The Motley Fool: Shame, Oprah, Shame

Book CoverAs a happy proponent of the Kindle-Ade, I mention frequently how much I love it. But then, I’m also someone who saved up to buy it for weeks because I had a healthy lust for it, and knew it would make reading, which is not an optional activity for me, easier and more portable. So I had a good period of anticipation before I jumped in to the tune of more than the device is currently selling for, and I was honestly very worried that my experience wouldn’t measure up to the amount of money I paid for it. It has measured up, and I’m glad that I did, but let it be known: $400 is a LOT of freaking money. $305 is also a lot of freaking money. I kept my receipt for the Kindle and double-checked the return policy because I was worried that it wouldn’t be worth it for me.

But I’m one of those people for whom reading purchases are not optional. I do visit the library, and I do borrow from friends, but I always have a book with me, purchased or borrowed, and I will sooner cut the cable in half and cut other parts of my budget than go without books. Those are, of course, my wonky priorities, and as the economy takes an express train for Shitsville, population OMG, a lot of people around me are taking a look at their expenditures and wondering what better could be done with our money as the value of it shrinks like a virgin’s protests under the punishing kisses of your nearest Greek billionaire tycoon.

So this article from The Motley Fool’s blog in which Tim Beyers takes Oprah Winfrey to task for hawking the Kindle on her recent show, particularly for recommending it in part because,

“…it’s expensive in these times, but it’s not frivolous because it will pay for itself,” she told her audience. “The books are much cheaper, and you’re saving paper.”

Ok, I’m with Beyers: pays for itself? Yeah, not exactly. Kindle books are cheaper than hardcover but they aren’t always “cheap.” Yes, you’re saving paper, and yes, ebooks and the small publishers who are devoted to them (Hi Sam! How’s your Hain?) are fanshittingtastic, but pays for itself? Come on now, and I mean it. It’s an indulgence.

I am personally not crazy about Beyer’s recommendation that with the same $305 folks should buy stock in Phillip Morris International (Yes! And take up smoking, too!) so as to better fund retirement and make a small profit off that $300 investment, but he makes a rather sharp pointy argument (watch where you’re waving that thing) when he writes:

With apologies to comedian Bill Maher, what we need, Oprah, is a new rule: No more dispensing financial advice on your show. At least not until you cut the consumerism—specifically, until you realize that an electronic book reader is optional for the great majority of us who carry credit card debt. Send your viewers to their local libraries instead.

Hear, hear. Libraries – that offer ebooks for lending, perhaps?!


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    closetcrafter says:

    I totally agree. People need to be informed of cheap entertainment. According to the media in general people are really strugging with idea and realization of economizing. So how about a show on that?

    I wonder how many people who purchase a Kindle, statistically speaking, could afford to buy hardcovers anyway.

  2. 2
    Theresa Meyers says:

    Humm, so what’s a share of Amazon running these days?  If the reaction of her rabid fans to books is any indication, I’m thinking that their sales of the kindle to the mass of Oprahites might make their stock go up…

  3. 3
    Theresa Meyers says:

    Paperback books are the cheapest entertainment there is! It’s portable, doesn’t require any additional batteries or equipment, can be borrowed for free from the library and provide hours of entertainment…

    Seriously, if Oprah was going to do a show on how to economize, don’t you think how to get a library card should be in there somewhere?

  4. 4
    Suze says:

    Buy stock in Phillip fucking Morris?  Why not just take a shovel and bash in the head of the person standing nearest you, and steal their wallet?  Yeargh.

    While I don’t go out of my way to research the ethics of everything I buy, and I’m severely in denial about my share of Citigroup, some things are so blindingly obviously Not Good For Anyone that recommendations for it just about give me whiplash.  Like suggestions to buy Phillip Morris stock.  Good God.

    I know, howzabout investing directly into a child-labour factory in Saipan!

    sales87 That’s just spooky.

