Physical Books VS Kindle e-Books: Comparing Availability and Price of Bestselling Books

January 4th, 2011

A Ken’s Tech Tips investigation shows that only two-third of Amazon.co.uk’s bestselling books are available on Kindle and they tend to be 10% more expensive on average.

E-books are the “big” thing right now. At £111, Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader was one of the most popular gifts this Christmas. E-book readers such as the Kindle now weigh less than a typical paperback, can store thousands of books and have screens which can come close to the real printed thing. Whilst we certainly think e-book readers have come along way, what about the books themselves? Are they up to the scratch? How many books are available in electronic form? Is buying an e-book really cheaper than buying the real thing?

In an Ken’s Tech Tips investigation, we found that only two-third of the 50 best selling books on Amazon.co.uk were available on the Kindle e-book format. We also found that the Kindle e-books cost 10% more on average than their physical counterparts.

We looked at the prices of the 50 best selling books on Amazon.co.uk on the 31st December 2010. Our findings were:

  • 33 (67%) of the 50 best selling books were also available for the Kindle.
  • 18 of those 33 books (55%), were cheaper on the Kindle. Of those 18 books, the Kindle version was 28% cheaper on average than the print version.
  • 15 of those 33 books (45%) were more expensive on the Kindle. Of those 15 books the Kindle version cost 51% more on average than the print version.
  • For the 33 books which were available in both formats:
    • Total Recommended Retail Price (RRP) for the physical books was £417.76
    • Total retail price on Amazon.co.uk for physical books was £175.25
    • Total retail price on Amazon.co.uk for Kindle e-books was £193.03
    • Buying all 33 of the books would cost you 10% more if you opted for the Kindle e-book editions over the physical editions

The key finding from our study is that whilst it is possible to find books which are cheaper on the Kindle, Kindle e-books cost more than their physical counterparts on average.

One of the reasons for this is because VAT is not charged on the sale of physical books whereas it is charged on sales of e-books. For our basket of 33 e-books, you would have paid £28.75 in VAT (at the rate of 17.5% when this study was carried out). The cost of the 33 e-books before VAT was £164.28. Had e-books been VAT-exempt like physical books, they would have been 6% cheaper than physical books overall.

The conclusion of our study is that even if you own a Kindle, you should double-check to see whether the same book might be available for less in printed form. At the end of day, you’ll have to weigh up the price difference with the pros/cons of the book format:

Conference Time...
Creative Commons License photo: christian.senger

What are the advantages of having an e-book over a printed book?

  • It’s an instant download: you don’t have to go to a bookshop or wait for delivery.
  • E-books don’t physically take up space on your shelf like real books.
  • E-books don’t suffer from wear and tear like physical books.
  • You’ll be able to carry around the book with you all the time on your e-book reader.
  • More accessible: you can adjust the font size, etc.
  • E-books are easily searchable.

What are the disadvantages of having an e-book over a printed book?

  • You can’t loan the book to a friend.
  • You can’t sell the book. Second hand book sales are an important way of raising money for some schools and charities.
  • It’s easier to make notes in a printed book.
  • Unlike with an e-book, there are no worries about running out of power or battery with a physical book.

Where can I find out more about Kindle?

We’ve got an in-depth comparison between the wi-fi and 3G versions of the Kindle and a guide to getting free web browsing abroad with the 3G Kindle. You can also find out more about the Kindle on the Amazon website.

The Kindle is available to purchase from Amazon.co.uk. You can buy a Wi-Fi Only Kindle for £111 and a 3G & Wi-Fi Kindle for £152.

Which books did you consider in your study?

We looked at the prices of the 50 best selling books on Amazon.co.uk on the 31st December 2010. 33 of the best selling books were available both in physical form and Kindle e-book form and these 33 books form our “basket of books” for comparison. For each book, we looked at the price of the physical book and the electronic Kindle e-book equivalent. Prices may have changed since the study.

