The Amazon Kindle originally promised a technology that would improve your reading experience, at the same time cutting the cost of books in half. Those books would arrive on your Kindle through the magic of the Whisper Net, a free space age delivery service. The Kindle itself would be easier to use, lighter weight, and more readable than an actual book.

Well, there’s good news and bad news. As the Kindle technology and the eBook market have developed, all of those original promises have become either vapor or else very different than first imagined. Nonetheless, I want a new-old Kindle as well as a Kindle Fire. Let me ‘splain.

First, on the cost of books. A kindle edition of a book is generally cheaper than the print edition, but rarely is it half price as has been claimed by Amazon. Let’s check a few examples to see.

Amazon advertizes five books as the “Best of the Month” for October. If you were an avid book reader, you’d read at least one or two of these, right? Let’s compare the print price, the Kindle price, and the percentage Amazon claims you save by comparing the Kindle price with some fictional number that you’d have to be a total chump to pay.

1Q84 in print, hardcover: 16.77; Kindle: 14.99; Claimed savings: 51%

The Marriage Plot: A Novel in print, 14.72; Kindle: 12.99; Claimed savings: 54%

The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean in print, 20.97; Kindle: 9.99; Claimed savings: 71%

Lost Memory of Skin: A Novel in print: 14.05 (paper); Kindle: 12.99; Claimed savings: 50%.

The Dovekeepers: A Novel in print: 16.15; Kindle: 14.99; Claimed savings: 45%

Result:

$82.66 Total cost to buy print editions
$65.95 Total cost to buy Kindle editions
$16.71 Savings

So, if you buy these books on the kindle, you will save 20% over print editions. Amazon makes the claim that on averge you’ll save about half, and for these particular books (taking the average of their claimed savings) you’ll save 54%.

From this we can suggest the following possiblities:

1) Amazon can’t do math.
2) Amazon thinks you are stupid.

Both are distinct possibilities. I assume that Amazon is using the publishers’ suggested prices for these books to estimate the savings, but in truth, no one pays retail. And Amazon, since they sell the books, should be aware of this. And of course, they are. Hey, if you are reading this and you are an attorney general with nothing else to do this week, this can be your low hanging fruit! Make Amazon stop claiming that you are saving 50% when instead of paying 14 dollars you pay 11 dollars.

There is another way in which Amazon does not save you money. Or at least, it does not save me money. For novels, going back a year or so, I used to save a LOT of money because most of the novels I read were loaned to me by my mother-in-law who: a) reads a lot; b) is an expert on modern lit (has a degree in it and everything); c) has good taste in books; and d) is very good at explaining to me what a book is about so I can decide if I want to read it or no. Oh, and e) was in the habit of buying piles of books.

But then she got a Kindle and my source of free novels has been eradicated by technology! So now, I can buy novels for the kindle and save 20 percent, which actually means I pay 80 percent MORE than zero!

Having said all that, I love my Kindle and I want more. First, about the price: Who cares! We’re talking about books here! (Have you been to my house?) I’d pay MORE for the electronic version in fact, because they are search-able! (Don’t mention this to Amazon, please.) Plus, there is a whole category of books that are actually much much cheaper on the Kindle than anywhere else.

Here are a few books I’ve read on the Kindle over the last couple of years:

The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Print: 10.00

The Great Boer War: the Final Edition Covering the Entire Conflict 1899-1902. Print: 32.99

The Origin of Species. Print: 9:95

And a bunch of other books. On the Kindle? Free. Yes, they are also available free from other places, such as various web sites. But the Kindle is a reader, and my computer is not. It is hard to take the computer to bed at night for a half hour of Victorian literature.

OK, enough about price, what about technology? The Kindle Fire is the newest technology and it is essentially a tablet iPad like thing that is a dedicated reader. A bit like a Motorola Android pad with a screwdriver driven through part of its brain so it can only do a few things. But it’s not that expensive, and it’s smaller and lighter than a tablet. Yet, it is heavier than a kindle. Is it too heavy? Is it not as light and nice as a Kindle, in the hand, lighter than an actual book, etc?

I’m not sure yet. I’d like to borrow one and play around with it. Maybe I can convince my father in law that my mother in law needs one! But my estimation is that i would like it.

But, it is very interesting to note that the Fire does not use Whisernet. Only WiFi. That is in fact more than a little interesting.

