Saturday Mar 17, 2007

Which is expensive: eBook or printed book?

Recently while reading an ebook on Beowulf cluster this struck me: What is more expensive affair? Reading an eBook or owning a printed book? Let us run through some quick calculations for a book of 300 pages.

Assuming you have standard pc (including 17" monitor, cable modem, etc), it will consume typically 330 Watts in one hour (for more details refer How much electricity do computers use?). Now if you have reading speed of 100 words per minute (fairly average for reading technical texts) it would take (1000 words per page / 100 words per minute) =  10 minutes per page to read a page of 1000 words. If the book is of 300 pages then you will take 300 pages per book \* 10 minutes per page = 3000 minutes per book or 50 hrs approximately to complete the book.

So the cost of  reading the book once would be  (50 hrs \* 330 Watts / 1000 ) \*  3.40 Rs per KWH = 56 Rs. and also the cost repeats for each subsequent reads. The costs we have neglected (as we don't have to pay those from our pockets) are the cost of servers(electric, data centers' maintenance costs, etc.) which host the book, electric costs of intermediate routers, proxy servers, etc. Adding those costs would increase the costs many folds and my guess is that they would make the original cost negligible.

Owning a physical book

A good technical book of 300 pages would cost anywhere between Rs 300 to 500. But this would afford us multiple readings at no extra cost. Some more facts which come to my mind :

- Often eBooks are not legal, where as we are assured for the originality of hard copies of books.
- Often one hard copy of book is read by multiple readers. This is at no extra cost. On line books can also be shared easily, but each reading of  on line book will bring recurring electricity costs.
- I find reading on line books a big strain on the eyes. I haven't ever successfully competed an on line book !!
- An advantage of on line books is : more flexibility in organization of contents (we can separate important contents and take prints if necessary). We have no such flexibility for hard copies of books.
- We can read books in bed but not ebooks :)