Are eBooks Actually Cheaper?

The Sony eBook ReaderIn previous posts, I’ve done a pretty good job of putting together a solid, if not slightly biased collection of information on the Sony Reader. I’ll admit it, I’m a borderline fanboy, I really enjoy my Sony Reader. I think they’re great, and I really hope it will be phenomenally successful. What’s in it for me? Greater availability of eBooks, at more competitive prices. I don’t get any kick-backs from Sony to hype the reader, I just genuinely think its a fun product in spite of its flaws. (At least I don’t get kick-backs yet. Sony, baby, let’s talk! 8) )

In an attempt to be a bit more objective and helpful to the steady flow of visitors looking for information on the Sony Reader, I’ve decided to investigate the accuracy of much-touted 20% discount on eBooks sold through the Sony eBook store. For comparison, I’ve selected This is both because it’s really convenient, and because people who buy eBooks have likely purchased books from Amazon in the past.

Title Amazon Sony Savings %
The Secret $13.17 $13.59 -$0.42 -3.18%
The Tipping Point $8.97 $7.99 $0.98 10.92%
Freakonomics $16.77 $15.96 $0.81 4.83%
Einstein $19.20 $13.59 $5.61 29.21%
The Road $8.97 $7.96 $1.01 11.25%
Running with the Demon $7.99 $5.59 $2.40 30.03%
Wikinomics $16.35 $20.76 -$4.41 -26.97%
Step On a Crack $17.63 $14.39 $3.24 18.37%
Simple Genius $14.84 $15.19 -$0.35 -2.35%
The World Is Flat $16.50 $12.00 $4.50 27.27%
Getting Things Done $8.99 $12.00 -$3.01 -33.48%
Where Have All the Leaders Gone? $15.00 $13.59 $1.41 9.40%
Summary: $164.38 $152.61 $11.77 7.16%

I’m being honest here, I had no idea how this was going to turn out. (I was pulling for the Reader, but I was prepared to eat crow.) I selected books based mostly on name/cover recognition, assuming that books I recognize are likely to be books people are interested in buying. To improve my chances of being correct, I picked my books from the Amazon’s and Sony’s lists of best sellers. I have, of course, excluded books that are not yet available through the Sony Connect eBook store. I also tried to pick a few books that have been around a while but have solid name recognition. At least a few books on this list are now in paper back. Shipping costs have been excluded from consideration, but will alter the results for single book purchases in favor of Sony.

So based on my semi-scientific, semi-objective list, on average, it is to your advantage to buy eBooks from the Sony store. ­čśÇ If you bought the entire list from the Sony store, you’d spend $152.61, saving $11.77 or 7.16% compared with a $164.38 Amazon purchase. (So much for the reported 20% savings.) What’s really interesting is that it is more expensive to buy from Sony in some cases. For example, for the privilege of having a digital copy of the book, you pay an extra $3.01 for Getting Things Done and $4.41 for Wikinomics. Clearly, if you were interested in just one of those books, your best bet is to buy it through Amazon (depending on how much you pay for shipping). If you were able to find Amazon prices for either of these in your local book shop, you’d clearly be ahead.

So what’s the bottom line? If you’re expecting the Sony Reader to pay for itself, you’d have to buy $21,875 worth of books to break even. If the average book is price is $12.72 (it is in this list), that means you’d need to buy roughly 1720 books. So I think it’s safe to say that the Sony Reader will never pay for itself based on purchases of bestsellers, at least for most people. (Of course, these figures do not take into consideration the volume eBooks available for free through sources like

OK, Brian, so why buy it? You need to buy this because you love to read. And because you love cool, compact gadgets that store a ton of stuff. If you’re looking for cost effectiveness, you need to either not buy it or take a chance at finding a deal on eBay. Or you could wait and see if the price comes down. I think it will, but I have nothing to base that on.

My previous posts on the Sony Reader:

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  1. May 9, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    […] Fiyat kar┼č─▒la┼čt─▒rma listesini onun blogunda g├Ârebilirsiniz. ├çok satan ya da yeni piyasaya ├ž─▒km─▒┼č kitaplardan olu┼čturdu─ču listenin maliyeti amazon’da 164$ iken, kitaplar─▒n sanal versiyonlar─▒ sadece 11$ daha ucuza gelmi┼č. Sony Reader kitap okuyucusu i├žin yapt─▒─č─▒ harcamay─▒ dikkate al─▒nca sistemin kendisini amorti etmesi i├žin 21875$ lik kitap ali┼čveri┼či yapmas─▒ gerekecekmi┼č… […]

  2. thing said,

    November 21, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    Hi there,
    Just an update on your post, with Amazon releasing its own reader (Kindle) a few days ago the competition is already giving its fruits:

    From your research back in May: $164.38 (Amazon) vs $152.61 (Sony)
    Today (Nov) the figures are a bit different:

    Amazon (paperback / hardcover): $168.91
    Amazon (Kindle version): $108.88 (*)
    Sony Connect: $114.85
    * Three entries in the list are not still available in Kindle format, I’ve set their price to $9.99 (the top price for books in Kindle format)

    So the total price for real books has increased by $4.53, but for ebook format it has become much more attractive: Sony users will save 32% and Kindle users will save a little more: 35.5%

    Well, at least now the reader might pay for itself if you are a library worm.


  3. Brian said,

    November 27, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    Hi thing,
    Yeah, I’ve heard about Kindle, and I gotta say I’m drooling over it a bit. I’m not sure what I think about the subscriptions involved, but it looks cool.

    Thanks for the pricing update! I think eBook readers ARE going to catch on, especially now with all the convenience and features. It just makes sense! Nobody that’s seen my (now old) Sony Reader hasn’t wanted one of their own! Sure physical books will always be around, but I image that bookstores will start putting in Kiosks to allow you to hook up your eBook reader device and download on the spot. Think of how handy that would be in an airport! (Especially given the space limitations those shops have!)


  4. Natasha said,

    November 9, 2008 at 9:12 am

    I’m looking forward to purchase my own Sony Reader but I think its not user friendly for Malaysians in terms of e-book purhases. I think your post is definitely helpful but looking at the prices and converting it to Malaysian ringgit, its still cheaper to buy the conventional book format for us here…. sigh…

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