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:
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.