Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM
The perfect gift for high school or college grads this year is also a perfect gift for the environment -- and may create the most lasting change in books since Johannes Gutenberg invented moveable type in 1439.
I'm talking, of course, about the Kindle -- the amazing device that lets you download books, newspapers and other reading material instantly.
I've never been a true "early adopter" of new technologies -- and I don't write tech reviews. But the story of the Kindle has implications for both business and your personal finances. It will make you rethink everything from retail store analysis and the publishing business to the way you spend your entertainment dollars. Plus, think of all the trees we'll save.
It all started when an e-mail arrived announcing Amazon had lowered the price on Kindle to $359 from the previous $399. I'd been hearing about this device, but I really wanted to see it before I ordered it. That turned out to be easy.
Amazon has created a blog on its site that is actually creating local user groups. I just posted "See a Kindle in Chicago" and now that thread has 38 responses. (Visit www.amazon.com/kindle, click on "See a Kindle in Your City," search for "Chicago.")
The enthusiastic posts were from people who offered to meet in some public place and give me a demo. Everyone who already had a Kindle raved about it. Comments ranged from explaining how easy it was to use and set up, to how much money they were saving on books (even best-sellers cost only $9.99) to how they were using their Kindle to save money on college texts. One devoted Kindle user explained she was making money selling all her used paper books back to Half-Price Books!
They were so convincing, I placed an order -- free shipping was a bonus. When it arrived I stared at the box, worried about the setup process. No problem. Even for me, it was easy. Within minutes I understood more about Kindle than I do about my new cell phone.
It takes just seconds to download anything from newspapers to best-sellers. Subscribe to papers such as the Wall Street Journal or International Herald Tribune and they'll arrive wirelessly overnight. It's all charged to the same credit card you used to buy your Kindle on Amazon, and you receive an e-mail receipt for your downloaded purchases.
You can download reading material anywhere, using the Kindle "Whispernet," which does not require a subscription. Just click a button to "shop the Kindle store." I don't understand that technology. I just know that I sat in the airport, and in seconds the new David Baldacci novel was in my hands. Lightly in my hands. The Kindle weighs less than a paperback.
It took only a few minutes to get used to pushing the "next page" lever (or the one that lets you go back any number of pages). Then I was immersed in my "book." You can read in any light -- the sunlight streaming in the window or the little overhead light, when they ask you to pull down the shades so others can watch the movie! When they insisted that I turn off my "electronic device" on landing, I clicked to place an electronic bookmark. Next time I turned Kindle on, I came back to the same page. In case you haven't figured it out, I'm in love with my Kindle!
Kindle and money
So now back to the business aspects of this story. The library can only be downloaded through Amazon.com -- and it seems they have such a head start, they must have cornered the market for this type of device. It's like the old days when Gillette priced razors low, so they could keep selling blades. Now, $359 isn't "low" -- but it's truly reasonable, when you realize that by saving at least $15 per book, your savings over print versions will have paid for the cost of this reader with the first 20 books.
What does that mean for bookstore chains? I'm not predicting the demise of paper books, just as television didn't destroy radio. But it will change the economics of publishing, saving shipping and printing costs -- and still netting publishers (and authors) a nice profit.
Shoppers who are already changing their minds about spending in an era of consumer debt may stay away from bookstores in droves. Just as "ma and pa" bookstores lost out to the big Borders and Barnes & Noble chains in the last two decades, Kindle might change those companies' future.
As for Amazon itself, CEO Jeff Bezos has said he doesn't expect the Kindle to replace paper books. (www.thestreet.com/story/10418709/1/amazon-ceo-touts-kindle-prospects.html) Publishers must still decide to make titles available for the Kindle. But while Bezos declined to break out sales figures for the unit, he noted that of the 130,000 titles currently available, Kindle downloads accounted for 6 percent of the sales of those titles. Amazon does say that Kindle owners purchase 2.6 times more books downloaded into Kindle than they did before. And the Kindle has only been available since last fall.
From a personal finance point of view, the Kindle could change your spending habits and save money. Gosh, sometimes it costs $9.99 to buy popcorn and a soda, not to mention the cost of a movie. For the same dollars you can stay home and read. In an era where consumers are looking for bargains in everything, only the public library can beat the Kindle on price. As for convenience, Kindle simply can't be beat. And that's The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.