Reading Speed and the Cost of Books

November 13, 2015 Musings 16



We all know someone who is a speed demon when it comes to reading – someone who can read (and even review!) four or five books or even seven books in a week. Many of us are a bit slower. But here’s my question: how much does your reading speed impact what you’re willing to pay for a book, or how many books you buy? Put another way, how much entertainment per hour are you actually buying when you pay for a book, compared to a slower or faster reader? And what does that mean for your book-buying habits overall?

I actually first ran into this dilemma with yarn. Acrylic is fairly cheap. Mass-produced wool costs a bit more. And then there’s the good stuff — high-quality wool, cashmere, alpaca, merino, silk, much of it hand- dyed or hand-painted. Buying enough wool for a pair of socks costs me about $11 in a chain store, and around $25 if I get something really special from a local yarn shop or festival.

$25 sounds like a lot to spend on a pair of socks that aren’t even socks yet! But that’s not the point. When I buy sock yarn, I’m not buying socks: I’m buying entertainment. Since it takes me several weeks to knit a pair of socks, the cost-per-entertainment-hour is actually very low. In fact, if it takes me 25 hours to knit the socks, and $25 to buy the yarn, it only costs me a dollar per entertainment-hour. That’s a lot cheaper than going to a movie, and it makes me feel so much better about splurging on the beautiful, high-quality hand-dyed yarn.

That rationale is great for justifying buying yarn, but it set off alarms bells in my head when I applied it to books. See, I’m not a fast knitter, but I can whizz through books. And all of a sudden, that cost-per-entertainment-hour ratio didn’t look as good.

Let’s look at the new Jayne Ann Krentz novel, Secret Sisters. It’s due out on December 8, and it will retail for $27. Maybe you can find it discounted for around $20, but maybe you’re supporting your local bookstore, so you pay full price. Now say that it will take you 10 hours to read the book. (You like to take your time, savor every detail.) Your cost-per-entertainment-hour is $2.70, or $2.00 if you bought it on sale. Pretty good deal!

On the other hand, maybe you can read that book in 3 hours. (You’re a fast reader, and you like to speed through to see what’s going to happen next.) In that case, it’s going to cost you $7 per entertainment-hour, or $6.67 if you got a discount. Plus, you’ve still got the other 7 hours to fill with other books.

Over a month or a year of reading, that per-hour difference can really mount up. On a good week, I may read five books. (It’s not always that many now that I’m blogging, because writing reviews takes time.) Even if only one of those books is hardcover, and the rest are paperbacks, and even if I buy them at a discount, four paperbacks and a hardcover come to $44 or more. Multiply that by 4 weeks in a month, and that’s more than I can afford to spend.


Don’t get me wrong–I’m not arguing that books aren’t worth that much, or that publishers charge too much, or that the author doesn’t deserve to get paid. And I’m definitely not saying that fast readers shouldn’t be willing to buy a new hardcover book just because their cost-per-entertainment hour is a little high!

In fact, the cost-per-hour is only one part of the equation when you think about buying a book, and it’s  not always the most important part. There are other factors: How badly do you want to read the book? Is this an author whose books you collect? Are you likely to re-read it? Is it part of a series you’re collecting, and you want them all to match? The answer to any of those questions may have you saying, “Heck YES! This book is totally worth paying that.” (Our family was so excited when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows first came out, we bought two copies, so neither Robin nor I had to wait for the other to read it.)

But over the long term, I’ll bet most of us dedicated readers are either consciously or unconsciously adjusting what we pay for books over the long run, based in part on how many books we get through in a year or a month. For any given title, $27 may be fine, or too much–just as concert tickets or theme-park tickets may be affordable or too much, depending on how much we value the experience and how much we have to spend. But when it comes to reading–something we do on a regular basis, as opposed to attending a concert or theme park–chances are that if we spend a lot on some titles, we’re probably finding ways to save money on others.

