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$248.49 On Books in 1 Hour: 5 Lessons
January 2, 2012 - 8:30pm

On 12/27/11, between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., I spent $248.49 on books.

Here is is the breakdown:

$229.50 -  Audible.com Platinum Membership Renewal: The Platinum plan gives 24 credits, which works out to $9.56 per book. Audible kicks in an extra credit for renewing early, which brings the price down to $9.18 per audiobook.

$4.00 - Amazon Used Book: ($3.99 shipping, $0.01 book):  Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies: And Other Pricing Puzzles. (Oddly, the book is listed as "New" - we shall see.)

$6.00 - Amazon Paperback: The Financial Lives of the Poets: A Novel (Free shipping, Amazon Prime).

$6.00 - Amazon Paperback: Model Home: A Novel (Free shipping, Amazon Prime).

$2.99 - Amazon Kindle: Strip by Thomas Perry.

This works out to $8.57 a book ($248.49 / 29 books).  

Can we find any lessons in this book buying binge?

Lesson 1 - The Danger of Amazon's Book Market Dominance: All of my book money is going to Amazon. This is fine, as long as Amazon keeps innovating on price and delivery. But what happens when Amazon wipes out the competition? We need to find ways to support our local booksellers, and even Amazon's online competition, to keep the pressure on. I have no idea how to do this, as I'm incredibly guilty of relying on Amazon (Audible is also owned by Amazon).

Lesson 2 - The Pleasures of Online/Kindle Book Buying: The Kindle Sample has changed how I buy books. When I read about or hear about a book I might want to read, I go and download the KIndle Sample (usually the 1st chapter). I have over 400 sample books on my Kindle. Reading the 1st chapter is a great way to determine if I want to invest in the entire book. I'll also read book reviews, and the comments from other readers on Amazon. Combining the Kindle Samples with the web adds up to a rich and pleasurable book selection process.   

Lesson 3 -  The Economics of Books: This is how I now buy books. First,  I go through the sample books on my Kindle, reading the first chapters and referring back to the Amazon site. In addition to figuring out what book I want to read, I look to see which version is the cheapest. This is sometimes the e-book version, but often it is the paperback copy. Sometimes the used book is the cheapest, but not always. Mostly I read nonfiction by audiobook, and fiction by Kindle or paperback.  With the platinum plan, nonfiction books from Audible are almost always less expensive than the Kindle equivalent.  

Lesson 4 - Choice of Formats: Buying new books from Audible is often the least expensive alternative, but price is not the main determining factor for the purchase format. The reason I buy audiobooks is that I can read them while multitasking, and therefore read more books. I listen to books while exercising, washing dishes, shoveling snow, driving to work, walking across campus, and falling asleep. If I could listen to audiobooks in the shower I'd be very happy (any ideas?). E-books or paper books are perfect for sitting around and relaxing with the family - one of the reasons I like to read fiction in these formats. I've also found that having a Kindle app on my phone is handy, as I can keep reading during those "in-between" times, such as standing in line at the grocery store or waiting to pick up my kids at sports, as the synced book is always with me.

Lesson 5:  Concern About Libraries: I am fortunate enough to be able to spend $248.49 cents on books in one hour.  This is a ridiculous luxury. A library is an economic equalizer. In a world as rich as our, everybody should enjoy the ability to read. But what happens if the Amazon book buying experience begins to so outstrip what libraries can offer that political (and soon financial) support for libraries begins to erode? I will continue to support my local library in every way possible, but I think that there is a danger when the well-off can "opt out" of public goods such as libraries (or schools, police, roads etc.). In the long run, a lower level of societal support for public libraries is bad for Amazon (and publishers and authors and everyone else in the book business), as libraries nurture and replicate readers. If Amazon is truly playing a long game then they would partner with and invest in libraries (both public and academic), we shall see.

What lessons would you draw?   

What was your book buying experience over the holidays?

 

 

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