In the age of smartphones, mobile data connections, and online shopping, many avid readers have turned to e-readers and ebooks instead of paperbacks and hardcovers.
The Kindle and its online library of books have a number of improvements over traditional books.
Firstly, a new Kindle Paperwhite takes up far less space than hundreds of physical books while also having the advantage of being waterproof.
Additionally, while a Kindle is relatively expensive, there is a common perception that ebooks are cheaper than physical paperbacks – so you make up the device purchase difference in savings.
And while some people prefer reading physical books to a Kindle, they choose the latter as an attempt to save on their monthly book spend.
We compared whether it really is cheaper for regular readers to buy a Kindle and ebooks, as opposed to the physical books, below.
Average book price
The only platform which sells both electronic and physical copies of the same books, and can therefore deliver an accurate comparison, is Amazon.
We used the top 10 fiction books from the New York Times Bestsellers list at the time of writing to calculate the average price of a Kindle ebook and a physical book on Amazon.
When calculating the physical book price, we used the pricing for either the paperback or hardcover versions of the novels, depending on which was cheaper.
The data below shows that while the Kindle version is sometimes considerably cheaper, this can vary depending on the work. They are also sometimes slightly more expensive.
We have also included local pricing from South African stores for paperback versions of the books, to provide a local perspective.
|Title||Kindle||Physical – Amazon||Physical – Local|
|Where the Crawdads Sing||$12.50||$15.60||R250|
|The Malta Exchange||$16.48||$17.39||R317|
|Daisy Jones & The Six||$17.70||$16.20||R256|
|The Woman in the Window||$14.59||$11.59||R180|
|The Tattooist of Auschwitz||$6.36||$10.08||R128|
|The Silent Patient||$5.04||$16.19||R233|
|The Last Romantics||$14.59||$16.19||N/A|
Paying off your Kindle
Even considering a price difference based on the average costs listed above, and not the median price of ebooks versus physical books, there is not much difference between the two formats.
Amazon offers specials on both paperbacks and Kindle versions of books, and Amazon Prime members can get further discounts on products.
Specials are not exclusive to online platforms however, and many physical bookstores have regular sales where selected books are available at a fraction of the price.
It is important to note, though, that ebooks can be downloaded instantly to your Kindle – while you will need to physically pick up or accept delivery of a paperback novel.
Looking at the numbers alone, a new Kindle Paperwhite is priced at $150 from Amazon – meaning that even if the average price difference above holds for a larger sample size, you would need to purchase over 150 books before you pay off the initial cost of the e-reader.
The device is even more expensive locally – priced at R3,339 from Takealot. This means that even with local paperbacks being more expensive than in the US, you will still have to buy over 100 books to recoup the cost of the reader.
Used books and Kindle Unlimited
Of course, the price of a paperback varies depending on which physical or online store you are shopping at, and if your local bookstore offers good pricing.
Many brick-and-mortar bookstores will purchase and resell physical copies of books however, allowing you to pick up great deals.
Amazon also offers a Kindle Unlimited subscription service, which provides unlimited access to certain books on the Kindle Store.
None of the New York Times Bestsellers fall under this programme however, and many other popular books we tested were not included in this subscription.
It is therefore plain to see there is no argument to suggest that either option is significantly cheaper.
There are many advantages to using a Kindle, of course, including the portability, instant downloads, and capability of the hardware – but the ability to buy cheaper books is unfortunately not a major consideration, with only a slight price difference existing between the two options.