Should you buy the $114 or $139 Kindle?

Is the $114 Kindle with Special Offers a better deal than the $139 ad-free Kindle Wi-Fi? The answer may surprise you.

A small strip ad appears at the bottom of your library in the $114 ad-supported Kindle With Special Offers. Sarah Tew/CNET

With the arrival of the $114 Kindle with Special Offers last week, Amazon.com has created an interesting dilemma for buyers.

The company has duplicated its Wi-Fi-only e-reader from a specs and hardware standpoint but offers you a $25 savings if you're willing to contend with some ads. Or you can choose to see it from a different perspective: to keep your Kindle ad-free, you must pay an extra $25.

Now some of you are probably saying: what's $25? Not much really. Here in New York, it's a couple of drinks at a bar (and sometimes $25 won't even get you two drinks). And out at the pump these days, it gets you six gallons of gas or so, which won't take you very far.

But believe it or not, some people agonize over these types of price deltas, especially as the price approaches $100 and each dollar difference becomes a significant percentage of the overall expense.

That's why Amazon picked $114. It didn't pick $110 or $99. No, it went with $114. As I said, that's not very much money, but it is just enough to make you think about it--and just enough of a price cut to attract some folks who weren't quite ready to buy a Kindle at $139. Oh, and maybe at $114, it might just appear cheap enough for a family to buy a second (or third) Kindle. That's the psychology we're dealing with when it comes to pricing. It's a science and $25 can make a big difference.

A tale of two screensavers: Kindle with Special offers shows an ad when the unit goes to 'sleep.' (Click to see larger). Sarah Tew/CNET

So what should you do? Pay the extra $25 to keep your digital reading sanctuary from being contaminated with ads? Or save your money and endure more product branding and subtly seductive "special offers"?

Well, I've been playing around with the $114 Kindle with Special Offers for a few days and much to my own personal horror, the ads didn't bother me at all. In fact, I thought they sort of livened up the home screen a bit, which is sort of blah to look at anyway. (It's just a list of titles and not a fancy virtual bookshelf or anything.)

I know that sounds blasphemous and maybe I've just become anesthetized by all the crass commercialism we're constantly bombarded with, but the half-inch strip of an ad at the bottom of the home page just didn't faze me. Truth be told, I was actually curious to see which ad would appear next. (Alas, the selection is rather limited at this point, but I suspect it will grow.)

Currently, the only ads you get served (while you're using the device) are on the home screen and as you're scrolling through your "library" of book titles. When your Kindle goes to sleep, you'll get a sponsored screensaver--as opposed to the default author screensavers--which you can hide by closing your cover or simply putting your Kindle away.

And to be absolutely clear, there aren't any ads within the text of the books you're reading. Nor are there any invasive pop-ups or pop-overs, as we've become used to on the Web.

To click through an ad or special offer, you have to have wireless turned on. So far, the one seriously enticing offer is Amazon's $10 for a $20 Amazon gift certificate, which seems like a no-brainer purchase if you plan on buying any e-books or a cover.

But, David, some of you will say, I wouldn't pay a dime for a device that's ad-supported. Why isn't the Kindle with Special Offers free or substantially less?

Maybe you're right. But it is what it is for now. As demand slackens--or the advertising dollars really start to roll in--Amazon will cut the price to $99. (We certainly expect to see it there for the holidays.) And in the next couple of years, maybe it will get to free. But today it costs $114 and plenty of people seem to be buying it at that price judging from the fact the traffic to my Kindle covers feature has doubled over the last couple of weeks.

The long and short of it is $25 is $25. If you're dead set against seeing a single ad on your Kindle, pay the extra dough. It's not much. But if you're on the fence about shelling out that extra $25--or aren't sure just how much you or the person you're buying the Kindle for will use the device--go the cheaper route and save the $25. It's worth it.

 

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