FrugalityPNG3692149756_ca17fc8325_z_thumbWhen I taught a unit on e-books to my Grade 3/4 students, one of their first concerns was the expense of E.

Mostly we looked at e-books which were free, but even a free book needs a device to read it on. The students readily grasped that if you lost or broke your device—or if you could not afford one in the first place—you’d be out of luck.

Bot how expensive are e-books, really?

I have been keeping stats on both my e-book and device spending since 2009. And what I’ve found is that if you read some of your books for free—either from free sources such as Project Gutenberg or via the library—the free books do indeed subsidize the cost of both the paid-for books and the device itself.

So, with that said, how did I net out, stats-wise, for this most recent year? How expensive has my e-book hobby been for me?

1) The Baseline

As in previous years, my baseline is $10. A second-hand trade paperback, my pre-e-book staple, costs about that much. So if I get my cost per book to under $10, I consider myself coming out ahead, with e-books being cheaper, for me, than paper.

2) Cost of the Devices

In 2015, I bought no devices specially for books. The Beloved has appropriated our new Acer tablet for himself, to check sports scores and play music in bed. The Fire Tablet I received from David Rothman has been used mostly for YouTube and light gaming; its screen is terrible to read on.

I’ve always sold the old devices to fund the new ones. So my ‘lifetime’ spending on dedicated e-book devices stands at about $240.

3) Cost of the Books

In 2015, I spent $146.59 on e-books. This is down about $20 from last year’s spending. This comprises a few Humble Bundle offers, which I typically pay the maximum price for so I can get all the extras, and some Kindle books now and then. I also get books from Kindle Unlimited and the public library.

When I add this to my previous year’s total, my lifetime nets out to $3834.31. Ouch! But let’s see how that plays out on a per-book basis…

4) The Price-Per-Book Total

To get a price-per-book total, I add up the device costs and the book costs and then divide by the number of books read. This gives a fair estimate of the price per book: it factors in the free books to lower the final number, but it also means that if I pay for a book and then don’t read it, it doesn’t factor in either.

This year, I read 37 books. When I add that to my previous year’s totals, I get a lifetime 510 e-books.

And what is the price per book, then? Devices ($240) plus book spending ($3834.31) is $4074.31. Divide that by 510, and you get a cost-per-book of about $7.99—well under the $10 I used to spend on paper books!

I suspect that 2015 may have been my last year of stat-keeping. Most of my devices now are multi-purpose. I don’t buy devices just for reading anymore. I also find that I am making more use of sunk-cost services like the library and Kindle Unlimited these days. I have found Kindle Unlimited so useful for work purposes that I am keeping it in my media roster just for that, even if I don’t read any books for fun. It just doesn’t seen necessary to categorize and track all of this data the way it used to be. E-books are simply a part of my life.

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Publisher’s note: I’ll respectfully disagree with Joanna on the value of the $50 Fire for e-reading. A post later this weekend will explain why. – DR


  1. When I first started buying eBooks (early 2006) I used to spend approximately US$75 a week. Sometimes double that. I shopped at Fictionwise; Diesel Books; Books on Board etc. The eBooks from the traditional publishers, with no geographical restrictions at that time, were a lot cheaper for me to purchase than the print versions, particularly because the exchange rate was much better then. I was able to purchase the US editions of many of my favourite authors backlist books plus any other eBook that took my fancy. Geographical restrictions put a stop to being able to purchase eBooks by my favourite authors. I simply stopped reading many of them and looked for indie authors whose eBooks were available to buyers outside of the US and were also DRM free. Now, the majority of the eBooks available for purchase from New Zealand are supplied by UK publishers. This means expensive eBooks! Generally at least NZ$4 more expensive than the US edition, if both are available and I am able to compare prices. I don’t buy the UK eBook editions – I won’t spend more than NZ$13 for an eBook and many of the eBooks I would have purchased if they were cheaper are on sale for over NZ$13.99. Even worse is the fact that publishers seem to think that there should be a hard-cover edition of an eBook and will charge the over-inflated price accordingly. If the US edition is not available I will borrow the book from my local library. Now I spend less than US$30 a week and am borrowing more and more from the library.

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