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Kindle on a Budget

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A few years ago, I made the switch to a Kindle.  I've always been an old school type of person when it came to books, but eventually the advantage of being able to carry hundreds of books around without any back strain won out.  I'm a parallel reader, often reading a half dozen books at once.  In the past, if I was going on a week long trip, I'd probably pack 10 books of various styles, so that I'd have something to read, regardless of the mood I was in.

The one big disadvantage to a Kindle is the cost.  There's an up-front cost of the Kindle itself, and then the cost of the books.  There's really isn't a concept of "used books" for e-reader, whereas you can walk into a used book store and snap up a bunch of older books for a couple of bucks.  You can also walk into a Barnes & Noble and browse the clearance section for deep discounts.  Again, this concept doesn't exist in the e-reader universe, since there's no concept of unsold copies.

There are plenty of ways to keep your costs low, though.

The device

You can spend more than $400 on a Kindle, if you want all the bells and whistles.  However, if you only want an e-reader, that's overkill.  You actually don't need a separate device at all.  Kindle reading software is available for Mac, PC, iPhone, and Android operating systems.  I've read full length books such as Stephen King's 11/22/63 on an iPhone (and that's with a $0 data plan).

If you do want a separate device, you can buy the bare bones model for just $69 (or you could buy a used Kindle from someone afflicted with upgrade fever).

One of the nice things about the lower cost devices is much better battery life.  As a general rule, the more a device can do, the shorter the battery life will be.  I have a fairly basic Kindle and the battery will last for weeks in an idle state and drains pretty slowly while you are actually reading.

One nice feature about eBooks is you you can adjust the size of the text.  I'm in my 30s, and I find myself occasionally making use of this feature, particularly when I am feeling tired.

I've opted to go with a Kindle over the Nook, with the main reason being that I have more confidence in Amazon remaining a strong company into the future, and thus able to provide support.  Barnes & Noble (which sells the Nook) may very well be just as strong in the future, but I have some concerns about their ability to adapt to a shrinking brick and mortar revenue stream. [Editor's Note: In fact, Barnes and Noble have said that they'll be outsourcing manufacturing of the Nook to other companies due to a decline in sales.]

Free Books

There are thousands upon thousands of books you can read for free.  Most of these books are in the public domain due to the copyright expiring.  The complete works of Shakespeare, Milton, and O. Henry and classics such as Huckleberry Finn, Dracula, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Les Miserables, and even Brewster's Millions (the movie came out in the 80s, but the book was written in 1902) are the tip of the iceberg.  You could probably read for the rest of your life without ever buying a book.  These books are cheaper than the print version, because the marginal cost associated with producing each copy is tiny, whereas printed books always come with the cost of paper, printing, and shipping.  In addition to the public domain books on Amazon, you may want to check out Project Gutenberg.

You can also get some newer books for free.  Amazon has a "free" section in their Kindle book store.  These book are often being offered as limited time promotions in an effort to drum up sales.  Often times, the first book in a series is offered free, in order to get you to buy the rest of the books.  This is the classic coke dealer's trick of "the first one is free".  I've obtained a number of books this way, and many of them have been pretty good.  Amazon does have the ability to "return" books for a refund, so if it really sucks, you're not out any money.

You can also check out books from a participating library, without ever setting foot in the actual library.  You do have to wait in line, though - if a library has three licenses for a book, only three people can have it checked out at the same time.

You can also borrow a book from a friend.  Participating books can be lent one time, for a two week time period.  Not all books can be lent, but quite a few best-sellers can.  This is a smart marketing plan.  If you're not able to finish the book in two weeks, you're going to suddenly be unable to access the book.  If you're halfway through a good book, it's pretty likely that you'll buy the book so that you can finish it.

Members of Amazon Prime can also borrow one book per month (from a pool of books on Amazon, not from a friend).  This probably isn't a reason to get Prime, but if you're already a member, it's a nice benefit.

Cheap books

Even if you can't get a book for free, you may be able to shave a few bucks off the price.  I use the eReaderIQ site to monitor drops in prices.  You input the books you are interested in and get notified when the price drops.  I tend to have a constant backlog of books to read (dozens), so there are often cases where I want to eventually read a certain book, but not necessarily right now.  Gone Girl was $12.99 when I added it to my watch list on eReaderIQ.  I bought it a few days ago when the price dropped to $4.99

I'm a big fan of mystery author Lawrence Block.  In recent years, he has been releasing ebook versions of dozens of his out of print books.  A few times each year (Black Friday usually being one of those times), he offers deep discounts on many of those books.  People who follow him on Facebook and Twitter are the first to know.  If you follow a prolific author, consider following them to see if they notify you of deals or other news you may be interested in.

