Are Paper Books Still a Good Buy?


Recently, news broke that a company known as G Asset Management wants to buy 51% of Barnes and Noble, in an attempt to save the one-mighty bookstore from going the way of the dodo.

On the surface, this seems like a huge waste of money, like investing in phonographs or 8-tracks.

As electronic books become more and more popular, and traditional paper-bound ones less and less so, the brick-and-mortar bookstores have suffered greatly.

Borders is dead, and Barnes and Noble might as well be.

Quite simply, the allure of downloading a story to your tablet and swiping to “turn” the page is the dominant beast these days.

But should it be?

The rise of the e-book.

On the surface, e-books are the financial way of the present and the future, with the average electronic book costing about $8, far less than the average paperback ($14-18,) or hardcover book ($20-30.)

And since e-readers have been on the market for years now, many of them retail for a very reasonable $40-60.

Heck, if you really want to go cheap, and own an iPad or any other iOS device, Apple offers a free reader app that you can download and activate at any time.

What could possibly go wrong with reading electronically?

As it turns out, plenty. For starters, readers and tablets break, especially the cheaper ones.

And if that happens, you either have to shell out anywhere from 50 to 100% of the cost just to fix it, or buy another one.

And this time, you’ll probably want to upgrade to an even more expensive model (up to $225 for a top-of-the-line reader,) to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Meanwhile, if a paper book “breaks,” whether it be tearing or the pouring rain, the replacement costs aren’t very much at all, especially if the book’s been out long enough so a cheap mass-market paperback is in circulation and easily accessible.

Online Reading Linked to Online Shopping

In addition, if you own an e-reader, you may be spending more money overall than you think.

A recent study showed that, on average, e-reader users spent $433 more per year on online shopping than people who did not own an e-reader.

This is because accessing books online entices you into spending money on other products you probably never needed.

If you’re away from the computer, flipping through a paper book, chances are good that online shopping is the furthest thing from your mind.

If that’s not enough, there are restrictions on e-books that traditional paper works simply do not have — namely, the fact that you can’t lend or borrow them.

With a traditional paper book, you can read it wherever you want and, once you’re done with it, you can give it to anybody you want or even sell it to a bookstore if you like.

E-books though?

You must read it on the device it downloaded to. You can’t sell it back. And with certain devices, you can’t lend it out period.

Even on the ones that do allow it, you can only do it once, the lending period is limited, and the other person may have to pay for the privilege of reading your e-book for a little while.

The Bottom Line

All of this leads us to the conclusion that paper books probably aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

They might cost a bit more upfront, but replacement costs are nil, you have complete ownership and total freedom over them, and they don’t constantly attempt to seduce you into buying more crap.

Average cost of reading a paper book: $19

Average cost of reading an e-book: $573

Maybe G Asset is on to something after all.

Mary Hiers is a personal finance writer who helps people earn more and spend less.


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