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Why eBooks are a Better Entertainment Value Than Almost Anything Else

I’ve had my Amazon Kindle ebook reader for a few days now, and my Kindle unboxing video and “first impressions” post has generated a TON of great comments, and I’ve tried to respond to them all. I wrote WAY more in responding to people’s comments than I did in the original post, so make sure you go read through it all if you’re interested.

One of the questions that came up a lot was “Aren’t you concerned that you’re wasting money on DRM’ed ebooks that you might not be able to read again in a decade?” It’s a very valid questions, and I posted my thoughts in the comment thread. But I thought of one more thing, that started as just another comment to my own post, but grew really long, and became this post. :-)

Here’s the way I’ve always looked at ebooks and DRM and value. For background sake, you should know that I’ve spent hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on ebooks in my life, mostly from eReader (formerly Palm Digital Media, formerly Peanut Press), and ready on the various Windows Mobile devices that have found themselves in my possession over the years.

Instead of comparing the cost of a DRM’ed ebook that I’ll, in all likelihood, only ever read once, I look at it this way: Is the $9.99 (or less – $9.99 is about as much as I’ll pay for an ebook) worth the number of hours of entertainment you get from it?

  • A movie gives you roughly two hours of entertainment/diversion for about $10. More if you buy snacks (I always buy snacks!). Or you can pay $20 for the DVD. Say $5 to $15 an hour.
  • A magazine gives ME maybe a couple of hours of entertainment for about $5. $2.50 an hour.
  • A video game is $50 (or $29 for DS games) for, realistically a dozen hours of entertainment $4 an hour.
  • A nice dinner out with my wife is maybe $30 to $50 (we don’t go to fancy places) for a couple of hours of enjoyment. $25 an hour.
  • Gadgets (hardware – cameras, mobile devices, computer stuff, etc.) are a little harder to figure, because the range of cost and “hours of entertainment” vary so wildly. But the “dollar per hour of entertainment” factor HAS to be super high here, for much money as I spend on it all. So I can’t put an hourly rate on this one. It’s more like a lifestyle. :-)

Finally, an ebook, at less than $10, takes me at least several hours to get through (average maybe 10? 15?), spread out over the course of a few days or weeks. I figure it works out to less than $1 an hour. To me, that’s a tremendous value.

I don’t expect any real lasting value or return from the entertainment sources I listed above (with the notable exception of video games – I’m a collector, and I always keep the good ones). I almost never go back and read a book again. There are some exceptions – I try to read The Lord of the Rings once a year or so. I’ve read The Dark Tower series twice (in ebook form). I’ve read most of Cory Doctorow’s stuff at least twice.

I just don’t expect much lasting value out of most books I read. If there’s a book that I REALLY want to keep, or have around in the future, for reference, or nostalgia, or whatever, I just buy the dead tree version. And the same “bang for the buck” applies to dead trees, too, minus the convenience of ebooks: acquiring them wirelessly, frictionlessly, carrying around a few hundred of them in my pocket at all times, and being able to read them whenever and wherever I have a few moments of “hostage time”.

Here’s what i figure an ebook would cost, to get an equal amount of entertainment, at the same rate/factor as the sources above:

  • Movies – $50 to $150
  • Magazines – $25
  • Video games – $40
  • Dinner out with my wife – $250

So, for me, the “bang for tbe buck” or entertainment value quotient or however you want to think about it for ebooks is EXTREMELY high. Much higher than any of the other passtimes and habits I pursue for fun. Sure, the math and values here are fanciful, and are different for everyone, but for me, it’s a cheap habit, no matter how I look at it. Add in the bonus effects that none of those other sources have: books make me smarter, increase my vocabulary, exercise my imagination, inspire creativity, make my conversations more interesting, etc., and it’s a no brainer.

Hi, my name is Josh, and I say that ebooks are TOTALLY worth it. :-)

Agree with me? Think I’m crazy? Want to share how much per hour you pay for entertainment? Drop a comment, and let’s talk.

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18 thoughts on “Why eBooks are a Better Entertainment Value Than Almost Anything Else

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  4. good way to look at things…you sound like an economist!

    Here is something I’d love to see from Amazon: I LOVE owning books, specifically hard covers, more specifically signed hard covers. It would be great if Amazon would let me by a hardcover and also give me a digital copy for the Kindle.

    That, would make me buy one ASAP.

