Wednesday, February 2, 2011

E-books vs. Traditional Books: The Kids Speak

Back from a scenic and stimulating week at Author Go Round in Santa Barbara, where I had an unexpected treat: a discussion with book-loving students (mostly grades 4 - 8, around 100 per day,) about the pros and cons of traditional vs electronic formats.

Bruce Hale, Joe Cepeda, Amy Goldman Koss, and me
along with Rose Koller and Steve Keithley of the SBCEO.

An overwhelming majority spoke wistfully of the tactile pleasures of traditional books. They liked holding old fashioned books in their hands, looking at their covers, rifling through the pages to see how much they'd read, they even liked smelling them. Paper books made it easier to "get into" the story (the glare of the electronic screen was a distraction). They liked keeping books on their shelves, looking at their spines, holding on to them as a keepsake. They didn't have to worry about charging, losing or damaging them. Some said we shouldn't "modernize" everything, and some lamented the closing of bookstores that might come with a total transition to ebooks.

A couple of students said they liked conventional books for novels, but ebooks for other kinds of material. The minority of kids who preferred electronic devices mentioned the convenience of having their whole library in one place, and the ability to immediately look up words.

This was a small sample, I know, but it blew me away. I had assumed that children raised in a culture obsessed with electronic media would be uncritical of it. When it comes to the experience of reading fiction, this group of kids detected a qualitative difference between digital and traditional formats. I hope publishers continue to give them a choice.