I’ve found over the last several months that Whispernet sucks for anything but downloading a book you just bought. And, it does not work in some places. Like up at the cabin. Julia is at present spending months in a country with zero Whispernet access. Good thing her Kindle also has wireless!

I think Whispernet was a nice idea but if I were to buy a new Kindle, I’d get the kind with only wireless.

Which brings us to the final item I wanted to mention: As expected, with the Fire in the mix, the regular Kindle price has dropped. If you don’t mind the ads (which are not visible in the reading area, but they are visible in the index area and on the screen saver) and don’t want Whispernet (which you don’t) and like the smaller form factor (which is good … it is what makes the Kindle a good thing to read from) then you can now get the Kindle, Wi-Fi, 6″ E Ink Display – includes Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers for 80 bucks.

That’s the cost of a discounted academic book or 10 novels at Barnes and Noble.

One of the problems of having a machine to read your books is the anxiety of the machine breaking. And the Kindle is a bit delicate. At this price, that anxiety is much less. A new reader every couple of years for 80 bucks is very reasonable.

Comments

  1. #1 SAILOR
    October 4, 2011

    Greg, I have not done this yet, but if I understand right, your mum can lend you her kindle books to read on your kindle.
    Kindle is a bit cheaper for new books, and better still, the author gets a much higher percentage normally, as there is no printer to pay. However, if books are discounted the give-away price becomes way less than the kindle. That is something they should maybe fix.
    The Fire color version is more for surging than reading – it will be way heavier on battery draw.
    One of the things I really like about the kindle is that if you hear about a book you want to read, you can be reading it about 10 minutes later.

  2. #2 sailor
    October 4, 2011

    Oops surfing not surging…

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    October 4, 2011

    Thanks for that second comment. I had my Kindle out looking for the Surging button!

    I’ve not tried the “loaning” thing yet.

  4. #4 Geek
    October 4, 2011

    I hate my Kindle! I used to go to library every 2 weeks but now it is so easy to just point, click and order I am spending more money on books than before. As you know the e-ink is about as close to reading a printed page as you can get and light weight and reliable. Getting serious is obtaining a book less expensive, perhaps but could I put 200 books on my night stand, not with out my wife killing me.

    I ordered the Amazon Color and like everyone else will not have hands on until Nov 15. I have however had my hands on its 7″ clone playbook, great form factor and sharp display.
    $200 bucks to be able to surf the net, do an email, read a book, with essentially unlimited cloud storage,

    Focusing on what it is rather what it is not is key. When I read that some are waiting to see a 10″ model, the won’t buy that either and if offered it for $50 would insist on free shipping and a life time replacement guarantee.

  5. #5 sailor
    October 4, 2011

    I just loaned a book, it is not as good as it seems. The main problem is that the publisher gets to decide whether a book can be loaned or not; so many of them cannot. Happily you can loan Paranormality. You go onto Amazon “manage my Kindle”, your list of your books is there and for each one you can look at the options. If you do decide to loan you just need the recipients email address and name. They get loaned for two weeks and then fly home.

  6. #6 J Richard
    October 4, 2011

    Half.com

    Thousands of slightly used books for only .75 and shipping (usually a couple bucks or less, 1st class or media mail).

    Cheaper than Kindle and Amazon.

  7. #7 uqbar
    October 4, 2011

    Here is the best way I have found to use my Kindle:

    1. Jailbreak your Kindle so you can replace the stupid “screensavers” with something interesting.

    2. Never “buy” any books from Amazon (you don’t really “buy” a book for the Kindle, you just purchase a license to read it under limited circumstances.)

    3. Download free ebooks from Google Books, Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and many other sources. Of course you won’t get the latest books this way (with some exceptions), but thousands of excellent books are available.

    4. Need a more recent book but don’t want to spend tons of money? – get it from your local library. My local library also has lending agreements with many other libraries; essentially, if a book is in any library in the state, I can get it in a few days. This includes university libraries so many otherwise hard to find books are readily available.

    5. Download Calibre ebook management software – use it to manage your ebooks and load them onto your Kindle (or numerous other e-readers).

  8. #8 rturpin
    October 4, 2011

    Another option for sharing: tie one Amazon account to multiple kindles. You can download any book purchased to all the kindles. This works well for couples and their kids. Less so, otherwise, since it is a 1-N relationship.