Rank Book Name Available for Kindle? RRP Physical Book Price Kindle e-Book Price
1 Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals No £26.00 £13.00
2 Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger Yes £7.99 £4.54 £4.99
3 One Day Yes £7.99 £3.99 £4.49
4 Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home No £26.00 £11.18
5 What You See Is What You Get: My Autobiography Yes £20.00 £5.99 £4.19
6 A Simples Life: The Life and Times of Aleksandr Orlov Yes £9.99 £2.49 £9.99
7 The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Millennium Trilogy Book 3) Yes £7.99 £3.49 £2.68
8 The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Trilogy Book 2) Yes £7.99 £3.29 £2.68
9 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Trilogy Book 1) Yes £7.99 £3.29 £2.68
10 Hamlyn All Colour 200 Slow Cooker Recipes (Hamlyn All Colour Cookbooks) Yes £4.99 £2.69 £4.49
11 Life: Keith Richards Yes £20.00 £8.00 £8.99
12 The Help Yes £7.99 £3.99 £6.49
13 A History of the World in 100 Objects No £30.00 £15.00
14 Sister Yes £6.99 £3.36 £4.49
15 Memoirs of a Fruitcake Yes £20.00 £6.60 £6.99
16 Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger Yes £8.99 £5.28 £4.99
17 Kirstie’s Homemade Home No £20.00 £7.00
18 Tender: Volume II, A cook’s guide to the fruit garden No £30.00 £9.90
19 Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake 5) Yes £18.99 £6.65 £4.66
20 Guinness World Records 2011 No £20.00 £4.99
21 An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington Yes £16.99 £5.99 £5.36
22 Awakened (House of Night) No £12.99 £6.49
23 Breaking Dawn (Twilight Saga) Yes £7.99 £3.76 £4.49
24 The Fry Chronicles Yes £20.00 £8.20 £12.99
25 Life and Laughing: My Story Yes £20.00 £8.80 £12.99
26 The Snowman Yes £6.99 £3.29 £2.86
27 Freedom Yes £20.00 £8.00 £8.99
28 Tender: Volume I, A cook and his vegetable patch No £30.00 £14.70
29 Room Yes £7.99 £4.49 £4.04
30 The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance Yes £16.99 £8.16 £5.71
31 The Flavour Thesaurus Yes £18.99 £11.39 £10.25
32 The Devil’s Star Yes £6.99 £3.84 £2.86
33 Plenty No £25.00 £11.25
34 The Redbreast Yes £6.99 £3.78 £2.86
35 Moab Is My Washpot Yes £8.99 £2.97 £2.67
36 River Cottage Every Day No £25.00 £12.50
37 Nemesis Yes £6.99 £3.75 £2.86
38 The Ugly Truth: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Book 5) No £10.99 £4.37
39 Towers of Midnight: Book Thirteen of The Wheel of Time Yes £20.00 £5.73 £10.49
40 A Tiny Bit Marvellous Yes £18.99 £9.49 £11.98
41 Booky Wook 2: This time it’s personal Yes £20.00 £5.99 £6.99
42 The Redeemer Yes £6.99 £3.99 £2.86
43 The Secret No £14.99 £6.90
44 Curry Easy No £20.00 £9.80
45 Real Fast Food No £9.99 £5.99
46 QI: The Book of General Ignorance (The Noticeably Stouter Edition) Yes £7.99 £3.38 £3.04
47 The 30-Minute Cook: The Best of the World’s Quick Cooking No £14.99 £5.99
48 The Gruffalo No £5.99 £2.39
49 At Home: A short history of private life Yes £20.00 £6.60 £5.94
50 2011 Moleskine Red Pocket Weekly Notebook 12 Month Hard (Moleskine Srl) No £12.50 £5.61

Prices correct as of 31st December 2010. Kindle e-book prices inclusive of 17.5% VAT.

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About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 1 comment from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Paul said:

    Hello Ken, I'm looking to buy a Kindle 3G model for use in Italy but am afraid about browsing limitations. I'd love to check my e-mail once in a while etc.

    I have residence in Canada, UK and Italy so I have several versions to pick from. Can you suggest which will be the best for unrestricted Kindle use? Thanks

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