I have been a Kindle Paperwhite owner for three years. When I bought the Kindle, it was with the intention of saving money on 1) newly released books, and 2) reference books or text books. As you probably know, most ebooks on Amazon have a top price of $9.99. Oftentimes, this is cheaper than buying a paperback or hardcover version.
One of the first ebooks I bought was Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel. At the time, I was burnt out by using the library and wanted to just buy the book. I looked all over for a cheap used copy (even on sites like Paperback Swap which I had been using to get rid of books not worth enough to sell on Amazon), but even the used copies were only a few dollars cheaper than the list price of $26.97 (+$3.99 for shipping).
After searching the used market for a little while, I noticed that the ebook price was only $9.99. Too bad I didn't have a Kindle! I could be saving 50% on this book. What if I wanted to buy more books, and saved $10.00 or more every time I bought one? The savings alone might cover the cost of purchasing a Kindle.
A few days later, I discovered and downloaded Amazon's free desktop Kindle app. I bought the book I had been looking at, and decided that I liked reading ebooks. When I had been reading ebooks on my desktop for almost a year, I started to want a Kindle. After some research and asking around, I chose to buy the Kindle Paperwhite. It cost about $119.00 at the time.
Was My Kindle Worth the Investment?
If I saved $10.00 for every book I bought on the Kindle, it would pay itself off after 11 books. Though I certainly purchased 11 books within a year, it's doubtful if I truly saved money by purchasing ebooks, let alone the Kindle. In 2012 I spent $99.63 on ebooks. In June of 2013 I bought the Kindle device, and spent $119.21 that year on ebooks. Woah! I realized then how easy it was to spend money on ebooks, and decided to change my book buying strategy. During the last three years I've only spent $41.62... an average of $13.87 per year on Kindle books.
Altogether, in the past four years I've spent $260.46 on ebooks (most of which I probably could have checked out at the library), in addition to the $119.00 Kindle itself. One has to wonder if spending $380.00 on non-essentials is really an investment.
The reason that I don't think Kindles are a good investment is because, after you buy them, ebooks have no value. You cannot resell an ebook. You cannot even lend it to a friend. So of the $260.46 that I spent on ebooks, I will not have a single dollar of that come back to me. You can resell the Kindle, but only at half the price you paid for it.
A Better "Investment"
Four years later, I still enjoy using my Kindle but it is much slower than it used to be. I see now that anyone in the market for a Kindle Paperwhite can get one on Ebay for $50.00. And there is one more new development that might influence your decision to buy a Kindle.
Along with the free desktop app, Amazon offers an app for your smart phone. This apph essentially turns your phone into a Kindle; backlight, adjustable letter sizing, highlighting and all. The Kindle app also offers social media sharing, which my old Kindle Paperwhite does not (I'm not sure if the new ones have been updated).
In addition to being completely free, the Kindle phone app allows you to take your books with you anywhere without carrying another device in your purse. And yes, I can turn the pages a lot faster on my phone than on my actual Kindle device.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Kindle
Whether you have an actual e-reader or just the phone app, there are ways to get the benefits of reading ebooks without spending $260.00 on things that have no value after you've bought them. Here are some of my favorite frugal Kindle hacks.
1. Only buy free books. Sometimes Amazon authors will run a promotion on their book and offer it for free for one day only. I have done this before as an author. Every day there are new free ebooks available. You may be able to download several high-quality books this way.
There are also hundreds of free books out there that are not high-quality, but still worth reading. Some books like this that I have bought include cook books, exercise books, or short stories.
Any book written before 1923 is in the public domain. Most public domain works are available for free on Amazon. This includes everything from great classics and technical writings to any obscure old book you might find at an antique shop. When I was a kid, we had an old book about the "Galveston Horror", a hurricane that flattened the city of Galveston, TX in 1900. Sure enough, just the other day I found the exact same book on Amazon Kindle for free. There is no reason to buy these old books and keep them around (especially if it is a one-time read) when you can get a free, legible, non-fragile and no-pages-missing copy on your phone.
Lastly, any .epub file can be loaded onto your Kindle/app and read as an ebook. These files can come from anywhere, not just the Kindle store. Recently I found some historical files from the Michigan Pioneer Society to use for some research I've been doing. Instead of spending hours in front of the computer, I simply downloaded the .epub file onto my Kindle. Now I can do my research in bed, in the car, or outside on a warm summer day.
2. Use the Kindle for its translation capabilities. You will have to purchase a Spanish (or whatever language you are learning) dictionary, but after that you can download free Spanish books to practice with. This is a whole lot easier than reading a physical Spanish book and having to look up every word you don't know in a physical Spanish dictionary.
Alternatives to Buying Ebooks
Nowadays, if there is a book I want to read that I can't find for free, I will usually get it from my local library. Most of the books I like are not stocked at our local library, but I can order them through the interloan system. For every one book I get via interloan, I try to check out two books off the shelves at our library. The most efficient way to get your reading done would be to ONLY order interloan books and not mess around with checking out books you didn't plan on reading in the first place. However, I tried that with my hometown library several years ago and it really ticked off one of the librarians. After receiving several rude comments from her (one that I actually confronted her about), I got discouraged and just started buying books I wanted instead.
This time around, I am really trying to have a good relationship with our local librarian. I am not sure if the interloan books are actually more work, or if the rude librarian just needed someone to blame for her disappointing life. Whatever the case, not using the library cost me literally hundreds of dollars. So I just thought I'd throw that caution out there to anyone who has just discovered the interloan system and is going crazy ordering all sorts of books. Keep the librarians happy.
If there is a newer release that the interloan library does not have, I purchase a physical copy from Amazon. Though it will probably lose some value by the time I am done with it, the book will not lose ALL of its value. I will still be able to resell it, or at least give it away to a friend.
Though I positioned this as an ROI article, the reality is that buying a Kindle is not an investment like one might think. Technology has developed to the point where this "investment" has become a toy for reading pleasure. A better investment is to download the Kindle app on your cell phone for free books, and to purchase physical books that actually have resale value. To be fair, I still do pay money for a select number of Kindle books every year, but those are usually very niche topic books by independent authors. Last year, for example, I purchased Early Retirement Extreme by a blogger named Jacob Lund Fisker. It was not available through the interloan system, and the Kindle book was $9.00 cheaper than the paperback, after the cost of shipping. This year I purchased an ebook when we were on vacation. I had lots of time to read, but there was not a library where we were staying, and I wanted to read the book before we left (it was about the history of banana plantations... not something that would be as interesting when I got home).
Buying books can get complicated when there are so many resources available. However, when we buy the right books from the right place (or get them for FREE from the right place), spending can be cut to almost nothing. And books sure provide a great return on an investment of almost nothing!
Til next time,