  5. 5
    Dalia says:

    Yes but, Oprah’s viewers have brains to think for themselves and even if not, wallets that can do the thinking for them. With a price like that attached to the Kindle, if someone who is in financial difficulties and only just a casual reader purchases it, they have problems greater than falling into the trap of Oprah’s marketing segment.

    That said, I hadn’t realised the show’s theme was about economising. That then lends it an air of the ludicrous.

  6. 6

    I didn’t watch the show, but caught brief updates on the segment, and honestly, with my wallet in the thinnest if not fittest shape it’s been in in years, a Kindle is still not “economical” for me.

    My neighborhood library, and the ones in the next largest towns, both of which are college towns and large, do not have e-reading/sharing capability and from the reports I’ve been getting, are not planning on offering it in the near future either. And the 9.99 point break on most book purchases isn’t going to work for me either. I haunt the USB and the library.

    As a single use purchase, it still isn’t economical for me. Maybe one of them will be one of these days.

  7. 7
    Erin says:

    I’ve been Jonesing for a big cup of the Kinde-Ade for awhile now, but I’m making do with my Palm. Honestly, my Palm isn’t even getting much use thanks to the ridiculous prices at my fave e-book retailer. I refuse to pay $10.71 for an ebook (after rebate, and club pricing) when I can pick up the paperback at the Giant Discount Store for half that price. Do the e-pubs and book sellers think that just because it’s convenient I’m not going to think twice about the price? No matter how convenient it may be, or how much it feeds my must-have-book-now needs, it still has to make sense economically for me to push that “buy” button. With prices like I’ve seen online lately, my library card will be getting more of a workout than my e-reader.

  8. 8
    rebyj says:

    I’m poor as dirt and on disability so my financial savvy consists of finding diet coke on sale and fast food 99 cent value meals. But I’ll say something anyway. Everyone I know with a 401k or pension plan has been telling me they’ve lost 15,000 to as much as over 50,000 here lately in the financial crisis. Personally, I think they’d be happier to download an ebook and read some fiction instead of logging into their pension accounts and crying. I mean seriously at the losses some are facing, what’s 300 bux?

    As a side note… I have bunches of questions about the Kindle and other e-readers. We need a open comment thread one of these days to yack about specs! Because one of these days , this bitch is gonna get an e-reader somehow!

  9. 9
    Sandy D. says:

    I commented on the economics of the Kindle over at Dear Author (I buy mostly used paperbacks, and re-sell my new books).

    The problem with the library, of course, is that many of these institutions don’t carry much romance. Let alone erotica. Hurray for the new self-checkout machines at my library in Ann Arbor, now I don’t have to be embarrassed by the covers on the smut that they do carry that I check out!

  10. 10
    Leah says:

    I would love to have a Kindle—just for the shelf space it would clear. But I am under no illusons that it “would pay for itself.”  C’mon!  It would actually be a bit of a money-sucker, like the Ipod.  I can see going on a bit of a binge every few months, then thinking, “augh!” and letting it lie dormant—like my relationship with Amazon, in general!  But no one should EVER believe Oprah when she says something will pay for itself.  No matter what her beginnings, that woman is so out of touch with normal lives and normal finances that 300 and change is like buying off the dollar menu for her.  You just have to look at the “Favorite Things” in her magazine, or watch one of those “buying crap” shows to see that.  Doesn’t she know that when she promotes things like this, she’s probably missing about half (or more) of her audience?  The half that can’t possibly (or shouldn’t possibly) go out and buy this stuff—and couldn’t afford to buy stock, either?  No, I don’t think she does.  ‘Cause she may mean well, but she’s out of touch.

    spam word:  nothing31…‘cause we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we take nothing out.  Also, at age 31, I pretty much had nothing.  Is this thing psychic?

