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.

Reading an eBook:

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 :)

Sorry, I think your argument is flawed.

  1. Are you saying you can tell by looking at a book that it wasn't stolen?
  2. I don’t know any ebooks that require a 17” display (or a network connection)?
  3. How much energy is wasted in printing the book and sending it to you? You completely missed that. If you want to be complete, you also have to factor in the cost of heating and renting bookshops too.
  4. Those 330 watts are presumably doing other things too. A technical book is usually going to be read in front of a PC anyway.
  5. A pda or laptop consume much less than 330 watts, and e-ink will bring that down to around 0W (with much less eyestrain too).

And apart from the power:

  1. Travelling with lots of books is a pain.
  2. How often do you have to check the errata webpage for a book? How do you correct your version? Buy a new one, or write all over it? If you can download a new version (most sensible ebook vendors will sell you a subscription rather than just a pdf, so you can download a corrected version.
  3. You can search an ebook
  4. you can cut and paste from an ebook
  5. you can have several copies - one at work, home etc - for the price of one

DRM isn’t necessarily evil. See here for my take.

Posted by Dick Davies on March 17, 2007 at 07:21 AM IST #

You have forget an important fact regarding physical books! You can read them on the toilet (and under the tree in park of course)!

Posted by Andrew Stöckert on March 17, 2007 at 07:52 AM IST #

I use Pocket PC and i'm found of e-books! )

Posted by AlDev on March 17, 2007 at 08:24 AM IST #

I, as a consumer, wish to purchase the words and not the paper of a book, simply because I'm running out of places to put my books. They take up pretty much all of my storage space, and I'm not really all that interested in the paper, only in the words.

On the other hand, publishing as ebooks lets the writer and publisher alter the publishing process by identifying the parts of the book the readers are interested in, and adding similar content, as well as identifying the parts which put the reader to sleep, and correcting those until the readers find them acceptable. This will change the lifecycle of the book radically.

I want ebooks, I want them now, I want them in plain HTML so that I can leverage the whole of the technology industry in using them. I want the changes in publishing process and contracts to reflect to the prices.

Posted by Mikael Gueck on March 17, 2007 at 10:24 AM IST #

Very interesting!
I like to have a mix of both actually. I get a hard copy of a book that I'll be reading from the first page to the last. Now there are very few technical books that fit this bill (atleast for me). While the books that I use as reference.. where I like just few chapters, I prefer having the e-copy.

The best thing about eBooks - They don't eat your storage (shelf/rack) space and you can carry them along on travel.

Posted by Abhishek Mahanty on March 17, 2007 at 04:06 PM IST #

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