More Kids Read E-Books But What Do They Retain?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Good news: kids are reading more digital books.

Bad news: they may not be benefiting from what they read.

A report released by Scholastic early in 2013 carries an ostensibly encouraging report that children between 6 and 17 are turning in greater numbers to e-books. Forty-six percent of the children polled said they had read at least one e-book, twice the number of those surveyed in 2010. In particular, boys, who “traditionally lag behind girls in reading” in the words of Leslie Kaufman of the New York Times, were showing greater attachment to the medium.

But there are two other questions that may put these promising numbers into perspective. One is, do kids like a steady diet of e-books? At least one group surveyed says they don’t. “The number of girls who reported being frequent readers declined to 36 percent from 42 percent,” Kaufman informs us. The reason for this significant decline may have to do with the fact that more children are reading on iPads and other tablets, rather than on Kindles, Nooks and other dedicated e-readers. The temptation to peek at text messages or play a quick video game is far stronger when books are read on tablets. “‘Managing screen time is the challenge of parenting today,”‘ Francine Alexander, Scholastic’s chief academic officer was quoted in Kaufman’s article Digital Reading on the Rise for Children (With a Qualifier).

Which leads to the second and perhaps most significant question of all: how much are children getting out of digital reading? There is compelling evidence that information retention is down for kids who read on screen, as opposed to those who immerse themselves in printed books or books on dedicated e-readers. See for instance Will Our Children Read E-Books?

Richard Curtis

3 thoughts on “More Kids Read E-Books But What Do They Retain?

  1. Seeley James

    Great post. The question I would ask is, what do we expect them to retain? I love Treasure Island as a boy and retained a good sense of the book, but when I recently re-read it (along with a few other classics) it was like a whole new story with a touch of familiarity. When I was ten, I read War & Peace. I think it was about Russia. It turned me off because it was over my head. (As I write this comment, I just noticed my old copy of W&P on my shelf … fate? 🙂

    My son went from reading 4 paperbacks a month to reading twice as many on his iPad. But they’re all Star Wars sagas. I love that he reads, but I don’t expect him to retain much more than I did about Treasure Island. I’m happy that he’ll grow up with a love of reading.

    His big sister on the other hand, went from reading 3 books a month to reading 3 a year when she dove into social media. My son’s vocabulary is 5x that of his sister… that’s the scariest thing.

    Peace, Seeley

  2. Richard CurtisRichard Curtis Post author

    @Seeley James.

    Thanks, Seeley. The difference between you and your kids is, you’re not being tested on books you read when you were young. But your kids are, or may be. And you read War & Peace years ago; they may have read it less than a semester ago. That’s where retention is critical.

    Your kids obviously exemplify both halves of the issue. One reads more because it’s on the screen, the other less.

    War and Peace is definitely about Russia. Bet you’ve even retained the author’s name. 🙂

  3. Susan

    I’d be curious about adult retention when reading ebooks vs print. When reading ebooks, I catch myself reading too quickly so that the screen doesn’t time out, even after I’ve changed the screen settings. I’m constantly having to slow myself down and read more carefully on ebooks.

    Has anyone else noticed this problem?



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