  11. 11
    joykenn says:

    Erin—dust off that PDA!  a LOT of public libraries provide ebooks and audiobooks for you to download.  My local public library used Netlibrary for non-fiction books and MyMediaMall for new fiction and nonfiction as well.  I LUV it.  I download audiobooks (I’m listening to one of Nora Roberts/JDRobb mysteries now.) and listen to them as I shop at the supermarket, go for walks, knit, commute, whatever.  Doesn’t cost me anything and I can use my PDA, my MP3 player but not yet Kindle (boo-hoo!).  I’ve saved hundreds of dollars and totally made back everything I pay in taxes by using my excellent public library.  They have a great romance collection and take suggestions for purchases!  Seriously folks if you don’t check out your public library and push the librarians to buy the books you want to read or borrow them from interlibrary loan, you’re missing a VERY GOOD DEAL.

  12. 12
    Lori says:

    I agree with Leah about this simply being an example of the fact that Oprah is rather out of touch with the financial reality of most people’s lives.  She has had so much money for so long that she has lost perspective.  She’s not exactly wrong about the Kindle paying for itself, just totally unrealistic.  Given the average discount for the Kindle addition of a book the reader will pay for itself only after you’ve purchased at about100 books that you would have bought any way.  I’m sure Oprah buys that many books in less than a year.  I’m beyond broke so it would take me more like a decade.  A great deal for her, for me not so much.

    I actually only mind this because she has had so many shows recently chiding people for their poor money management skills and enormous debt.  I think it’s sort of crappy to push all kinds of over priced consumer goods on one had and then humiliate people for not living within their means on the other.

  13. 13
    Marilyn says:

    I saw where Amazon is offering $50.00 off the price of the Kindle until Nov 1, through the Oprah show. Use promotional code OPRAHWINFREY. I still can’t afford it, but if you’re on the fence deciding should I or shouldn’t I, it might push you over.

  14. 14
    Marsha says:

    Wait – that show was about economizing?  For some reason I had thought it was her annual Stuff Oprah Likes episode.  Hm.

    I take Oprah’s endorsement and the Motley Fool’s response each with a grain of salt, because what else could they say?  Oprah’s in the business of entertainment (with a bit of useful life info in the mix) and the Motley Fool is in the business of promoting stock ownership (with a bit of general financial info in the mix).  That Oprah occasionally hosts financial management experts and Motley Fool from time to time will have posts about leisure activities doesn’t change the fact that for either party to take any other position on this subject would take them seriously off message. Off message = not good for business. 

    Motley’s point, by the way, would serve just as well if Oprah advocated each of us sending $300 to the non-profit of our choice – of course we’d “make” more if we invested in Philip Morris but our lives wouldn’t be so well enriched.  That’s not to say it wouldn’t have been grand for Oprah to remind folks to not spend money they don’t have and, gee, catch up on obligations first (if she had I bet the complaints would have run to “oh, sure, it’s easy for Oprah to say…”) 

    I’d kind of like a Kindle and can technically afford the $300 with no undue consequences to children: feeding of and roofoverhead: keeping.  Still, since I don’t buy many books as it is (the cleaning, it kills me) and have a fabulous library system at my disposal I’m hard pressed to move this from the want column into the need column (not to mention I’m a teensy bit technophobic and don’t understand the whole e-book format thing) no matter what Oprah or the Motley Fool have to say about it.

  15. 15
    Suzanne says:

    I’m still not ready to jump on the Kindle bandwagon….I’m still the kind of reader that is drawn to the tactile thrill of reading, the smell of a new book, the beauty of good cover art, the feel of a heavy page, the sound of a cracked spine, the sigh of reaching the last page, heck, even easy to read fonts impress me.

    And as to libraries, a few years ago after my amazon crack habit exceeded a hundred dollars a month, I started using the library at the end of the street. I order the books I want online, they are delivered to the library, I pick them up……they are free! All in all, bliss.

    That said, if I ever realise that dream of moving to a remote mountain community, I will probably revisit either Kindle or a return to amazon crack heaven.

  16. 16
    tracykitn says:

    Ok, I really want a Kindle, but I’m happy to admit it’s just a gadget-urge, and I’ll probably not give in to it…well, at least not until the next version comes out.  Then, maybe. We’ll see.