  9. #9 Bruce
    October 4, 2011

    A few things worth mentioning:
    * Some public libraries can loan some books on Kindle, via http://www.overdrive.com; not a broad selection yet.
    * Very broad selection of public domain books for Kindle, etc. at http://www.gutenberg.org
    * For geeks, lots of techie book deals at Oreilly.com, manning.com, informit.com, apress.com, peachpit.com, etc.

    I love my Kindle, yet get very few books thru Amazon. I am hoping for an iPad price drop. I wish the Kindle Fire was more hackable.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    October 4, 2011

    rturpin: We have seven devices on our account. In truth, it’s mainly Julia and I reading in different rooms or settings, but Amanda occassionally read something on the kindle. I never use my touch any more since Huxley ate it, so I suppose it’s really six devices. I suppose I could get a device registered on MIL’s account!

  11. #11 iqirha
    October 5, 2011

    Don’t knock the whispernet. In areas without any WiFi, like rural South Africa, it is a miracle to be able to decide on a book and be reading it within a couple of minutes instead of searching, ordering it over the internet and then waiting a couple of weeks for it to be delivered.

  12. #12 Mike Haubrich
    October 5, 2011

    I didn’t go the Kindle route, I went the “nook” route. This makes me not like Amazon. Their “free” books are not in an open format, they are still in Kindle format.

    If they would make their free books available in e-pub, I would be happier, but downloading and converting is a pain in the bohunkus.

    Barnes & Noble uses e-pub. Nuff said for me. Sharing is a matter of e-mailing a file.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    October 5, 2011

    iqirha:Good point. I found that Whispernet failed when I tried to do basic transferring of books once purchaced between “archvies” and the Kindle. Downloading new books also did not work well all the time. On the other hand, I remember having to climb a big sand dune and stand in just the right place next to a water tank at a certain time of day to get a cell phone signal from Upington, and being very happy to get anything at all! So it is all relative.

    ZA has a great cell phone network even if many of the towers look like fake trees. Rep. of Georgia, where my daughter is, has some cell but Amazon has no contracts there apparently so there is no Whispernet. I have wireless at the cabin up north but no cell service, and in my hope the wireless is good.

    The key is that it all depends on where you are, and getting Whispernet as an option where available would be recommended for South Africa, as you say! Thanks for that info.

    Mike are the “nook” free books in open format?

  14. #14 Mu
    October 5, 2011

    Does anyone know if you can by from oversea Amazon (UK, DE etc) for your kindle, or if you’re subject to the same release restrictions as the printed books? For some reason a lot of stuff me and my brother in Europe are reading seem to be on different schedules, being released months apart depending on country.

  15. #15 Patrick Dennis
    October 5, 2011

    I’m really excited about the prospect of having both the Kindle and the Fire.

    Kindle — Does one thing, and does it really well: Allows you to read text comfortably. Not so great, however: photos, any graphical material, flipping through pages, especially back and forth between an illustration and the associated text.

    Fire — Great graphics, speed. Text not as easy on the eyes as e-ink.

    Now, what I’m visualizing is a book-cover that holds both a Kindle and a Fire, side-by-side, or back-to-back. Both have Wi-Fi, and they are configured to talk to each other. I buy a book, and it is present on both. Here is where it gets fun: A (as yet nonexistent) synchronizing app gives me the ability to have the graphics – photos, maps, diagrams, charts, graphs, equations, whatever – presented on the Fire, with the associated text on the Kindle. I touch (or select)the text, “See Figure 1″ on the Kindle, and Figure 1 shows up on the Fire.

    Likewise, if I am browsing my favorite website on my Fire, and come to a lengthy article I’d like to read, I can select it and send it to the Kindle side, as with the “Readability” app that is currently available.

    I could do most of this now, but it’d be kind of a duct tape and baling wire setup. Wouldn’t it be great to have one app to sync the whole thing?

  16. #16 Ash
    October 5, 2011

    I’m not sure whether the Nook free books are in an open format, but their “paid” books generally are not since they use a proprietary DRM that no other reader can use (I’m not sure why they’d make it so owners of other readers can’t buy their books…). Pretty much everyone other than Amazon and B&N use Adobe DRM which can be read with basically any other reader (Sony, Kobo, and countless other less-known devices).

    Most free books and some “paid” books are available without any DRM though; those are the ones that can be universally read on any device; there are still format differences for Amazon vs. everyone else (EPub) but at least without DRM you can convert the format to match your reader without breaking any laws (and generally those books would be available in EPub from other sellers as well as Amazon anyhow).