  5. Interesting analysis. There’s one flaw: you need to amortize the cost of the Kindle over the number of ebooks that you will buy and read before you are tired of it (my guess: 15? 20?). And then compare that to the cost of a paperback ($6-$8) which should take you the same amount of time to read (admitted, likely less time as paper books are so much easier to read than things on a digital screen).

    So my guess is that the good old paperback is by far the best value for the entertainment received. And here’s the best part: you can sell it back to Powell’s for about 30-50% of it’s sticker price, increasing the value by 50-100%. Last time I checked, you can’t resell ebooks, correct?

  6. Scyon says:

    I’m glad you like the Kindle, from what I’ve read it’s an amazing piece of technology. I will, however, disagree with your attitude towards DRM.

    DRM is designed to make technology less effective, more annoying to use and transfer, create scarcity where none exists, and to (hopefully) get people to pay for the same content multiple times on different platforms, or when replacing platforms. Content with DRM is like a car that could get 10,000 MPG on water rigged to get 50 MPG on gasoline.

    This being said, I love ebooks (the Nokia n800 is a great reader, btw). I encourage people to buy dead trees to support the content makers and get unrestricted digital versions of the aforementioned dead trees. Unfortunately, the Pirate Bay and it’s like are distributing the best content in the world.

  7. Rebecca says:

    I like the idea of the Kindle, but I do love listening to books. I am an Audiophile. I would rather stick them on my IPod and off I go. No need for me to spend that kind of money now, maybe one day, if I choose to. But I get lots of choices, I-Tunes and Amazon are both linked to Audible.com and they have all sorts of interesting reading.

  8. If any of the free (and DRM-free) e-books at the Baen Free Library or Manybooks.net strike your fancy, they’re an even better entertainment value, and the Mobipocket versions display on the Kindle just fine.

    Plus if you’re worried about DRM, Baen Webscriptions and Fictionwise sell DRM-free e-books (Fictionwise also sells DRMed versions, so be sure and check which type you’re proposing to get–the DRM-free ones are called “Multiformat”)

  9. @Dirk – that’s a very good point (factoring in the cost of the device). And there’s something else to factor in – the plentitude of free books available. Maybe that cancels out the cost of the initial purchase in my equations. Yeah, that’s it! :-)

    @Rebecca – Audio books are great. Did you know the Kindle can play MP3s and Audible audiobooks (even the DRM’ed ones)? So you could stick a cheap SD card in (4GB is $10 on Amazon), load it up, and read/listen to your heart’s content.

    @Cat – You’re absolutely right. There’s a TON of great free and non-DRM books out there. I’m working on a “Free ways to feed your Kindle or other ebook reader” post, hope to have it posted soon. Thanks! :-)

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  11. Hi, Josh
    I agree with your idea of ebook. But, there are some problems about DRM. I think that negotiating with publishers might be very hard. And I think that if ebook wants to go public, ebook should be more advanced than paperbook. For an example, Amazon Kindle was good try, however, I think that it doesn’t support any color. It just supports black and white. Also the touch interface should be almost same as paperbook. And putting some multimedia functions which is capable of showing a Youtube movie into ebook would be able to make ebook different from paperbook. The reason why people still do not want to buy an ebook is because there is not enough value of ebook. Ebook should be more remarkable than now. One more thing is ebook and paperbook should be published at same time.

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  13. @Victor – the vast majority of dead tree books are not in color, either. And what kind of touch interface does a book have, besides flip to the next/previous page (which the Kindle does with well designed hardware buttons, so you don’t get fingerprints on your screen)? And how many books do you own that can play YouTube videos?

    An ebook is not an all-in-one digital entertainment device. If I want color, a touch interface, or YouTube videos, I pull my iPhone out of my pocket. But my iPhone sucks for reading lots and lots of text (like books). And there’s no good ebook software for the iPhone yet. And even if there was, I’m limited to the free stuff on the web – I can’t read newer stuff from the Kindle store on my iPhone.

    I agree that the Kindle isn’t a great “all-in-one” device, but that’s OK. It doesn’t try to be one. It doesn’t have to. It does what it does really, really well, and that’s enough to make me happy.

    And most new books are published on the Kindle store at the same time they are released in dead tree form (see Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s recent book “Groundswell” or Rohit Bhargava’s “Personality Not Included” as an example).

    And what does all of that have to do with DRM again? ;-)

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