    I don’t like using the library in general, because I have this thing about due dates, where I forget them, and this can really rack up the fees, lemme tell ya. Although I do occasionally use and love my library. But what I really really love is Goodwill (and similar thrift stores. Generally hard to find a book that’s over a couple of bucks ($0.69-$0.89 ea for category romance, anyone?) and there’s usually a really good selection of…well, everything, really. And then when I’m done, if I didn’t like it, I just donate it right back and let them make another buck or so off of it….recycling also saves the trees. There are plenty of ways that are downright cheap-to-free to indulge my book habit and do good for the environment.

  17. 17

    The problem with her recommending the Kindle is she didn’t give a moment’s airtime to any other device (and there are much cheaper ones out there), or bother to mention you can read ebooks on your iphone or PDA.

    Prospective buyers who have never heard of ebooks who go to Amazon’s website won’t find out about any other, cheaper options, either. So unless they do some googling on their own, they might end up thinking “Reading ebooks means an outlay of $305? No wonder I’ve never heard of the darn things!”

    Honestly, why couldn’t she have said, “This here thingie is the best ebook reader ever, better than your PDA, better than a laptop, better than any other reader. Here’s why.”? Because the way to attract readers to ebookland is by giving them a cheap,  easy, non-threatening way to try them, and then letting them drool, like Sarah did, over the bells and whistles like the Kindle or the Sony. I really believe that the more general ebook-ade is far more addictive than Kindle-ade, anyway.

    And Sarah, if the drooling problem persists, you ought to see an endochrinologist.

  18. 18
    J.C. Wilder says:

    Oprah knows how to economize in the same way I can fly a plane – I know it can be done, but don’t ask me how to do it. Earlier this year she did a fashion show with ‘economical’ fashions – a sweater for 128.00 isn’t what I would call economical for most people.

    I have a Kindle, I love my Kindle, but if I were struggling for every dollar and it was a choice between eating and the Kindle – then I wouldn’t have bought it. Chastizing the big O for recommending the Kindle is like chastizing America Ferrera for advertising the PSP – its a job.

  19. 19
    Shreela says:

    When I heard about Oprah recommending the Kindle, the first thought I had was that she was probably paid a lot of money for her endorsement.

    From what I’ve read about Kindle so far, it’s not a good deal at all, at least not yet. While I know nothing about publishing, it seems to me the electronic books should be far cheaper than what they are at Amazon, since there’s no printing or shipping involved

    And in the recent past, new hardware cost a lot of money the first year or two, then competition brought the prices down, especially once they realized that they’d make more money when people bought their proprietary products: 8-tracks, cassettes, videos, CDs, games, ect… But despite having competition, and our economy almost being in the dumps, electronic reader prices remain high.

    I’m saving for either a Touch iPod, or maybe even an iPhone, and will use whichever as a reader when I don’t want to carry “real” books with me. At least that way, I’d have music, movies, and games along with my books.

  20. 20
    Courtney S says:

    I’m with all of you. I can probably could cough up the money for a kindle, but then you have to shell out the money for the books.  And I am not about to replace all my paperbacks and such. The costs would just be too much.

    A side note…my library has ebooks for lending. They don’t have a ton of them yet, but they are getting more and more each day.

  21. 21
    Cat Marsters says:

    Okay, someone’s going to have to tell me how you lend an ebook.  How do you give it back?  Even if it’s on disc it can be copied pretty easy (and that’s a violation of copyright: ebooks have disclaimers in them about it).

    As an ebook author, I’m all for spreading the word…but not really all for giving away unlimited copies of my books (authors suffer from credit crunches, too!).

  22. 22
    Jennifer says:

    Have any of y’all seen the “Living Oprah” blog? The author of it is trying to do/buy everything Oprah says for a year. Apparently Oprah is aware of it by now, because she SENT THE AUTHOR A FREE KINDLE. Which the author (“LO,” I forget her real name) ended up sending back because she didn’t think that was fair of her to take advantage of a freebie.

    Really, when Oprah herself is sending you a Kindle…man.

