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Back To School: Should An E-Reader Be On Your List?
We’ve seen the cost of school supplies climb relentlessly —does adding a $100+ e-reader to the list make any sense?

E-readers have been in the news quite a bit lately —new models are reaching the feature to price point ratio where sales have been skyrocketing, leaving even tablets in the dust in terms of adoption rates. The coming holiday gift-giving season combined with the pending release of Harry Potter e-books (finally!), increased investment in e-book versions of college textbooks and Amazon’s expected release of a tablet-based Kindle device have whipped up speculation that we are looking at the perfect storm for e-reader sales this Fall. Many parents of elementary and high school kids are wondering if now might be the time to invest in an e-reader as part of their back to school expenditures.

The manufacturers of e-readers have long pointed to the potential savings in moving to e-books from the dead tree versions as a reason for going digital. The demise of the $9.99 Kindle best-seller prince point and disclaimers from publishers about the expectation of lower costs for digital publishing took some wind out of the sails of this theory, but the dropping price of hardware (a base model Kindle has gone from $399 to as low as $114 for an ad-supported version in the past four years) has helped to swing the equation back toward being a good deal for many consumers. The question for parents is, should you consider buying an e-reader for your kids for school? We’ve seen the cost of school supplies climb relentlessly —does adding a $100+ e-reader to the list make any sense?

One of the first things you should do is track down copies of the reading lists for your child’s courses. Then hit (or the online bookstore of choice) to do a quick cost comparison of print vs. e-book titles. When researching another article on the subject, I pulled a random Grade 12 English class reading list off the web and crunched the numbers. I came up with a price tag of $69.07 for the cheapest paper versions of the texts on that list and $23.73 for the equivalent Kindle digital versions. Savings will vary by class, but at $45 per, it doesn’t take many courses before that new e-reader has paid for itself and is actually cutting costs. Of course, nothing is ever that straightforward. What the e-book experiment doesn’t take into account are factors such as varying numbers and types of texts in different courses, the lower cost of used books and the ability to re-sell paper books after the course is over —options not available under current e-book capabilities. Forget about e-readers when it comes to large format textbooks (especially those that make use of color or photographs such as science texts); they’re simply not there yet. Even tablet versions of e-textbooks, which take advantage of the bigger color LCD display and processing power of tablets like an iPad, are still a hit and miss prospect.

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