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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Printing an e-book vs Buying a real book

I use a printer from BROTHER, known as the HL-2140. It's a faithful old model, and does its work in a workhorse fashion. It prints, black and white, without any other frills. That's right: No scanning, no faxing, no printer sharing. And worst of all, no colour. But it fits my requirements perfectly. I have no need to print pictures in their full glory of 16 million colours.

It occurred to me, that with the number of e-books available on the Internet today, what would be the cost of printing an e-book (legal or illegal) as opposed to purchasing a book from the bookstore?

With my trusty old HL-2140, I usually spend about RM130 for a toner cartridge, which prints an estimated 1,000 pages. The shopkeeper where I purchased my toner told me, "Lawyers and accountants love this model. It prints black and white, and it's affordable." I agree. That is why I decided to purchase yet another toner cartridge when my toner ran out of ink: Why buy a brand new printer? When you buy a printer, always check the price of the consumables. Always, always check the price of the toner and the drum! Always check the price of recurring cost. This was how the "ink-jet" printers of the nineties managed to make a fortune off of ignorant consumers: The printers were dirt cheap, but the ink consumables were awfully expensive. And since consumables had to be replaced when they were exhausted, in the long run the printers became awfully, awfully expensive. Learn with me: learn from me. Learn to spend a little bit more on the printer, but save a ton on the consumables.

Back to the HL-2140. At RM130 (or thereabouts) per toner cartridge, it works out to about RM0.013 per page of printing.

I usually purchase A4 paper at RM9 per ream (450 pages, usually). Paper varies in price based on the weight of the individual sheets: the thicker the paper, the better it prints. The less likely it is to get stuck in the roller of an unsuspecting printer or photocopier. At RM9 per ream of A4, it works out to RM0.02 per sheet of A4.

If printing is only on one side of every A4 sheet, the combined cost of printing and paper on a modest, home (or office) printer will work out to about RM0.033 per page.

For a book about 250 pages, the cost of printing and paper will be RM8.25.

This compares with the actual price of a book, which, at 250 pages, would range anywhere between RM5 (bargain bin material) to RM500 (really specialised knowledge). On the other hand, printers and publishers need you to purchase the actual book in order for them to recoup their investment in printing the book and marketing it to various locations. Writers, more than printers and publishers, need you to purchase the actual book in order to get anything. In the long run, writers would not be motivated to write new books. And, should that day ever come to pass, publishers would not be able to survive. Printers would go out of business as their business depends on publishers. This means, very simply, that buying a real book, is as concrete a gesture that you can make, toward supporting your favourite writer. It's more than justing saying, "He is my favourite writer!" That is just vacillating. What writers need is acclaim and income, and both are measured by and directly derived from book sales. So, moral of the story: If you have a favourite writer, buy his book.

On the other hand, if the book you are seeking for is out of print, then the e-book would have done its job perfectly: A digital record of an actual book, which resides in the ether, available for all to access, without any objection from its author or its publisher. In actual effect, making an out-of-print book, or even a book in the public domain, available on the Internet, enables and encourages potential readers to download the said book and to learn from it. This then, would be a promise fulfilled: The promise of an Internet, where the aggregate sum of all humanity's knowledge would be made available to all. The promise of an Internet, which acts as an information repository of staggering proportions, and growing every day to even greater proportions. The promise of an Internet, which disseminates information, to all corners of the globe, surpassing strict, dictatorial censorship, and freeing young minds from the restrictive cages that oppressive governments would otherwise create.

So, is it right to print an e-book, rather than buy the actual book? The answer is up to you. You can ponder the question, but there is no right answer. If more authors donated their work to the public domain, more and more people would benefit from the free flow of knowledge. If more authors donated their work to the creative commons, humanity would find itself considerably enriched. But yet, economic considerations always have a way of making themselves felt. What would be the point of writing, if not to profit from it? Now, that is a question for me to ponder. Hang on while I open up an e-book on the question....


Rossi said...

Came across your blog and found it very, very interesting. Please do continue your effort to bring frugality to Malaysians!

Kevin said...

Thank you Rossi. :)