  23. 23
    Jennifer says:

    Oh, with regard to PDA’s: I can put novels on my PDA any time I want to and it only cost me $200. My mom asked me if I wanted a Kindle and I said hell no, I’ve already GOT a machine that lets me read books, plus does other things like scheduling and games, plus it fits in my dang pocket.

  24. 24
    EmmyS says:

    So how does the library ebook thing work? Do you plug your reader into a machine and download a file, or does it get emailed to you? How do they handle due dates? Does the file self-destruct after a certain period of time?

  25. 25
    Leah says:

    The question about the ebook lending makes me wonder, too…. The cool thing about regular books, is, when I am done with them, or when I am in my purge mode, I can give them to someone else, or swap, or donate them, and they go on to have useful lives elsewhere.  But let’s say I get tired of some books I have on a Kindle.  Can I get rid of them?  Can I give them to someone else—after all, I paid like 10$ for them, so they are mine.  I have some huge REM compilation on my Ipd that I should not have bought.  I can’t get it to disappear, no matter what I do, and it keeps popping up on shuffle, so I have to fast forward all the time.  If this were a CD set, I’d just give it away.  But I’m stuck with it.  If I can’t give away an ebook, that seems like a bit of a waste of money and space to me.

  26. 26
    SonomaLass says:

    Our library doesn’t have e-books yet, but it does have downloadable audio books.  The file is “good” for seven days.  You can burn it onto CD in order to listen to it on something other than your computer (they say it’s only okay to do that for personal use during the seven-day period, of course).  I haven’t ever downloaded one, because I’m not much into audiobooks, but it sounds very convenient.  It also sounds like piracy would be fairly easy, if one were into that; I suspect that e-books are similarly tricky.

  27. 27
    Courtney S. says:

    For all the ebook lending questions this is how my library system handles it. You can download the book to your computer. It comes over as an acrobat file. It is protected so you are unable to copy it, print it, or alter it. You get to keep it for 21 days and then it is atomatically returned to the library. For lack of a better term yes the title does “self destruct” after 21 days. LOL

  28. 28
    Tessa Dare says:

    For those curious how it works, here’s a url to my local library’s e-lending program:

    The files can only be “borrowed” by one user at a time, so there is often a waiting list for popular titles.  I’ve had mixed success with the program as a whole.  The audiofiles can’t be played on iPods. :(

  29. 29
    JaimeK says:

    The show in question was not a show on being economical – the first 25 minutes was on “Oprah’s new favorite thing.”  She liked the fact that you could have up to 400 books on the Kindle, if you had the expansion card, and that you weren’t using paper.  The Kindle was actually a gift to her from someone and she so fell in love with it.  When I saw that she was talking about it so passionately I thought she was getting paid for it too, but she says no.

    I believe, after watching the show, that her real interest (some of it may be for personal reading) is she is trying to figure out how to get her girls in Africa’s school books on either Kindle or a device like it.  She said the kids carry around 60 pounds of books.  I know there are some school books that are already available for download, but probably not the one’s over seas.  This would be a real coup for Amazon if they could strike a deal with Oprah to get the school books on there.

    I agree with everyone regarding cost, etc, however, I really like the idea of not having a ton of books piled up or that I can load all of my summer reading onto the Kindle and it uses no paper to do that.  Stuff like the Kindle is expensive, but that is, if it is your choice, what piggy banks are made for.  If you “have to have it” or want it bad enough then save for it.  That is what I have done.  It does not satisfy the instant gratification, but sometimes something you have to wait for is made sweeter by waiting….or you could clock SB Sarah and take her’s, but I heard that if stolen Amazon can shut down your Kindle, so maybe that isn’t such a great idea.

  30. 30
    Lucy says:

    When I bought my Kindle in early August I started an excel file with the price I paid for each book and what I would have paid for the papreback/hardback. I read A LOT. I now have about 40 books from Amazon (several hardbacks) and I stopped keeping track of the cost difference because I saw I was saving money. My savings by the end of September were about $75. I suppose for someone who doesn’t read as much as I do it would take a long time to pay for itself but not so much for me.

    My name is Lucy and I love my Kindle.

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