Ebooks Finding Their Place Among Young Readers

children's publishing launch kids DBW15 ebooks e-readingTwo recent studies of children’s and families’ reading habits suggest that while young readers may not be flocking to ebooks in droves, they are figuring out where digital content fits into their reading lives.

93% of children ages 2–13 now read an ebook at least once a week, according to new research from Digital Book World and PlayScience, a figure that’s held steady (up from 92%) since the past year. The percentage of children who read ebooks has likewise remained consistent, with about two-thirds reportedly doing so in January 2014 and January 2015 alike.

But stability isn’t the same thing as growth, and a separate study of kids’ reading habits, released by Scholastic yesterday, suggests ebooks aren’t catching among young readers.

Scholastic finds that even though the percentage of children ages 6–17 who have read an ebook has increased over the past four years, during which time ebooks have become more prevalent, the share that prefer print to ebooks has risen, from 43% in 2012 to 55% in 2014. And so has the percentage of kids who say they’ll always want to read print books even though ebooks are available (65% last year vs. 60% in 2012).

How come?

“Kids have told us that they have a sense of pride when they finish a book,” a Scholastic spokesperson says, “and in focus groups, they say they like seeing the books they’ve read lined up on a shelf and that they just like the feeling of a physical book in their hands.”

Yet Kara Liebeskind, author of Digital Book World and PlayScience’s forthcoming report,The ABCs of Kids & E-Reading: Volume 4, adds that children don’t view print and ebooks as mutually exclusive. “We see this most clearly in the finding that children own the same book in both versions, as well as the fact that children prefer digital”–a finding that differs from the format preferences Scholastic records–“while parents prefer to co-read with print,” Liebeskind adds.

David Kleeman, SVP of Insights and Programs at PlayCollective, who wrote about those findings earlier this week, points out that while neither study paints a portrait of runaway growth in the children’s ebook market, the two sets of findings may not be entirely at odds.

Contrasting the 6–17 age range Scholastic’s research focuses on with PlayCollective’s 2–13-year-old sample, Kleeman speculates, “One can easily imagine that parents of 2–5-year-olds are finding they and their kids love ebooks for the ability to read alone [as well as their] portability (and nobody colors in an ebook…!), plus they never knew a world without them.”

13–17-year old readers, on the other hand, like their print-preferring parents, “grew up with print and may be more resistant to switching, especially if they use a smartphone more than a tablet,” says Kleeman. Still, it was the youngest age group (6–8) in Scholastic’s study that reported the strongest preference for physical books (66%, followed by 9–11-year-olds at 56%).

Since children’s digital content purchases and reading habits are so heavily influenced by those of their parents, it’s possible to surmise that the slowdown in the ebook market overall might be reflected, at least in part, in the children’s segment as well.

But like recent fears that a drop in e-reader device sales in the UK heralds the inexorable death of ebooks themselves, it’s much more likely that these data reflect a series of complex, interrelated shifts in an evolving market, rather than its wholesale stagnation or decline.

As more children grow up in a world with ebooks, it’s only reasonable to discover, as Liebeskind puts it, that “there seems to be a time and place for both platforms, and families are perhaps just in the process of figuring out when and where each one works best.”

Get all the latest data on children’s e-reading and hear directly from David Kleeman at the Publishers Launch Kids Conference at Digital Book World 2015.

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