Finally, Amazon is introducing a new program called Matchbook.  If a book participates in the Matchbook program, you will be able to buy the Kindle version at a deeply discounted price (or even free) if you have bought the printed book in the past.  This might not appear to you if you already have the book on your bookshelf - but what about books you have given to people as gifts over the years?

Posted on October 15, 2013.

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9 Responses to “Kindle on a Budget”

  1. My wife bought me a kindle when she decided that my life needed some de-cluttering.
    Even though i like the Kindle there are a few negatives.
    The first being that you cant share the book with your friends. I loved reading a book and then loaning it out to a friend to read. Always gives you something to talk about. Now my friends also have to buy the book.
    The other BIG drawback is that Amazon frequently “forget to offer” second hand book option when you have a kindle account. You can buy the book new, hardback, or kindle but the second hand buy the book for 1c plus delivery often disappears.
    Maybe its just me being an old fuddy duddy but I miss the physicality of a book. Kindles are OK but not the be all and end all.

  2. Eric says:

    If you go on reddit, there are a lot of sub reddits dedicated to free ebooks.
    One user posts an aggregate of all free ebooks over 4 stars on amazon every week.
    I think it is the amazon under 15 subreddit, but there may be more.

    Bottom line is a lot of digital books go on sale for free, you just have to be there to download them.

  3. Bethany says:

    The daily deals for Kindle books have dwindled a bit in quality but are still worth checking regularly. I managed to pick up most of the Ed McBain 87th Precinct books at $0.99 each.

    Though time consuming, I always recommend periodically checking favorite authors and selecting the “Price Low to High” option. I’ve lucked into plenty of $2 and $3 titles in what appear to be unannounced, temporary sales.

    I could never convert fully, but Kindle makes a nice supplement to my “real” reading, so long as it stays cheap.

  4. Kosmo says:

    @ GetRichWithMe – Yes, not being able to freely lend books is definitely a negative. Looking at this from a publisher/author perspective, I can understand it. When you lend a physical book to someone, it accumulates some level of wear and tear and will eventually fall apart – the purchase price of the book gives you X number of readings. With eBooks, you could lend a book a thousand times and it would still be a pristine copy.

    Hmm, I’ll have to poke around regarding the used books. I so rarely buy physical books that I don’t usually look for the used copy.

    @ Eric – I’m not a reddit user, but that sounds pretty cool. I generally just browse the top free sellers in my genres (mystery/crime/suspense fiction)

    @ Bethany – Many of my McBain books were picked up used, but I definitely paid for than 99 cents.

    I’ve actually been able to acquire free books from my favorite author (Lawrence Block) lately. How? I’m written some nice reviews of his work, as well as a profile. He took notice, and his people make advance reading copies available in eBook form. I’m currently reading his new book, which comes out on Christmas day. Since I have a Kindle, I received my copy the same day that he announced the book’s release.

    • Lazy Man says:

      Well publishers could limit eBooks to X number of lendings, right?

      That’s very cool of Lawrence Block to give you free books. I don’t know how famous he is, but I presume it works better with less popular authors than say, Stephen King.

  5. Kosmo says:

    Block isn’t King, but he’s very well known in the mystery genre. He’s won quite a lot of prestigious awards over the years.

    He’s also had several of his books turned into movies, although he often hasn’t liked the result. Case in point is the Whoopu movie “Burglar”. This is very, very, very loosely based on Block’s Burglar series. So loosely that I didn’t realize the connection until Block made a comment about it.

    The 2014 movie “A Walk Among The Tombstones”, starring Liam Neeson, is based on a Block book.

    Block has begun self-publishing. At first, it was older content that was out of print. Now, it’s even new stuff like the book that’s coming out in December. I think his logic with the freebies is that rewarding people who evangelize his work is in his financial best interest. He might lose one same to me, but I might get 5 people to buy the book. That’s a huge net win for him.

  6. Kosmo says:

    “Well publishers could limit eBooks to X number of lendings, right?”

    They do. It’s either zero or one (max duration two weeks).

    This is definitely something that could be tweaked. eBooks are really still in their infancy yet, so I wouldn’t be surprised if them model still evolves a bit.

  7. […] Kindle on a Budget – I was super excited to read this article because I love the Kindle app on my iPad but it definitely causes me to spend more money on books than I used to! – Lazy Man and Money […]

  8. […] Kindle on a Budget- lazymanandmoney.com has great tips for finding lots of cheap reading on a kindle.  My wife has read 157 books so far this year, so I appreciate a good deal on a book more than anyone.  157 was not an exaggeration by the way.  I’m not completely convinced I have read 157 books in my lifetime. Affiliate Link […]

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