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After writing my post on the Kindle and Amazon’s strategy, I wondered if the Kindle could have any large scale environmental impact and whether that justified the price of the hardware. Ignoring any environmental cost associated with the hardware, here’s what I came up with:

Not buying it for the bucks
The price at nearly 400 is a high barrier for most readers. At an average discount of about $5-10 per book from the list, the average American reader (who starts about 5 books per year) would make his money back in about 16 years – similar amortization rates to a mortgage. Incredibly, 25% of Americans polled in the study don’t read books! But I digress.

Not doing it for society either
Buying a digital book, compared to a paper book has dramatically different environmental impact in terms of deforestation and carbon dioxide production. There were about 3.2B books sold in the US in 2005. Each tree can make roughly 1000 books, so about 3.2M trees were cut down to make those books. The average hectacre in the Northeast has about 150 trees, so you’re talking about 21,000 hectacres, which is roughly the same as the annual deforestation in Costa Rica. But to get to this level of relatively small impact, we would need to replace all printed books with digital books, something not likely to happen in the near future.

There are of course, transportation costs and carbon generation environmental costs associated with book production, but to my surprise, it’s a relatively small amount of environmental impact.

Maybe you just do it for yourself
Because you’d rather have it faster, cooler book that can contain a large subset of the Library of Alexandria in less than a pound

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