David Ulin writes in the LA Times about Amazon’s latest: “The issue, in other words, isn’t that Amazon has erased material from people’s Kindles, or de-ranked gay and lesbian writers, but that it can. This is the problem with the digitized canon and the electronic frontier: It’s mutable to the point of being vulnerable.”
I eagerly read the news this morning about Amazon’s new, larger Kindle DX. The larger screen and the PDF capability seem to make it an ideal reader for not only newspapers and magazines, but also for books and and Word files and, well, nearly everything. The thought of 200-page books becoming 500-page books on the Kindle 2 never sat well with me, but it looks like the Kindle DX could preserve the original page dimensions for most books, which is great news.
However, the problem I have with the Kindle is that it simply doesn’t make economic sense as a replacement for the publications I read. I subscribe to two magazines that are available on the Kindle—the New Yorker and the Atlantic—and sometimes subscribe to several others that aren’t, including the New York Review of Books, Elysian Fields Quarterly, the Believer, McSweeney’s, n+1, the Paris Review, I.D., and Open City. I also read the New York Times on a daily basis and am often a print subscriber.
So, let’s see how switching to reading my subscriptions on the Kindle DX would work out. The initial cost of the Kindle is $489. I would also probably purchase the extended two-year warranty for an additional $109 because I’m a sucker for those things. I would probably purchase some sort of case for the device, but won’t include that cost here. Throw in sales tax of 8.25%, and you have an initial Kindle cost of $647.33. That’s a lot of money for a reader, but is it worth it?
Well, let’s see. Subscribing to the New Yorker on the Kindle costs $2.99/month, the Atlantic $1.25/month, and the New York Times $13.99/month. I currently pay $29.99/year for the New Yorker, so I’ll just assume that there’s no cost savings at all for that magazine. I pay $24.90/year for the Atlantic, which works out to a savings of $0.79/month. Now, I’m aware that it’s not entirely fair to compare cash flows for a yearly magazine subscription paid all at once and the monthly Kindle costs, but it doesn’t make much difference in this example. Finally, let’s assume a print subscription cost of $30/month for the New York Times. Given the Times’ frequent promotional offers and my tendency to alternate between seven-day, Sunday-only, and weekend-only subscriptions, I think that value is fair enough for these purposes. Switching to the Kindle edition of the Times produces a monthly savings of $16.
Now, let’s assume an annual discount rate of 6% in better economic times. With a monthly savings of $16.79, it would take nearly four years before you broke even on the original cost of the Kindle. Four years from now, your extended warranty will be expired and your battery shot. It doesn’t seem like a very good deal.
Let’s include books in the mix and say that I purchase one new Kindle book each month, saving $6/book over Amazon’s existing hardcover prices. Even then it’ll take me two years to break even on the purchase price, by which time my Kindle DX will be obsolete. So, the Kindle never really generates any sort of sustained savings over its traditional media equivalents, at least for me.
I’m aware that I’m not considering the value that users might put on the Kindle’s convenience and other features. Likewise, I’m not considering the premium that readers might put on traditional books—and the ownership rights, longevity, portability, and tangibility that come with them—either. Are any of those enough to make up for the shortfall? Or do they only swing the pendulum further against the Kindle?
I have no problem with paying for digital content and the convenience that comes with it. In fact, I would probably prefer a less expensive device and more expensive content. At its current price-point, the Kindle DX is only going to attract early adopters and is far from becoming a product for the masses.