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Will an E-Reader Save a Student Any Money?

Updated on February 2, 2013

Of Grad School and Penny Pinching

As a proud book purist, I long cringed at the thought of getting an e-reader. But, as I began graduate school and the money got tighter, I started looking into it as a possible way to save money.

I chose to get a Kindle Paperwhite for a variety of reasons. It was reviewed well, and had the features I wanted: a back-lit screen which is healthier for the eyes, long battery life for traveling, and it was cheaper than getting a Kindle Fire or another tablet – which had features I really didn’t want or need. Adding to this that I am a faithful Amazon customer and would be more likely to buy Kindle books than others for a variety of reasons, the Kindle Paperwhite was an obvious choice.

But has it saved me any money? Will an e-reader save you any money? Let’s see if we can find out.


Cheaper Books?

If you are in a field of study that requires lots of large textbooks, such as law or biology, it may not be cheaper to buy them on Kindle. For example, a friend of mine in law school looked up a few of his textbooks to see if buying a Kindle would be any cheaper.

On Amazon Property: Dukeminier, 7th Edition (Aspen Publishers) costs $141.99 new. The kindle edition is $134.89. If you would buy a new copy otherwise, there is some savings. A used copy of this text, however, starts at $45.00.

A similar situation for this popular Accounting textbook: Cost Accounting: A Managerial Emphasis, 14th edition:

New: $153.99

Kindle: $124.48

Used: $105.49

But there are some exceptions:

Biology : Pearson International Edition 8th Edition:

New: $130.99

Kindle: $130.99

Used: $116.23

What about those of us in more humanities oriented fields of study?

My graduate program requires a lot of monographs and paperbacks, and similar to the case with the large textbooks, usually price differences between Kindle and ‘real’ books are respectable – when compare with brand new hardcopies. Unlike with most of the textbooks listed above, when compared to purchasing used copies the trend has tended to be that the Kindle will save a few dollars here and there.

For example, I would have saved on this book that I used my senior year of college:

Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright

New: $16.50

Used hardcover: $13.00 + shipping

Used softcover: $10.98 + shipping

Kindle: $9.99

Similarly, this monograph that might be used in a world religion or history class:

The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad by Lesley Hazleton

New: $15.98

Kindle: $14.99

Used: $14.00 + shipping

My Savings

Have my savings since I bought my Kindle been significant?

Let’s see:

I have had the Kindle about two months now, and have just finished doing all my shopping for the books I will need for the Spring semester. Some books I bought hard copies because they either were not available on Kindle or I wanted physical copies for my personal library.

I crunched the numbers to see how much I saved with the Kindle books I did purchase.

When I compare the cost of the Kindle books I purchased to the cheapest used copies available on Amazon (including shipping costs) my savings come to about $22 for one semester (though, trust me, I have plenty to go). In the long-run this is not a huge amount. It will take several more semesters before these savings make up for the cost of the Kindle itself. But the savings are far from nothing. And the difference would be quite a bit more if I would otherwise buy new copies of some of these books.

It is also important to consider that, for a few reasons, I did not have to purchase as many books this semester as I likely will in later semesters as many of my classes this semester used the same books as previous classes; so savings might be higher in the future.

On the other hand, it is also important to take in account that unlike buying hard copies, I won’t be making any money back selling my books when I am done with them. I rarely have books that sell for more than a few dollars anyway, so this will be a minor difference for me. But it might not be for you.

What do you think?

Do you think a Kindle might save you any money in the long run?

See results

Other Ways an E-Reader Might Save You Money

Having an e-reader can also help save money in other ways; namely in potentially avoiding as much of your own printing. In my coursework I read a lot of primary sources that are available online, or have digital copies of articles or book excerpts provided to me by my professors. In the past, I would either read them on a computer (limiting flexibility for when and where I could read them and also straining on the eyes for extended periods of time) or, more commonly, I would print them out. Not having to print out these digital copies has saved me quite a bit of money already. And I expect will continue to save me quite a bit of money in the future.

Similarly, I also tend to make a lot of my own study sheets before tests, and I like to print out drafts of papers I have written to edit by hand. While I may still want to have hard copies of these from time to time, I expect to use my Kindle for some of these and continue to save money on copies this way.

In short, everyone’s situation is going to be different in regards to printing. You need to think carefully about your printing habits and how you expect to use the Kindle to see if this would be a significant help.

The Verdict

All in all, I am quite happy that I bought the Kindle. It has been very convenient and has even saved me a bit of money on my schoolbooks (and I expect to be able to save at least enough to make up for the cost of the Kindle within a few semesters). Even though the savings have, so far, not been huge - I am also thankful for the convenience of the Kindle – which is worth quite a bit in its own right.

It has also allowed me to have easier opportunity to read extra-curricular books, namely public domain classics. Instead of paying $10-$20 for a copy of Les Miserables, I started reading an online version that only cost a dollar. I always could have read such books on my computer before, but doing so is straining on the eyes and not as convenient as having something that fits in my hand or my back pocket.

The best advice I can give is to think about how you might use your Kindle (or other e-reader you may want to purchase). Will you stop having to print as much? Will you want to use it to read your own papers, or to use study guides? You also need to do research on what price differences there might be for the books you would be buying. Price differences are going to vary for your field of study and what types of books you purchase. And you need to consider if it will undermine any savings you have from selling books back after each semester. But, as I have done, remember to weigh all these factors with the non-monetary gains of convenience, the ability to more easily read books you might have not read otherwise, and etc.

Though, I must add that the book purist in me still prefers ‘real’ books, and I believe there are many personal benefits that come from having hard copies (evidence is showing we retain information better with hard copy books than e-books, for example) – so I own my E-reader for limited uses and still plan to maintain a sizable library. I suggest you consider the same and think of getting an E-reader in terms of what specific practical benefits it may offer you.

In terms of practical and financial benefits, I think getting an E-reader is something worth considering. It has been helpful for me and it may very well be for you.


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    • busillis22 profile image

      busillis22 5 years ago


      Yes convenience of having everything I need for studying/doing homework right in my hands at once is astounding. I am one who tends to overpack my backpack and this has helped me a great deal.

      Thanks for your kind and interesting comments!

    • MaeMG profile image

      MaeMG 5 years ago

      Savings is a huge thing to take into consideration. I would also consider the idea that you also have less to carry and you can take it anywhere with you. Meaning, you can read, study, and prepare by taking a seat on a bench. Your books would always be with you. I own a Kindle Fire HD tablet. I'm replying to you now on it actually.

      Lol don't completely hate the idea of tablets. They can act as great study aides too. Let's say you've written a paper or class notes or want a copy of your syllabus and you want to look it over quickly, you could save your documents as a pdf and you can look them up in a snap. You also have an email app and I'm pretty sure they give you a school email address. Browsing the internet helps to when you're trying to research. You can bookmark your findings too. Kindle has that free app Pocket you can download and you can read those articles you share to Pocket offline (even better for researching and studying).

      Great article though. I had always wondered how easier and cost efficient it would be if I had used an ebook reader during college. I got my BA in English and minor in writing. I think the benefits may also have to weigh on what exactly you're studying.

    • busillis22 profile image

      busillis22 5 years ago

      Thanks LisaKoski! Glad to hear of your similar success!

    • LisaKoski profile image

      Lisa 5 years ago from WA

      This is an interesting topic and definitely useful for students out there considering buying an e-book. As a literature major, buying a Kindle helped me tremendously. Not only did I have to worry about bringing the right book to the right class everyday, but I also saved on many classics that were actually available for free on Amazon.