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Weekend reading: Is Kindle a tax on reading?

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My weekly musing, followed by the regular link-fest of money and investing reads.

I have mixed feelings about Amazon’s Kindle book reader, which is about to come out in two cheaper and more powerful flavours.

At £149, the 3G Kindle is keenly priced for a go-anywhere device. But it’s the less expensive Wi-Fi-only Kindle that tempts me to forgo my bookshelves.

Books are one of my few spending weaknesses. I don’t buy many books that I don’t read, but it’s more than clothes I don’t wear or food I don’t eat. (I will get fat before I throw food out!)

Worse, these books accumulate despite my fairly cavalier habit of giving the ones I like to friends. My investing library alone is three shelves of double-stacked books deep, and I’ve got shelves and shelves of other books.

The book hoard is annoying on many levels:

  • All these books need space, which means I rent a bigger flat than otherwise.
  • They pack into more than a dozen boxes, so aren’t easy or cheap to move.
  • They remind me how much money I’ve spent on now-forgotten books.
  • Since I give away the best books, I’m left with a pretty lousy collection (investing books aside – those stay with me!)
  • I’ll never be able to live out of a suitcase with all these books (a faint aspiration of mine is to do so for a year or two before I die. Preferably not the last year.)

I’ve recently got rid of over 300 magazines that I’d been carting around for a decade, and the temptation of now swapping my library for a Kindle is high.

But do we really want to put every aspect of our art and culture onto a digital upgrade treadmill, as has already happened with movies and music?

True, Amazon keeps a record of what books you’ve bought. This means that when you upgrade your Kindle hardware, you don’t need to buy the books again.

But upgrading the Kindle every 2-3 years is still effectively a hefty tax on reading – perhaps £50 a year, amortized out, on top of the price of the books.

It’s certainly not the cheapest solution. Bookmooch is just one of several book-swapping alternatives for frugalistas. The clever thing with this one is you don’t need to find an exact match with another member. Rather, you send books to whoever asks for them and accumulate points, which you can then ‘spend’ getting the books you want.

Perhaps authors should do more to promote digital readers like the Kindle. They may lament the end of paper-based novels, but if the alternative is a swapping free-for-all, they’ve more to lose than the smell of a new paperback.

Pop over to Amazon for the full specs of both Kindles; you may be surprised by how this technology has improved. I’ve used a friend’s previous generation Kindle at some length, and I thought it was great.

Money reads from the blogs

From the big sites

  • Time to reassess fund manager pay – The Economist
  • The rising power of Chinese workers – The Economist
  • UK megacaps not rescuing our economy – Peston/BBC
  • The next bull market starts when? – The Motley Fool
  • The case for renting versus buying – Fortune
  • Infographic: Mini-bar pricing – Mint
  • Higher rate tax threat for pensions – FT
  • Glass half-full on the economic outlook – FT
  • Pet insurance no laughing matter – Telegraph
  • Do you know what your fund holds? – Telegraph
  • Nationwide to charge for overseas withdrawals – Guardian
  • Taking a career break – The Independent
  • The risks of cautious funds – The Independent
  • How long until a housing crash? – The Independent

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • 1 Lee July 31, 2010, 12:11 pm

    I received an email from Amazon about this yesterday, and then spent most of the day salivating at the prospect! Despite the perceived negatives, I want one. Read everything you have anywhere, on any device, and have the page you were last on remembered across them all. Buy a book anywhere and at any time. The space you save… well worth the tax in my opinion!
    .-= Lee on: Petrol Set to Hit £150-litre by Summer =-.

  • 2 Matty July 31, 2010, 12:49 pm

    I’m really tempted by the 109 pound version mainly because when I travel for work with just my laptop case a couple of times a week I really cannot fit thicker books in my bag which makes it hard to keep up reading them at times. Also as you say living in a city centre doesn’t make it easy to keep a lot of books so the Kindle could be a great way of storing things more easily… Very, very tempted!

    Great weekend reading list as always.

  • 3 Tyro July 31, 2010, 1:19 pm

    Sad you don’t mention humankind’s greatest invention – the public library. Personally I am never going to touch gizmos like Kindle because (a) I want to keep up my weekly traipse to the library to do my bit for libraries’ institutional sustainability, (b) I half-suspect this is a clever ruse by Amazon to create big disincentives to buying ‘books’ from anybody but them, (c) I have what verges on a hatred of stuff that makes itself obsolescent in anything less than about twenty years, and (d) I don’t want to support a company that goes in for aggressive expansionist behaviour such as digitising books without prior consent so that authors have to deal with the problem from a position of weakness – this is just the internet analogue of the Red Army’s invasion of European countries at the end of WWII to alter relative bargaining positions among the Big 4 in the post-war negotiations. Re your books, why not give the non-investment ones away to hospitals and charity shops? Then they could circulate among a wide readership instead of gathering dust on your shelves.

