Wednesday, July 3, 2013

For kids, there is no contest between print and e-books

My fellow wizards and I—meaning those of who write for middle graders and teens—were recently talking on a listserv about e-books, and just what role they are playing now in the lives of our once-and-future readers. This study by Scholastic is illuminating. E-books do seem to be a factor in kids' belief that reading is fun, especially among boys, though kids still prefer print for certain reasons.

Often when this subject is broached among adults, whether they are parents, teachers, media specialists, or children's writers, the discussion is framed in binary terms—as if it were some kind of contest between print and e-books to see which one is "better." But if this Scholastic study is accurate, young readers don't see it that way at all. For them, it's not either/or—it's both. Sometimes they like to read print books, sometimes they like to read e-books.

Here are two interesting statistics pulled from the report about this.

“Fifty-eight percent of kids age 9–17 say they will always want to read books printed on paper even though there are ebooks available.

“Half of children age 9–17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to ebooks.”

One part of this study asked kids about how often they read, and about their attitudes towards reading. This was the part that both reassured and alarmed me.

  • Among girls, there has been a decline since 2010 in frequent readers (42% vs. 36%), reading enjoyment (71% vs. 66%), and the importance of reading books for fun (62% vs. 56%).
  • Compared to 2010, boys are more likely to think reading books for fun is important (39% in 2010 vs. 47% in 2012), but they still lag girls on this measure (47% for boys in 2012 vs. 56% for girls in 2012).
  • Frequency of reading books for fun is significantly lower for kids age 12–17 than for children age 6–11; frequency of reading books for school is also lower for kids age 12–17 than for kids age 6–11.
We are finally reaching boys, but losing girls. I wonder why that is?

I know that teachers need to be concerned about print vs. e-books in terms of how the two different reading modalities affect comprehension and retention; the Scholastic study doesn't address that.

But as a writer, what I get from the study is this—it shouldn't matter to those of who create books for kids how they end up reading them, on paper or on-screen. Our focus needs to be on creating stories so mesmerizing that kids would rather read them than do anything else.

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