Nearly three-quarters of iPad owners who read e-books with their children prefer reading print books with them to e-books; and about half of children say the same thing. Meanwhile, less than 10% of both children and parents prefer to read e-books when they read together, according to the study produced by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a New York-based non-profit dedicated to studying and promoting children’s reading. About 40% of children and 20% of parents like reading both equally. (See several charts below.)
Digital Book World first reported preliminary results of the study in May. In a much less authoritative online poll Digital Book World conducted at the time, nearly 90% of our 93 respondents confirmed they preferred reading print books to their children.
“Parent-child interaction around reading is an experience that is treasured,” said Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. “Parents of this demographic have had the experience of creating their literacy habits through a lifetime and these are happy memories. They want their children to have that warm, nurturing experience when reading books.”
Levine’s comments suggest a cycle that could last generations — of memories reading with parents as children affecting reading experience decisions. (That is, one reads in print with their children because that’s what they did as a kid; and then that child growing up and reading to their children in print because that’s what they did as a kid.) The ease with which formative and memorable children’s books like Dr. Seuss and the Berenstain Bears are given as gifts to young families only reinforces this notion.
But the convenience of digital reading might be an entry way for digital publishers into this market.
When traveling, more parents prefer reading e-books with their children than print books (about 40% versus about 25%). About four of five parents who read e-books with their children say they “sometimes” or “often” give their children an e-book to read on their own if they are busy.
Still, when it comes to e-books, parents are still somewhat wary — especially when it comes to the fancy bells and whistles commonly found in children’s enhanced e-books.
A majority of parents who read e-books to with their children on their iPads believe that games and videos in e-books do more to distract their child from reading than help them learn to read. Nearly half of parents believe that animation is distracting, too.
“There are issues with a lot of electronic books causing a certain amount of distraction,” said Levine. “They can be very engaging but can also be distracting for young children.”
Despite these findings, publishers of children’s e-books should be encouraged by what the parents in the study didn’t say. Of the 1,226 parents who completed the survey, 462 (38%) own iPads and, of those, 335 (73%) read books to their children on the device. There seems to be a possibility of a market.
“There’s another market that’s been opened here,” said Levine. “There’s no doubt that folks who are developing iPad apps and e-books should be encouraged by the level of activity that we find.”
Children’s e-book and app publishers have been reacting to parents’ perceptions of distracting features and the perceived need for reading experiences that build literacy and a love of reading.
Ruckus Media, a start-up children’s e-book and app publisher, has built a reading platform that emphasizes reading and learning. Wanderful, a reboot of the successful Living Books series from the early 1990s published by Broderbund (now part of trade and educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), emphasizes that its e-books lack the kinds of distractions that take children out of the reading experience.
Earlier research from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center suggested that children retain less content during enhanced e-book reading experiences than with print books or non-enhanced e-books.
Growth in revenues for children’s digital publishing has been huge in the early part of 2012, according to figures reported by the Association of American Publishers — driven at least in part by the success of Young Adult e-books such as The Hunger Games. Year-to-date through May, children’s digital publishing revenues are up nearly 300% versus the same period in 2011.
All charts published with permission from The Joan Ganz Cooney Center.