    Personally I have no interest in a Kindle so long as they keep trying to lock you into buying all their books from Amazon, since there are other readers just as good that don’t lock you in (so you can shop around for who has the book you want at the lowest price for books that aren’t sold under the agency model – though as more and more publishers are switching to the agency model price differences are disappearing), but that $80 price point is pretty good compared to most of the other top readers right now.

  17. #17 uqbar
    October 5, 2011

    People interested in this topic may also want to take a look at the EFF “E-Book Buyer’s Guide to PRivacy;” it also includes information on supported formats.

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/01/updated-and-corrected-e-book-buyers-guide-privacy

  18. #18 oldebabe
    October 5, 2011

    Why always Amazon?

    I’m with #12 above, i.e. I’ve got the B & N Nook, simple, straightforward, and it’s exactly all I need. An electronic book. The main idea is to just be able to read the books that one wants, isn’t it, rather than a means to find whatever technological add-ons and advertisements that may be most currently available and/or advertised.

  19. #19 uqbar
    October 5, 2011

    Yet another comment:

    Sherlock Holmes, The Great Boer War, and The Origin of Species (as well as other works by Doyle and Darwin) are all available at guteneberg.org for free download. I’m sorry to say you overpaid by about $53.

    You should also be aware of the ongoing scam in which unscrupulous people take copyright-free (and freely available) books and repackage them for sale on amazon.com and other places.

  20. #20 Greg Laden
    October 5, 2011

    oldbabe: I have nothing against the nook. For me, this whole things started when I got a Kindle as a gift. Since I know about the kindle and have experience, that’s what I write about. I’d love a nook! Nobody’s given me one yet, though.

    Uqbar, yes, absolutely. I think I mention that in the post somewhere. The difference is, you still have to put it on a reader, if you want to read it on a reader. So, downloading it from Amazon to your kindle (or B&N to your nook) is simply easy .

    I promise you, most of those books are ALSO in my library of eBooks. In fact, when it comes to free eBook, I have far more of them NOT on my Kindle an on my computer, from places like Gutenberg.

  21. #21 Ash
    October 5, 2011

    Mu – ebooks are subject to geographic restrictions due to publishing contracts. Sometimes it’s worse than paper copies; it all depends on how the rights were negotiated. To make it more frustrating, most of the major ebook sellers (Amazon, Sony, etc.) don’t even say upfront which countries the books are available in, so you don’t find out until you get to checkout and get a message about the book not being available in your country.

    The geographic restrictions are usually based on the address associated with the credit card you use though, and not the location where you are when buying the book. Some of the sellers accept PayPal so long as you have a credit card on file, and if no purchases are made with that credit card the address would never be confirmed. I’m just speaking hypothetically of course and am not suggesting you should look for workarounds to buy books that aren’t available as ebooks in your country.

  22. #22 Dane
    October 5, 2011

    The lending option does seem to be pretty limited. However there are other tricks, if you want to borrow from someone you know pretty well and have a smartphone ( and don’t mind reading a book on a smartphone) you can just signout of your account in the kindle app and signinto your friends. Then you get access to all thier books.

    They also have recently added a feature for most libraries ( I belive any that use Overdrive for thier digital media content) that allows you to checkout ebooks directly to your kindle from the library ebook website. My local library has a pretty descent selection, but only a couple copies of the better books so thier can be a waiting list.

    I think the killer combination is a Fire and the cheap ( or go crazy and spend an extra $20 on the touch) kindle. Then you have the fire for color stuff, video, music etc. But can read on the kindle for longer form reading. But you get all your book content on both. At the pricess Amazon is offering it’s pretty reasonable to do it that way.

  23. #23 Mu
    October 5, 2011

    Thanks for that clarification Ash. So, if you can link one account to multiple kindles, can you link multiple accounts to one kindle (aka can my brother and I both have our accounts link to both of our kindles)?

  24. #24 Mike Haubrich
    October 5, 2011

    Greg –

    I don’t know. I just pull stuff over from e-books sites, including gutenberg.org. I don’t buy e-books, anyway. That’s so 2010.

    Mike

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    October 5, 2011

    Does everybody know about the cloud reader?

    If you have an Amazon account and have some eBooks (like, that you got for your Kindle) you just sign on to a web page with your amazon password and you have access to all the books. It obviates the PC/etc. reader. This is how Julia is reading the school books she needed to read in Georgia, where there is no Whispernet and her WiFi is dicey.