the future but a good thing? I don’t think so. There’s too much sitting in one’s own little isolated world as it is these days.

  • Todd says:

    I have a Kindle and I am quite pleased. For my situation, I was traveling to Asia for about 6 weeks. Instead of packing many, many books, I just loaded up my Kindle. In times of every inch of your suitcase resulting in fees, due to my hectic travel schedule, I am very grateful for the saved space. The charge also lasts a really long time.

    At first, I thought I would feel some sort of nostalgic loss of the physical book but then it hit me…I got over LPs I can get over heavy, space consuming books.

    So far it has been a pretty good situation for me. Not everyone’s is the same but I love my Kindle.

  • Gail says:

    I can’t imagine curling up with a ..machine!? At Thanksgiving my son challenged me to write down every book I read. Since that point, I have read 20 books so far. Some were loaned to me by my son, some were library copies, some were books I had picked up cheap at a library sale (less than $2 a book), others were advanced reading copies I get sent to review. In any case, NONE of the books cost me more than $2. I can’t see spending $9.99 on a book that when done I can’t give away to someone else to read, or store nicely on our many bookshelves, or loan to my son, etc.

    Although I do buy books, usually they are non-fiction books that I use for ideas and reference. Many times I might have several open at once. I don’t think e-readers can do that. I can’t see them in my life or for my reading habits at all. And then there is the other problem of us living in an area where we can’t easily download the books. It certainly wouldn’t be convenient to have to drive to another location just to download a book when I want one.


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