Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Conflict Between Ebooks and Print Books

Most of us have ebook readers, the Amazon kindle, the Barnes and Noble Nook,  an iPad, or whatever. I have a Kindle, and four or five years ago, when my husband gave me my first one, I was excited to be able to have  a cluster of my favorite, unread, books that I could even carry around with me. But over time, my excitement has greatly diminished. For one thing, Amazon keeps changing the Kindle, and mine started dying. No amount of battery charging, pleading or even saying a few unkind words would wake it up. To make a long story shorter, I've had three Kindles, and now never use it. I've always preferred print books, and always will. Maybe carrying around a couple hundred novels in my purse isn't such an important thing, after all.

But what has the ebook industry, which, admittedly, bloomed quickly and increased rapidly, done to children's reading and comprehension? Let's take a look at some of the recent statistics put out by Scholastic, the most important analyst of reading behaviors in children from preschool through high school.

In 2010, 32% of school age boys read for fun an average of 5 to 7 days a week. This was after-school reading, and weekend reading. In 2014, only 24% of school age boys read anything for fun, meaning not required as part of school studies, and seldom read on the weekends. This was reading ebooks and print books.

In 2010, only 24% of teens, boys and girls alike, from 15 to 17,  read for fun/entertainment, regardless of whether it was ebooks or print, and by 2014, that percentage was down to 14%.

It was found that the most powerful predictor of reading behavior was not based on the usage of computers, TV, video games, etc., but was based on: 1) whether they believed it was important to read; 2) whether they enjoyed reading; and 3) whether their parents were readers, and/or encouraged them to read. All three predictors were extremely low.

Another important point in this study was the Common Core Standards, which schools throughout the US are now required the follow. The CCS steers kids in all grades towards  reading NON-FICTION, and emphasizes that reading FICTION for fun is not important.

In 2012, the number of children in grades 5 through 12 preferring ebooks for reading outside of school assignments was 57%, but in 2014, that had dropped to 35 %.

What is driving this decline? Were there more ebooks out in 2010 - 2012, thus it was more of a novelty effect? The Kindle was new, the Nook was even newer. Ebooks are also much cheaper than print books, whether paperback or hard cover. It has always been easier and less expensive for parents to buy 2 or 3 ebooks, for the same price as one paperback. But is money the real issue, or is it something else?

The publishing industry is facing similar questions, as analysts discuss whether the rate of ebooks has already hit its peak, and if it is, will the slowing down of ebook sales force the industry to face some painful decisions.

But there is more to this question than sales, especially when it comes to kids. The comprehension level of children reading ebooks drops considerably when compared to reading print books. They are much more easily distracted, and therefore, understand much less of what they have read. Researchers used eye-tracking software to show that paper books are read slowly and comprehensively line by line, but when kids read ebooks, they are so easily distracted by the outside world, they have to go back and read the same lines or paragraphs over 2 and 3 times to obtain the same comprehension level.

Distraction is a big thing in ebooks, both for kids and for adults. After all, there is the signal for new incoming email, another signal for private messages from friends, still another for status updates, and so on. Even adults scored much lower in reading comprehension when reading an ebook against reading the same book in print.

Another problem was the matter of marking a page to remember something important from that page. With a print book, you grab a highlighter and mark the passage, or a pen to make comments in the margin, or as a last resort, you can ever dog-ear the page. None of those simple and easy methods apply with an ebook. First, you have to find the right tool to either highlight or make a comment, then you have to know, or learn, how to use that tool before you can properly apply it. By then, kids especially have often lost the page, and with no page numbers on an ebook, it takes a while to go back and find what you want to mark. Time has passed, kids and usually adults, too, have lost interest in whatever it was, and the page goes unmarked, and usually, unremembered.

So, what is the answer? If you have one, you'll probably earn millions! It is something for the publishing industry to ponder on, and eventually work out, but for this industry, the conflict remains monetary. For kids in school, it will always be a matter of learning, of concentration, of comprehension...all the most important elements in education. Reading for fun? That's important, too, and still remains an issue for parents and educators alike.

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.