  • 4 ermine July 31, 2010, 4:31 pm

    TI, you, sir, are a gadget boy at heart, and one with a weakness for exquisitely designed proprietary closed platforms to boot 🙂

    It’s difficult to gainsay the space saving, but there is something nice about the permanence of books, and the fact that they’re under your control once through your front door. Nobody can sneakily vapourise your copy of 1984 halfway through reading it. There’s counterparty risk too – say Amazon goes bust.

    BTW, do you have to upgrade it? I still run a 17-year old Psion S3 from 1993 for writing outside – no real keyboard, no internet distraction, fantastic battery life and I can still read it in the sun. Or do they make the book formats incompatible with previous versions?

    OK, I’m jealous, and I admit to reading that kindle-promoting email from Amazon before the must.delete.consumerist.crap finger kicked in and iced it.

    Something weird though delightfully public-spirited about keeping the crap books and giving away the good ones. Would books perhaps be your gazingus pins…?

    Maybe you can skip/recycle/charity-shop the boxes of second-rate books then look at the Kindle in your new minimalist pad.
    .-= ermine on: The Defining Myth of Our Culture =-.

  • 5 George July 31, 2010, 6:33 pm

    Kindle: no color, no sale!

  • 6 Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey July 31, 2010, 8:02 pm

    I also have mixed feelings on the Kindle. It is very tempting to get a device which can store thousands of books and save shelf space, but there is just something really nice feeling about reading a paper book.

    Additionally, with the used book prices on Amazon.com, it is still pretty affordable for me to fund my personal finance book buying habit.
    .-= Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey on: Hamster Revolution Email and Electronic File Management System =-.

  • 7 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff August 2, 2010, 6:45 pm

    Although I read 50-60 books annually, I only buy 1 or 2 books a year so it isn’t cost effective for me (yay for my public library and its online request feature). Plus, I like reading from actual pages more than a screen…it really is nicer to my eyes.

  • 8 Doctor Stock August 3, 2010, 2:47 am

    I have to admit… I’m into a more diversified device and recently settled on the iPad. After two weeks, I love it… for books, internet, calling, blogs, stock charts and trading, etc., etc., etc. Cheers!
    .-= Doctor Stock on: Understanding &amp Using Fundamentals and Technicals Series =-.

  • 9 youngandthrifty August 3, 2010, 11:26 pm

    I was never a big fan of the kindle really..

    why read from a computer screen? The glare, the damage to your vision..

    I would much rather read from a live book.

    call me old fashioned…lol =)

  • 10 The Investor August 4, 2010, 12:18 pm

    Yes, libraries are great if you’ve a decent one nearby. My local is full of tatty historical romances though.

    @YaT – Okay, you’re old-fashioned!

    @George – I thought you meant coloured cases at first! Re: colour screens, in theory yes but there’s something so relaxing about Kindle’s greys.

    @Jacob – I like reading real books too, hence my habit, but they’re definitely a wasting asset.

    @Ermine – What are gazingus pins?

  • 11 ermine August 4, 2010, 11:33 pm

    As defined by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez in their US book “Your Money or Your Life“:

    A gazingus pin is any item that you just can’t pass by without buying.

    I’ve never read the book because the library doesn’t have it, but inferred what they meant from the background radiation of that seminal book across US PF blogs. My gazingus pins are decent wine (and the very occasional gadget) and were CDs and books. I now borrow CDs and books, mainly from the library but also other people.

    That’s something that seems hard with a Kindle, unless you’re prepared to loan the whole device like your friend did.

    It also makes a book a much more valuable item in the wrong way. Leave a paperback on the train and you’re down £10, leave your Kindle on the train and you get to eat a £110 loss…
    .-= ermine on: My Escape Plan =-.

  • 12 Tim August 5, 2010, 2:36 pm

    I am also very tempted with the Kindle. Audible (also Amazon) also works with it which is a plus for me.

    I also like the feature of reading PDF’s on it.

    My public library is all German so no help there.

    Thanks for the BookMooch idea I will definitely have a look.

    I still have a Palm which I need to replace at some point and am thinking Kindle and Blackberry

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