E-Readers: Is It Worth Buying Used?

The secondary market isn't what it used to be, but prudence leads to deals

The market for e-book readers has evolved considerably from the early days when devices were premium devices and content was priced significantly lower than print books, to today when apps display e-books for free and the e-book pricing model no longer demonstrates the same downward pricing discipline.

Kindle Paperwhite 2015

E-book readers have, correspondingly, declined in price, with brand-new units often retailing for less than $80. The secondary market for these devices isn't as robust as it used to be, but if you've got your heart set on a dedicated e-reader but labor under a tight budget, you may hit pay dirt—if you're careful.

Before you invest in dedicated hardware, use a free app (like Amazon Kindle) to read e-books, even free ones, for a while. Reading on a screen isn't like reading on paper. Before you invest, try the technology to see how well you adapt to this format.

Things to Be Aware of When Buying a Used E-Reader

Before you buy a used device, consider the following tips.

  • Chances are the hardware will no longer be covered by warranty, so if it breaks a week after you buy it, the manufacturer is not likely to help out with repairs.
  • Because batteries have a limited number of cycles, expect to be replacing it sooner than you would with a new model.

Some e-readers do not have a user-replaceable battery

  • Make sure all the cables are included. Some of these are proprietary and hard to find if you get stuck having to buy them separately.
  • The seller may advertise free books as being pre-loaded, but unless they are public domain titles, they aren't really yours. For example, you won't be able to re-download Kindle e-books, as they will be tied to a specific Amazon account.
  • While you may get lucky and find a seller who accidentally ended up with two of a current generation e-reader, or they need to sell belongings to generate cash-flow, chances are you will be buying technology that's a generation or two behind current capabilities.
  • Sometimes e-readers are selling for more on e-Bay than new versions at retailers, so compare current prices (this may be because of international buyers who can't buy that model in their own country, added accessories, shortages of a particularly popular model, or people seeking to avoid paying sales tax).
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