[Part II: Strategies for spending less on books]
Photo credit: KnittyTwins, via

16 Responses to “Reading Speed and the Cost of Books”

  1. Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook

    That is an interesting way of looking at it. I am not a fast reader, but I spend a lot of time reading, so I usually read approximately 3 books a week. Sometimes more sometimes less. But I get the vast majority of my books from the library. Libraries are wonderful. And then, after I read a book and I decide I love it then I buy it.
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  2. Rachelle

    For me, it definitely depends on the book itself. I can’t wait to get into town (I live an hour away) and purchase the new Charles Finch book. He is one of my favorite authors and I collect the Lenox series. Yes, I will whiz through that book as fast as I can but it is worth it to me. I re-read all my favorites. But unless they are a favorite author, I am not willing to pay top dollar for a book. I check out a lot from the library and search for books at library book sales or 2nd hand stores. I have also heard it said that the cost of bookshelves should be figured in to the cost of a book and whether or not it is worth purchasing.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      The new Charles Finch is excellent – I love his books! I am collecting him on Kindle but debating getting the print copies for my shelves (and I’m pretty chary of buying print books these days because I’ve basically run out of shelf space.) Libraries and used books are a great way to keep up with authors you like but don’t necessarily need to own.

  3. Bea @Bea's Book Nook

    I hadn’t thought about it in quite those terms before. I don’t consider the time it takes me to read as much as the length of the book versus the cost versus my desire for it. There’s a story I’m moderately interested in but it’s only 9 pages and the price is $2.99. I’m not that invested in the series or author.

    I rarely pay full-price, ever for favorite authors. I wait for a sale, buy it used, or get it from the library. There are authors and series that I enjoy but don’t want to own so library to the rescue!

    Thinking about this some more, I realize that I actually shy away from long books. In my experience, many long books are unnecessary and full of filler so now I think twice about investing time or money in them.

    Interesting post. 🙂
    Bea @Bea’s Book Nook recently posted…Bea Reviews Report for Booty by Jodi RedfordMy Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Desire for the book is certainly part of the calculus! I hadn’t thought to consider book length in the equation, but you have a good point. Like you, I’ve turned down novellas and short stories at $1.99 or 2.99 when I didn’t absolutely need to read them. I will cheerfully pay full price for some authors that I love and collect, and certainly for books I buy as gifts! But like most of us, I read too much to buy or house every book I want to read, so libraries, used books, and (sometimes) Kindle sales to the rescue.

  4. Jess@Fairday's Blog

    What an interesting post! You brought up a lot of great points. I have not thought about book price in relation to my speed- but I do pay attention to the price and if I think I will like the book. I tend to buy books by authors I know I like in hardcover. You have given me something to think about for sure!
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    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Reading speed is certainly not the only consideration — available shelf space factors in, as does how badly I want to read a book and how long the library waiting list is! (I’ve gotten a lot better at being patient for the brand-new books, but sometimes I just can’t wait.) Like you, I’ll buy hardcover if it’s a book I’m pretty sure I’ll be keeping and re-reading, especially now that my eyes aren’t as good as they used to be. (Besides, hardcovers look and feel so wonderful!) But the sheer quantity of books I get through, and how fast I get through any given book, is part of what I think about.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Blogging has been great for my reading habit in one way. I’m reading a lot more “new” books now that I can often (or sometimes) get an ARC. I’m not always reading the ones I most want to read, because some of the books I’m most interested in aren’t offered or aren’t available to any but the biggest and most frequent bloggers. But I’m grateful for the books I’ve been granted access to – several have introduced me to authors I haven’t tried but now love, like Charles Finch.

  5. kimbacaffeinate

    Back when the budget was tight the final decision in buying a book was the length since I am a speed reader. I balanced things out with the library. Now I simply buy what I want and arcs and the library add to my insatiable addiction
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  6. Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

    This is such an interesting topic! I have never actually thought of this before, but you are so right! I mean, I see people on Goodreads who read like, 250-300 books a year. And then I see people who read 30. So… that is a big difference, economically speaking! I mean, I have enough books to last me through the end of days, basically, but that is because I have a hoarding problem 😉 For a normal reader, that would be a big difference! Even at $10 a book (figuring some more expensive, and some at a bargain), the 300 reader would spend $3K on books. That is A LOT. (Assuming they paid for them, and ARCs aren’t a factor.) The 30 book person is only spending $300. That’s like, a lot of money.

    Clearly,I will be staying tuned for part 2, since it’s obvious that I need it 😉 Great post!
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