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.
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.]
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.
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?