Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The economic case for Books versus Kindles

Despite all this talk of new e-book readers like Amazon's Kindle eventually replacing the printed word I still think they'll have a long way to go to beat old-fashioned Guttenberg-style books on economic grounds alone.

As a kid I was a big library user. But it's nice to own books. So I started buying paperback books big time in 1964 when I was sixteen. I can't remember now but I must have suddenly become affluent - maybe I got a paper round - because I used to buy half a dozen books or more a month right up until the time I went to university in 1966.

The first book I ever bought was called something like "Kennedy: the first 100 days, a skeptical analysis" from the Paperback Bookshop in Edinburgh. I still have it although - because we have the builders in - I can't put my hands on it right now.

Next, in July 1964 I bought Henry James' "Washington Square". It cost 3/6 in old money which is 17.5 pence today or roughly 35 cents. Now, amortising that over 43 years and taking into account the fact that I've read it twice that equates to a written down value of around 0.00056 pence for the price of the book. In other words, that's what the book has really cost me given the length of time I've owned it. Since the book has around 60000 words that's a download equivalent to 10cc of fresh air per word (my calculator just can't handle such a small amount). Or half that already infinitesimal amount if I read it again within the next six months. Even less if my wife reads it too since she didn't buy it in the first place (we hadn't met back in 1964), and assuming I hire it to her at the going rate based on the current replacement value (which is standard practice in the hire business). I wouldn't hire it to my son though, because I wouldn't get it back from him.

Now, I've never met Jeff Bezos but I know he's a formidable businessman who must have done his sums on this venture. Even so, I'm prepared to take him on. If he can convince me that I can buy his little gizmo and download novels for less than the price I've been paying up to now, then I promise I'll go online right away and give him all my credit card numbers and he can take them up to their limits and beyond. Which, unfortunately for Jeff, is not very far. That is to say, I'll never buy another book.

Don't know what I'll put on my bookshelves in future though.

1 comment:

  1. Could anything replace that wonderful moment when you held your very own book in your very own hand, stroking the cover, sniffing the pages ...?

    Kindle shmindle ...