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.


  1. I love reports from the front like this, so thanks for sharing. I still would tell you that ebooks are coming, and it's not a bad thing. They won't replace physical books. They're complementary. But we're in the very birth of the era with the reading devices (and they're still NOT cheap), so it's no surprise to see the low penetration among kids. It'll change... but the "book" will be around for a long time, I think. We'll see!

  2. Complementary, yes! It will be interesting to see if many children will prefer reading fiction in the traditional format, given the option. For informational texts, I can see e-books having far and away an advantage.

  3. One things kids like about having physical books is that they're like trophies. They can look back and see what they accomplished and for a new reader that means a lot.

  4. I absolutely agree with Greg, this will NOT be an either/or. Though it will be difficult for many publishers (and I believe many brought it on themselves, when they made the bottom line and not the product the primary concern). The thing that concerns me, the price of books WILL become more expensive. Making sure children of ALL income levels, walks of life have access to books is absolutely necessary. I also see the libraries, currently under fire, NEED our help because they will help bridge that gap. Without literacy, access to information and libraries, our democracy will have an extremely difficult time surviving.