Kids are still consuming print books – because they want to and because only six percent of their parents own an electronic reading device. In its third national Kids & Family Reading Report, released on Wednesday, Scholastic – and the marketing and strategic research firm the Harrison Group – focused more heavily than in its 2006 and 2008 surveys (click here to see them) on the digital world. The publisher is already planning a 2012 report.
In this survey, a third of kids said they would read more for fun if they had e-books. In two years, Scholastic will find out if what they do “matches their good intentions,” said Francie Alexander, Scholastic’s chief academic officer.
So far not many kids use e-readers. They will embrace them when they become cheaper and simpler, said Eliza Dresang, the Beverly Cleary professor for children and youth services at the University of Washington and author of Radical Change: Books for Youth in a Digital Age. “When they adapt new technology en masse, it’s when it becomes easy to use. It’s accessibility and ease at this point.” Most kids can’t afford to buy fancy e-readers, and then they find it’s trickier than they expected to download stories. “If they have five extra minutes, they might read a book if it’s there – but not if it’s hard to get,” she said. She herself owns a Kindle – but would rather get free downloads for it at her library than pay for e-books on Amazon.
The good news for print lovers: 66% percent of nine- to 17-year-olds agreed with the statement, “I’ll always want to read books printed on paper even though there are e-books available.” Alexander’s theory: kids, who first read stories while snuggling on the laps of parents and grandparents, retain a “nice, emotional connection” to print books. But they seem open to digital ones, too. “We’re going to meet the kids wherever they are,” said Alexander. “We have these great new devices as a way to reach kids and get them to read more.”
Scholastic’s report – conducted this spring, right before the iPad came out – showed that parents are embracing the idea of electronic reading. More than eight in 10 of those who own e-reading devices said they do or will encourage their kids to use them, and 57 percent of nine- to 17-year-olds said they would like to read an e-book. (Only 25 percent of kids have read a book on a digital device, including computers.)
Parents are concerned about other electronic devices; four in 10 of them worried that they negatively affect the time kids spend reading books and doing physical activities.
Also in the study, children seem to believe too much in what they read on the Internet. Remarkably, 39 percent of nine- to 17-year-olds said they agreed with this statement: “The information I find online is always correct.” “Clearly, we’ve got to continue to emphasize critical thinking,” said Alexander. “They believe so much at face value when they read things online.”
Unlike their parents, many kids also broadly define reading. A quarter of them (unlike only eight percent of parent) think texting back and forth with friends counts as reading. They do seem to feel a book is best, though. Eighty-six percent of kids said they felt proud and had a sense of accomplishment when they finished reading one.
Scholastic’s study also revealed how much children like to choose what they read. Nine out of 10 of them said they were more likely to finish a book that they picked themselves. Their parents seemed open to kid picks. Nine out of 10 of them said, “As long as my children is reading, I just want my child to read books he/she likes.” The kids said the most important outcome of reading books for fun was to open up the imagination (43 percent), to be inspired (36 percent), and to gain new information (21 percent). Parents’ answers were nearly identical (43 percent, 35 percent, and 22 percent).
In this study, 16 percent of parents said they planned to purchase an e-reading device in the next year. Will they do it, and will their kids actually read more stories on them? Time will tell.
And actions speak louder than words. Dresang remembers a Wisconsin school survey in which eight out of 10 students said that if the school library stayed open after classes ended for the day, they would use it. In reality, they didn’t. “The only kids who came were the athletes who were waiting for practice to begin,” she said. “You really can’t go on what they think they’re going to do.”
Stay tuned for the 2012 report.