It’s been almost fifteen years since Amazon launched the first Kindle model in November 2007. Since then, the retail giant’s digital readers have become increasingly popular and, in its history, have attracted users both by practicality and economy — as ebooks are generally cheaper than a printed book.
But, at the tip of the pencil, is it really cheaper to buy a Kindle and pay theoretically lower values for digital books, or are the savings greater if you buy the printed versions of the works?
Does the Kindle really offer those savings that made it such a success? To arrive at this answer, Canaltech analyzed the price of the devices and compared it with the print and digital versions of books on Amazon. Also, I talked to some device users to understand how to use the device.
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Are ebooks really that much cheaper than print books?
To arrive at this answer, I compared the prices of thirty books available on Amazon. All these works are available in digital or printed version.
For the physical versions, I opted for the simple cover option, which is usually cheaper. In other cases, the hardcover book is cheaper, so I used this model.
It is also important to point out that I chose different titles, from the best-selling models at Jeff Bezos’ store, to the most well-known works — such as the Harry Potter saga, the “A Song of Ice and Fire” collection, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. — or simply more “common” works.
As expected, many ebooks are actually cheaper than the physical version. However, the savings are not that big. Some books are just pennies cheaper in the digital version. “That’s how it ends”, by Colleen Hoover, for example, costs BRL 34.89 for the hardcover printed book and BRL 34.11 for the ebook. A difference of only R$ 0.78.
Others are actually cheaper, like “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” by JK Rowling. It costs, in its printed version, R$ 35.47, while the digital model costs R$ 13.41 – a savings of R$ 22.06. The savings are even greater for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, as the work is free in the service’s catalog.
However, there are cases where the ebook is even more expensive than the printed version. “The Hobbit”, by JRR Tolkien, costs R$23.70 for the single-cover version and R$31.41 for the Kindle edition. In this case, it is R$ 7.71 cheaper to buy the physical book. Even the hardcover edition is worth more, as it costs R$28.90.
So, on average — based on the titles I researched — the difference between print and digital is just R$1.69. Rounding up, since some works can generate greater savings, let’s consider a value of R$ 2 less in ebooks.
After all, how many books do you need to buy to be worth having a Kindle?
Today, Amazon officially sells four Kindle models — the most basic 10th generation version, the 11th Generation Kindle Paperwhite, the 11th Generation Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition, and the Kindle Oasis, which is the most advanced model. .
First, let’s consider the simplest device, which is the 10th Generation Kindle. It currently costs R$ 399 for those who are going to pay in installments or R$ 379.05 for payment in cash. As installment is the norm among Brazilians, let’s consider the higher amount.
Thus, with a basic calculation, it would be necessary to buy about 200 digital books in the Amazon store so that the value of the product is “deducted” from the savings generated by the purchases of ebooks.
In addition to it, it is also important to study the case of the 11th Generation Kindle Paperwhite, which is the model that offers the best value for money. The device is currently sold for R$649 in installments or R$616.55 in cash.
Considering the higher value, it would be necessary to buy approximately 325 digital books to “compensate” financially for the purchase of the reader.
Kindle Unlimited Offers Bigger Savings for Heavy Readers
For more avid readers, an alternative is to take advantage of the brand’s book subscription service, Kindle Unlimited. It offers a large library of digital books for R$19.90 per month.
Occasionally, the company runs promotions that release the service for a month for R$1.90 or even six months for R$9.90, as happened last time. But, for simplicity’s sake, let’s do an analysis with the full monthly amount — which is BRL 19.90.
For this study, I considered the average reading of Brazilians, who usually consume about five books a year, including finished or incomplete titles, according to data collected by Agência Brasil.
As the subscription price is equivalent to BRL 238.80 per year, added to the price of a more basic Kindle, we have a total of BRL 637.80 in a year. If the user reads five books a year, and the average value of a physical book is R$35.80, the savings were R$178.98. This doesn’t even come close to lowering the amount paid for the service, much less the reader.
Considering the average price of physical books and the value of the service added to that of a simple reader, it is necessary to read about 17 or 18 books a year. In this way, the user would have “recovered” what was paid in both.
It is important to note that the Unlimited catalog is constantly evolving, and Amazon is always adding new titles.
Although many are not so attractive, it is still possible to find very popular books, such as the entire Harry Potter saga, as well as “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” or the classic “Dom Casmurro” by Machado de Assis.
Other than that, a Kindle can last many years in careful hands, but we’re doing the whole math based on a year to make it easier to think about.
Comfort is the biggest draw on a Kindle
If before, buying a Kindle resulted in greater savings when buying books, today that no longer exists. The prices of ebooks are getting closer and closer to the values charged for digital books, which doesn’t make much sense, considering that there are practically no costs with paper, production or logistics.
In addition, it is possible to find titles that are even more expensive in the digital version than in the printed version. Of course, you can still save up to more than 20 reais with specific works, but the average difference is no longer as attractive as it was in the past.
Thus, what most makes a reader’s head when deciding to buy a book or Kindle is comfort.
I talked to some users of the devices, and they all agree that this is the biggest advantage of the Amazon e-reader. The fact of being able to read anywhere without carrying too much weight is the most mentioned among my interviewees.
Another benefit of the Kindle is that it “encourages” the discovery of new books more, as there are regularly really good deals on lesser-known titles.
“I shop quite often. It opened the doors more… Now I buy a book to find out if it’s good, even though I’ve never heard of it. The price helps”, comments Johnny Oliveira, web developer heard by Canaltech. “Sometimes I see a cheap book and give it a go, which was rarer with [livro] physical because it involves more than just the price”, he adds.
Storage of physical books is another user concern. Filipe Pereira, who works as a librarian, highlights another importance for the adoption of ebooks: “Physical books suffer a lot from inadequate storage conditions, causing allergies and being conducive to infestations of some pests.”
In addition to these precautions, the fact that you can have a huge library inside a single device is another strong point of Kindles, as it saves a lot of space inside the house, especially those who read a lot.
Finally, journalist Nicole Siniscalchi mentions the support for anonymous authors and the ease that Kindle offers for the dissemination of their work.
“There are a lot of anonymous writers that I follow, that I read and they end up sharing the books, or releasing chapter by chapter on their pages. I do this kind of reading a lot, I think it’s really cool.”