Overanalysis of a Kindle Purchase

Thursday, December 31, 2009

I was thinking about buying a Kindle recently. I wanted to think through whether it would be a good economic purchase. I started with the assumption that the user experience would be identical (or at least comparable enough that I wouldn’t pay more for one than the other) and asked myself how long will it would take me to pay back the purchase of the hardware. And, will that payback period be shorter than the expected life of the device?

I looked at my Amazon purchase history for June 2008-December 2009 to assess what my book purchasing habits have been. I found 28 books that I purchased for myself.(1) I then added the four books that I purchased in physical book stores. This gave me 32 titles purchased over 18 months to consider.
I discovered that ~60% (19/32) of those titles are available on the Kindle at an average savings of $4/book.(2) If I’d bought every one of the available titles on a Kindle instead of in paper format, I would have saved $77 over 18 months—about $50/year. At $250 for the device, I’d need to keep my Kindle for 5 years to break even. That seems unreasonable, given an two-year(3) product life cycle for most of my electronics, provided that having a Kindle doesn’t change my book-purchasing behavior.(4)

Were there additional factors to consider? I would gain some value from being able to download and enjoy on a non-backlit screen many out-of-print books like Alice in Wonderland or the complete works of Shakespeare.(5) It would be easier to carry books and I wouldn’t have to wait for them to be delivered. I’d also avoid the need to ‘complete’ orders by getting them up to $25 to qualify for free shipping. Then again, I’d lose the ability to easily make notes, couldn’t loan these books to my friends, and, for those books that weren’t available on Kindle, it would be even harder to ‘complete’ the orders up to $25. It’s all pretty hard to quantify.

So, I ended up getting a Kindle. It’s great and I’m very happy with the purchase. In the end, the portability and instant delivery of books justified the cost to me. It’s a good reminder for me that the ‘economic’ justifications for most of my consumer decisions are less important than the user experience ones and that the attributes hardest to quantify can often drive purchase decisions.

1. I excluded books purchased for others – I’m unlikely to buy someone an electronic copy of a book, and even if I did, whether I could do that is controlled by whether they have a Kindle.
2. Most Kindle titles are $9.99. My purchases ranged from $7-20, with an average cost of $13—strangely this means that there was a small bias in my sample towards the cheaper books being unavailable in Kindle format.
3. I recognize that the Kindle would likely last longer, but it remains true that my devices have a habit of lasting fewer than 3 years: T41 laptop: 2.5 years, then too slow to use; T43 laptop: 20 months then too slow to use; 3rd generation iPod: 25 months then “dead Mac” face (AppleCare warranty lasted 24 months); iPod Shuffle I: 2 years, then lost; iPod Shuffle II: 2 years, then stolen; Samsung A160 phone: 7 months, then its inability to call internationally became relevant; replacement phone running Windows mobile: 18 months then died with a tiny curl of smoke; Motorola RAZR: 24 months, then dropped for an iPhone; 2G iPhone: 23.5 months, then touchscreen failed (leading to two weeks without a phone while my contract expired); 3GS iPhone: still working after 6 months. Whether through obsolescence, the appearance of a sufficiently superior product, failure, or theft, the only device I own today that has seen its third birthday is the CD player/tape deck combo I bought in middle school.
4. Anecdotally, I’ve heard people say that Kindles make reading easier, but don’t actually increase book purchasing behavior. At any rate, I’d have to believe that the device would more than double my book-buying in order for it to make economic sense.
5. How to value these marginal titles? Most can be purchased as “Penguin Classics” for $1-3. The fact that I haven’t yet, even at such low prices indicates to me that I value them very little. For the purposes of this evaluation, I’ll round that down to $0.


Red Spidering Wikipedia

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Occasionally websites are overwhelmed by the amount of traffic they receive. This is often the result of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack in which thousands of computers all try to connect to the website at once. However, sometimes it happens as a result of a popular site (one with millions of visitors) linking directly to a much smaller site, unprepared to deal with the traffic.

This is sometimes called the Slashdot Effect for the popular metablog, Slashdot, although other phrases like being “Farked,” “Drudged” or “Wanged” are also common. Slashdotting can overwhelm a server, or it could just represent a large increase in traffic. What I found interesting recently was that the comic xkcd produced a similar bump in traffic, but without a link. This comic from a few months ago referenced the Voynich Manuscript, a 15th century undeciphered illustrated book.

xkcd is known for a geeky following, but this was a bit too obscure. Wikirank shows a 10,000% increase in wikipedia traffic.

I’d call this indirect effect “red spidering” or “a velociraptor attack.”


Infinite Failure meets Unbounded Optimism

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I've been participating in Infinite Summer, a challenge to read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest during 2009's 13 weeks of summer. I greatly enjoyed his nonfiction books, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and Consider the Lobster, so I figured I'd give Infinite Jest a chance. Here's the rub: it's more than 1,000 pages long.

Infinite Summer set up a schedule to help people get through it (as well as some great content guides and guest posts by authors, professors, etc.). My problem is that after a strong start, I seem to be falling behind (a real problem, with constant reminers from my friends on Twitter using #infsum).

