Black Friday dilemma: to buy or not to buy an e-reader

Why or why not to buy an e-reader on Black Friday.

Is Black Friday going to be a good day to buy yourself (or someone on your holiday gift list) an electronic book reader? Not according to Farhad Manjoo, who calls e-book readers a "post-Thanksgiving bargain to avoid."

Writing for Slate, Manjoo makes reference to Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Nobles's Nook, Sony's (upcoming) Daily Reader, new readers from Irex, and a line of colored Cool-Er readers from Interead.  "This isn't a good time to buy any of them," he says. His reasoning: e-book readers are still too expensive and they're still too new. They can only get better and cheaper.

And anyway, he points out, Apple hasn't yet entered the market. "Nobody knows whether Apple will ever release a touch-screen tablet PC, and if it does, nobody knows whether the mythical device will function as an e-book reader," writes Manjoo. "But it could!"

There's certainly at least one good reason not to buy a Nook this Friday – they're sold out until 2010. Which suggests that a lot of people disagree with Manjoo.

I'm one of them. Or maybe I should modify that comment. It depends on what kind of reader you are. For a casual reader, he's probably right. Manjoo calculates that you have to read at least 12 books a year for the purchase to make economic sense. If you read 12 or fewer books a year, wait at least till next year and then see what the market looks like.

For heavy readers, however, 12 books will go by quickly. If you read a book a week, an e-reader purchased at Christmas will have paid for itself before Easter. And for bus, train, and subway commuters who are also readers, it's not just an economic question – it's also a matter of convenience.

Will e-readers get better? Of course! But so did cellphones. And yet I'm not sorry I got that first (relatively) clunky one when I did.

And like cellphones, when you're done with that first e-reader, somebody else will be glad to have it.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at

(Chapter & Verse readers are reminded that the Monitor’s Books podcast is available either at iTunes or by clicking here.)

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