The Book Catapult

The Littlest eReader

Book publisher Scholastic (along with the Harrison survey group) has just released the fascinating results of their survey on the reading habits of modern kids: New Study on Reading in the Digital Age.  Some of the results are a little shocking and mildly disturbing – 39% of kids (age 9-17) agree with the statement, “The information I find online is always correct.” – while others reveal the more concrete reading trajectory our society is on.  What can I say, the children are our future.  Some of the stats:

  • 25% of kids (age 9-17) think texting back and forth with friends counts as reading.
  • 28% of kids (ages 9-17) think that looking through postings or comments on social networking sites like Facebook counts as reading; (*39% of kids don’t think any online activity counts as reading.)
  • 57% of kids (age 9-17) say they are interested in reading an eBook, and a third of children age 9-17 say they would read more books for fun if they had access to eBooks on an electronic device.
  • 25% of kids surveyed have read a book on a digital device – whether laptop, e-reader, phone.
  • 34% of kids read 5-7 days a week.
  • 41% of parents read 1-4 days a week; 28% read every (or almost every) day
  • 86% of kids feel proud and have a sense of accomplishment when they finish reading a book.

Part of me wonders how much was explained to these kids concerning the semantics of reading text messages and Facebook pages as opposed to books.  As in, “Yes, you are physically reading this text message, but….”  Even though both forms convey information and possibly narratives, there is a difference deep down in the core.  I think.  I just can’t really prove it.

I do think that the fact that 25% of these kids have already read a book on a digital device speaks louder than anything else.  Digital books are such a new phenomenon – we forget this in the face of the dominance of the Kindle and hipster iPad commercials on TV – yet a quarter of our youngest readers have already read books that way.  How many adults do you personally know who have read a book digitally?  Be honest.

So, where does that put our society in 10 or 20 years?  I’m split in two over this one – if those kids turn into adults who read e-Books, I really couldn’t care less how they read a book, just as long as they read it.  Literacy is literacy, man.  Yet where does that leave me as a bookseller?  If the eBook market continues to be cornered by Apple and Amazon, there’s little to no room left for neighborhood brick-and-mortar bookstores.  It’s up to us as a society to decide which we’d rather have down the road.

Before becoming a bookseller, adrift and fresh out of photography school, I worked for Ritz Camera for about three years.  (Ritz, once a giant, one-hour photo conglomerate which gobbled up all the smaller camera store chains, was my one-and-only foray into corporate retail structure and actually helped lead me to the independent model that seems to define me these days.  Weird, huh?)  During that short time period, I saw the steady influx of digital camera technology – from not stocking any digital cameras in stores to selling almost solely digital in just three years.  The influx of the technology was so steady and so powerful, that now, 13 years later, Ritz has gone through bankruptcy and reduced their number of stores from 1200 to 300, most of which focus on printing primarily digital images.  If you had asked me in 1997 where I thought the analog camera and film industry was heading, I never would have guessed that it was being so rapidly phased out.  My point is that when in the midst of a paradigm shift like that, it’s almost impossible to step back and see the bigger picture.  We always attempt to project our opinions on the situation, but we have no way of being truly objective.  Imagine that in three years, you have plenty of paperbound books at home, but all the bookstores only sell brand-new eBooks.  Surveys like this Scholastic one help put things into perspective – for me, at least. 

I’ve always maintained that my objection to eBooks is completely personal – they’re just not my thing & I’d rather hold an actual book in my hands.  But as this survey shows, my opinion has little to do with what our younger generations are interested in.  It would seem that a large portion of books are destined to be read on digital devices.  It’s up to the rest of us to adapt, I suppose.

Yet it’s the last stat posted above that gives me the most hope – whether it’s an e-Book, a dogeared paperback, or whatever comes next, reading a book makes 86% of kids feel pretty damn good about themselves.  Anything else doesn’t really matter.

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4 comments on “The Littlest eReader

  1. Amy
    October 1, 2010

    Interesting statistics. I would also wonder how reading was explained to the kids in the survey… facebook and texting totally don't count as “reading” in my mind. I mean it is reading, but it's not really reading reading… yeah I can't explain it 😉

    And regarding your questions about bookstores… I just don't know! I personally can't see paper books going out the window, even if I do use my Kindle for some books, just because I love them so. I often want a paper copy after reading the ebook, just because I want it on my shelf 🙂

  2. Naomi Johnson
    October 1, 2010

    At a signing earlier this week, John Sandford addressed the issue of bookstores falling to digital products in the future, and interestingly enough, he juxtaposed the topic against the camera stores/digital photography changes, too. He said that although the authors would still make money, all booksellers, even the big chains, would be very hard pressed to remain in business. I hate the idea of it, but it feels inevitable. But as long as there are bookstores, that's where I'll be buying books. The tangible kind.

  3. Seth Marko
    October 2, 2010

    Oh, John Sandford. Check out this clip from his last event at Warwick's: http://www.youtube.com/warwicksbooks#p/u/6/LubJiBFxkqw

    Topics discussed: wishing he had thought to have a menage-a-trois in one of his books, all the other contemporary novels that sound better than his, how sick of writing “Prey” books he is, how killing the main character off could cost him millions in backlist sales, and the elements that make up good YA fiction: “violence, nudity, no sex, no bad language, romance, and shopping.” Fascinating & hilarious.

    That said, I think he's at least half right on the bookstore tip – I think the big chain stores will have a lot of trouble staying open when the market shifts more dramatically to eBooks. But the general consensus seems to be that the model for brick-and-mortar stores that remains will be the smaller, local independent one. Which works for me! You want a paperback book, you're going to have to find your friendly neighborhood indie.

  4. aaryn b.
    October 3, 2010

    My daughter just started kindergarten and each week, her teacher sends home a homework packet on which I am required to sign off. Part of the district requirement is that she read (or, rather, I read to her) 10 minutes a day. Seriously. 10 minutes. That is the San Diego Unified School District requirement. Aiming high for our kids, huh?

    I'm proud to say that we log anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes a day, because reading is vital (underscore the last statistic you cite). But to me, the other sad statistics point to the same thing that pretty much every problematic issue in our culture points to and that is education. It is the foundation of our entire society. And if we continue to defund it in favor of wars, if we continue to have such low expectations of our kids (and let's not forget, parents, too), then we'll end up with a society of people who think composing or reading a 140-character tweet counts as being literate.

    Long live the hardcover! And the analog camera, too!

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This entry was posted on September 30, 2010 by in http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, literacy.
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