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eBooks: The Frugality Audit

As you may or may not know, I am a total librarian.

Annabelle loves the books!

I am also, for most of this year, a new fan of eBooks. It's totally up to you whether you like eBooks or not (damaging the publishing industry! revitalizing the publishing industry! getting more people to read! making books less available to people!). I'm not here to convince you one way or the other. But eBooks are a thing, it's happening, so all we can do is look at the frugality (or lack thereof).


Initial Investment

On the one hand, books are one of the most frugal things there are. Because: libraries. I mean yes, there are late fees and things, but if you're very good about returning things on time, libraries are free (except in wackadoo Alberta, Canada, where you have to pay for your card; Albertans be CRAZY)

So automatically eBooks are more expensive because you have to buy something to read them on. Like, you can borrow eBooks from the library (more on this later) but you need to have a device to read them on. I mean, you can read them on something you may already own like a laptop, smartphone, iPad, etc... but you need something to read them on. If you got crafty, maybe you could try to read them on computers at libraries, but even that's not always possible (e.g. where I work? The public computers are locked down from people downloading things)

Ongoing costs

Some people are confused why eBooks cost the same as book books. "There aren't printing costs, so they should be cheaper, right?" WRONG. I'm not entirely sure why, but eBooks tend to cost about the same as a paperback. This is at least partly because the eReaders themselves are loss leaders -- companies make money when you buy their books, so the books can't be cheap too.

Library Friendliness

It gets more complex here. You know how libraries buy books from publishers and stores, or get them donated? eBooks are currently LOCKED DOWN by publishers. I won't get into all of the sordid deets, but there are basically 6 major book publishers, and 4 of them are refusing to sell their books to libraries. The only two who provide eBooks to libraries are HarperCollins and Random House (though the HarperCollins books "expire" after a year so you have to buy new copies every year). So, while libraries WANT to offer you all of these books in eBook form, they are unable to buy them.

Libraries are able to buy any book they want, basically. Self-published thing guy is selling out of his basement? Libraries can buy it! Bestseller just released? Libraries can buy it!

Wait, hold up.

So what's the point of eBooks, then? If books are superior in every way, why have eBooks taken off like they have?


The instant gratification part is pretty self explanatory: you hear about a book, you want to read a book, you download it and read it right away. Works great if a) the book is published by HarperCollins or Random House and your library has an eBook copy or b) you don't mind spending money (or I suppose c) if you are unscrupulous and use torrents or something).

It's even more fun if you want to read a book the SECOND it's released. Even if you plan to go to the bookstore first thing that morning, or you paid for express shipping from Amazon, the eBook readers will get the books sooner. Because? They are available at MIDNIGHT. OK, I guess if you go to one of those Harry Potter style book release parties where they sell the books at midnight, you can still get it that first SECOND. But this way, you can do it from your sofa at home, in your pajamas, without having to hang out with screaming teens.

Also: the travel thing

Here's where it gets interesting. If you're a big reader, like me, you tend to have more than one book on the go. I also like to have a variety of options with me, especially when I travel. What if I feel like reading something funny? What if I want to finally read that long classic I've been meaning to read? What if I have an urge to re-read a nostalgic fave? This is why my suitcase and carry-on tend to get weighted down, because I bring at least three books along. When I don't bring three books along? I wind up buying a paperback from the airport or something.

eReaders hold hundreds, if not thousands of books. You can have essentially LIMITLESS OPTIONS with you, and it's way lighter to travel with, and fits in your purse easier than a book book.

For travel, eBooks are the winner (unless you go somewhere there isn't electricity, then you can't charge your eReader, I guess).

Environmental Impact

Meh. Smarter people than me have discussed this. I guess if you only ever read on your eReader for the next fifty years, and you never change it for another eReader, you will have saved some trees. But chances are, you're going to replace it at some point, likely in the next five years. And it costs more to manufacture an eReader device than a single paperback.

But then you think about how many books get printed, and how when they don't sell, they're sent off to be recycled, and eReading seems somehow more appealing.

The small business thing

Independent bookstores can't really sell eBooks. I mean, some are trying their best, but it's pretty hard to compete with the overwhelming marketing of stores like the Kindle store, Kobo store, and iBooks. So, to support your local economy, books are the better choice. I guess.


Frankly, whenever I move, packing up and moving books is one of the heaviest and most cumbersome parts. Reading eBooks is more minimalist, I suppose. Although I guess getting all your books from the library is the most minimalist - don't own anything ever!'' But still, eBooks appeal to me because I try not to own too much stuff, and books -- while they look cool -- are just more things to sit around your house.

What do you guys think? Books? eBooks? A bit of both? 

Also: feel free to leave a book suggestion below, I'm always on the lookout for something great and new to read.

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