The Mathematics of Book Buying

Can you resist a great bargain?  Especially when buying something you particularly love?  Every day Amazon emails me the Kindle Daily Deals, of which they have five ebooks on sale, usually for $1.99.  Sometimes it’s $2.99, and sometimes it’s even .99 cents, but usually it’s $1.99.  And I’ve gotten some amazing books for $2 – fantastic bargains!  At, also owned by Amazon, they often have audiobooks on sale for $4.95.  Plus, I love going to my Friends of the Library Bookstore, where it’s not uncommon to find great hardback books for just $3.


If I read one book for every ten I buy though, the real price of that Kindle ebook is $20, or $50 for the audiobook, and $30 for the used hardback.  That isn’t a bargain, is it?  If I think of myself building a library, then getting as many books as cheap as possible is a book shopping thrill.  But if I think of myself as buying books to read, then buying books I don’t read is wasting money.

Since I’ve recently retired, how much I spend each month is very important.  Every dollar I spend now is one less dollar I’ll have in the future.  My real goal should be to spend little, and read more.  Now I have time to read all those unread books in my library, but not the money to keep building the library.

Another way to rationalize the numbers is to think of myself as enjoying book buying.  That shopping for books is the pleasure I’m actually budgeting, and ignore whether or not I read the books.  By that measure if I spend a $100 a month and get 25 books, rather than 3-7 at new prices, then yes, I’ve been having a great time bargain hunting for books.

To be honest, owning books is not my goal, so I have to face the fact that I am wasting money.  That’s sad.  Maybe what I shouldn’t completely give up something I love, but just lower the budget.  I wonder how many great books I can get for $25 a month?  Save money, start a challenge!

JWH – 1/16/14

12 thoughts on “The Mathematics of Book Buying”

  1. Oh God !, you are right….at night and in the morning I look at my book case and think I’ll never read X number of books ….and I should donate these books and move on…. and then I see a book for a dollar and want it…..ahhhh! Connell

    1. There is something very exciting about randomly coming across a good book for pittance. Especially, if I’ve been wanting to find a copy for a long time, or I just read a review of it, and there it is! Part of this thrill is a kind of hunting instinct. But yet, I look at my wall of books and wonder why I buy so many. I wonder if there are books on my shelves going unloved and neglected that would be snapped up and read if I donated them to the library bookstore.

  2. I wonder if there’s a way for you to have your cake and eat it too, so to speak. If your goal is the joy of simple accumulation, probably not, but if your pleasure comes from the purchase of great books cheaply maybe you would enjoy passing on the books you’ve read (or probably never will have the time to read) to a person or entity that could also benefit from them. Or join BookCrossing and release books “into the wild” and see where they wind up. It might even be possible to find a way to take a tax deduction from giving books away. Cam

    1. Cam, for most of the books I read, I do give them away. I hate to hoard them. I have some sentimental favorites, and some reference books I always keep, but for the most part, my library consists of books waiting to be read. Counting hardbacks, audiobooks, and ebooks, I have well over a thousand books patiently waiting for my attention. And I routinely go through my shelves looking for books that I may have lost interest of ever reading, and give them away too. I only have four bookshelves, and I try never to have more books then what will fit on them. If I don’t have room, I make myself decide which books are the least likely to ever be read and give them away. I know, I have weird and compulsive ways.

      1. I got nothin’ but sympathy. I do understand. I unloaded a boatload of books when we downsized, and built extensive lists of ebooks and physical books I really wanted at my local library and on Amazon, which I cull at irregular intervals. You’re right, the expense can be a killer. Good luck.

  3. It all sounds familiar. I have certain books on my shelves for more than 30 years unread. But I know that, in the unlikely event I woke up at 2 AM and wanted to read them, they would be there.

    As an incentive to mend your ways, I leave you with a second hand quote from the musician Warren Zevon when he was being interviewed after finding out he had terminal cancer: “I haven’t bought any books lately. As Schopenhauer said, ‘We buy books because we think we’re buying the time to read them.'”

  4. I’m pretty disciplined and I try to think about what I have and am enjoying and will enjoy rather than what I won’t…but it sure is tempting. Those bargain bins at bookstores and 0.99 ebooks are hard to resist.

  5. You are certainly right in that many of us, myself very much included, “waste” money on books, IF the definition of waste translates simply to whether or not we read said books. But you also point out that there may be some value to the buying as a form of entertainment. One way to have a bit of both is to give yourself a monthly allowance, or budget line, however you want to look at it, set aside for frivolous/entertainment spending. If you are going to budget for a certain amount of entertainment each month, then what you choose to do with that budgeted amount should solely be based on what entertains you. If book buying is one of the things that entertains, then all is good.

    But back to your first point, how much more entertaining is the book buying process if one would actually come home and immediately begin to dive into the adventures in the books just purchased? It is certainly something I try to do more often than I used to, but I still buy much faster than I can realistically read, no matter how resolved I may be to do so. I need to do much better on both ends.

    1. When I first joined back in 2002 I would get 1 credit a month. This was before all their sales. So I’d get a book, listen to it, and then wait for my next credit. I never got ahead. In fact, it was absolutely delicious to have a new credit to use and to spend hours shopping for just the right book.

        1. Yes, is still credit based. 1 credit, 1 book. Membership is based on 1 or 2 credits monthly subscriptions, or purchase of 12 and 24 credit pack advance purchases. I buy the 24 credit pack, and thus my price per credit is $9.56. However, have many sales. The best are the $4.95 sales, but the have 2 books for 1 credit, or 3 books for 2 credit sales. Because of sales, I’m not about 150 books ahead. The fun of selecting just the right book to listen to next is long gone.

          Actually, the best sales now are getting public domain books from Amazon for $0.00, and then being offered the Whisphersync audiobook edition for a $1.99.

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