I'm falling behind at my current rate, and slowing down: a deadly combination. Nevertheless, my Infinite (-related) Failure can be overcome by Unbounded Optimism today (and every day that I haven't yet caught up)....


Twitter is Addictive OR Public Commitment Dooms the Outcome

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I noticed a while back that my Twitter usage was following a very predictable upward swing, thanks to the enlightening data-driven TweetStats. That’s basically a full year of upward trending. I’ve never been so consistent about anything.

I increased my Twitter usage because my network grew (more time spent with the app), I got in the habit of posting more (better at tweeting, and better at thinking to myself, “I should tweet this), and because I expanded my usage (more @ responses and more direct messages).

Sometimes people want to restrict their Twitter usage. For instance, in April Amy Senger (@sengseng) said she wanted to tweet less to spend more time with the real world. There may have been some problems with this statement, though. First, “tweet less” turned out to describe a trend, not a decision. Second, her method (Reducing followers to reduce @ responses) didn’t address the urge to tweet. The result? An initial commitment that gradually fades.

Perhaps the public commitment to tweeting less was the act that doomed the outcome (and it seems especially true given that usage decreased right up until the moment of public declaration). Then again, maybe Twitter’s just too addictive to quit.


Cambridge Brewing Company has Perfect Coasters

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Last night I had a beer with my father and two of my friends at the Cambridge Brewing Company. When we first got there, we commented on how much we like their logo of three beer beer rings. It's classic, communicates the brand perfectly, and unlike most coasters, is free of advertising.

Of course, with coasters like that, we were going to have to turn them over and draw graphs. One of my friends quit his job recently to move to San Francisco and just yesterday came to the realization that his living expenses are about to go up 30% (Boston to San Fracisco move) while his income goes down 100%. He's excited about the change.

Just saying it out loud gets the point across, but somehow these graphs always get made in both draft form (back of a coaster) and polished form (PowerPoint). The high quality, adverising free, blank-on-one-side coasters at the Cambridge Brewing Company are a wonderful thing. It's funny how something done in pen on a coaster in 30 seconds can be more compelling than something done in PowerPoint in 10 minutes....



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I’m generally scared of change.  I’ve been a late adopter of, among other things, email, the Internet, cell phones, and girls.  And, dubious Lincoln-era claim aside, emoticons are a recent innovation. So, it was with some trepidation that I started using emoticons.  Now that I have, the embrace has changed me.

Once I do get into a trend, though, I tend to get in deep (e.g., despite being late to the cell phone party, I got an iPhone the first day it came out and now that I’m on the technology bandwagon, I’m a Twitter evangelist with @SteveD503).  I worried that by using emoticons I was acting like a middle school student, and given my past, I’d be unable to stop.  And yet, their adoption signals something important: emoticons are useful!  They add some of the non-verbal cues that are lost in electronic communication.  

I started small with the generic smiley :-) and gradually moved to the cuter wink smiley ;-)  I still work with a limited set, more because I fear using an ambiguous emoticon that my listener won’t recognize.  However, I have added the beaming smile :-D and the squinting eye grin ^_^ 

This is where things started to get strange.  The beam wasn’t altogether new for me (it partially supplanted “*beam*” for me in emails), but using it made me think about “beaming” more often while I communicated, both by email and in speech.  Now I’m breaking out the ear-to-ear more often in real life. My brain has actually been rewired by cleverly arranged punctuation. Unexpected.


The importance of asking questions

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I’ve been giving a lot of presentations recently at work. We’re rolling out a Six Sigma-like cost savings methodology across a large corporate client and so I’ve sat down with groups of 3-30 a couple times per day to explain what it entails. After about 30 iterations, I’ve got the information-giving down pat. But, I’ve given presentations before. What I’ve been reflecting on recently is the importance of asking questions at the end.

Questions are important to help listeners clarify the material, but they also help listeners demonstrate understanding and set themselves apart from the other members of the audience.

I hit the end of the presentation after 20 minutes, which leaves about ten minutes for questions. My audience often take this as an invitation for further information to flow from the presenter to the participants. This is partly true, but not entirely. If, at the end of a presentation, someone’s unclear on some part of what’s been explained, by all means they should ask a question (but only if they’re reasonably certain that their confusion is at least somewhat universal, to avoid wasting everyone’s time. If they can’t tell, they probably should ask later, in private). A well-asked question serves both the questioner and the audience, as they all learn something.

However, a different sort of question is also available. Asking about an implication of the presentation or a subtle detail that might have been overlooked can demonstrate to the presenter that someone has paid attention and is engaged with the material. This can accumulate into awareness if the same person asks that sort of question in several presentations over time. Of course, there’s a danger that the questioner can end up wasting time with a question just meant to score points. It’s a technique to be used sparingly.

Maybe this is all just a cry for greater engagement from my audiences.


My 20s

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I realized most of my achievements have been all about my 20s.

1st grade: Sit still for 20 minutes
High school: Debate with a 20-argument case
College: Write a 20-page paper
First job: Present a 20-slide deck
Business school: Persuade with 20-second statements
Today: Tweet 20-word sentences

It looks like I reached peak verbosity in college with information density increasing (I hope) ever since.


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