With Apple’s new iPad sales already exceeding two million and the launch of iBooks, the blogosphere and publishing world is abuzz. What does this portend for the future of books? Is this the end of the publishing world as we know it? What is this so-called agency model? And where did I put my keys, anyway?
The answer to these burning questions (besides the obvious, in your pocket, stupid!), run the gamut from… Cool! Ebooks! So shiny! Paper books are going the way of the Dodo bird and the eight-track! Bwahahahahaha!!!
All the way to … Help, no! Say it isn’t so! Lock the doors and hide the kids – the ebooks are coming!
While I do find this debate endlessly fascinating (and think the truth hopefully lies somewhere in the middle), I have been most intrigued to learn what the evolution of ebooks means to readers – particularly of the middle-grade variety. And what I’ve discovered is that ebooks provide some really exciting opportunities for kids – especially those who may not have the access or inclination to read in the first place.
Reaching The Reluctant Reader
Plenty of hand-wringing goes on about this hard-to-please subspecies of reader. Pegged (rightly or wrongly) as primarily boys, the conventional wisdom says the reluctant reader rapidly loses interest in books as more “exciting” pursuits compete for his time. Want to get a ten-year-old boy to read? Well, you may just have to pry the baseball bat or the Nintendo DS from his hands first.
Or, maybe not.
The popular handheld gaming system is now available in a larger dual-screen format that is also being touted as an ereader. Limited content is available in game cartridge form and consists mainly of classics and fairy tales – probably not the biggest draw for the reluctant reader.
But a new line called FLIPS – which is available via download on DSiWare – most likely will. For example, take the More Bloody Horowitz titles by bestselling author Anthony Horowitz (the man behind the popular Alex Rider series). This ebook’s format could be best described as an interactive graphic novel – featuring text, graphics and the opportunity to make decisions for the main character.
And also in development for the FLIPS line-up – Percy Jackson.
I would think these would be a huge hit among reluctant readers. And, sure – they aren’t “traditional” books. But if they engage kids in the written word, does it really matter?
You also don’t have to look far to find a number of ereader applications and interactive ebooks available for the iPod Touch. And one of the iPhone’s most popular applications is Cathy’s Story, an interactive ebook geared at kids aged 12-14.
And even without all the bells and whistles, there’s this fascinating Kansas State University study that shows reluctant middle-grade readers may became more motivated to read when given a Kindle.
Reaching The Remote Reader
Certainly, not everyone can afford an iPhone, an iPad or a Kindle. And heck, not everyone wants to entrust their expensive electronics to a sticky-fingered kid who might leave it sitting on a playground bench. But what if there was a low-cost, difficult to break tablet computer that was designed with kids in mind?
It may sound like a pie-in-the-sky idea, but that’s just what the folks at One Laptop Per Child aim to do. Already successful distributing their XO laptops around the world, the non-profit organization has now teamed up with Marvell Technologies to create an inexpensive, kid-friendly tablet computer.
The projected price point: $75.
The objective is to get computers into the hands of as many kids worldwide as possible. While the organization has been criticized and questioned at times about their lofty goals, I think what they hope to achieve is quite admirable. After all, information is power – and access to information is a great equalizer.
Not to mention, for kids without easy access to a bookstore or library, an ereader opens a whole new world of possibilities. Just ask agent Nathan Bransford (and the dirt clods that fell victim to his childhood boredom).
As for the rest of us…
The truth is, I don’t see the appeal of ebooks limited just to the readers listed above. While at a Little League game last month, I watched two kindergarten-aged girls happily reading a Dr. Seuss book on an iPad. They were totally engaged – laughing and pointing out their favorite parts – just like they would with a “traditional” book.
Because when it all comes down to it, it’s all about the story, right? I know when I was a kid, I read just about anything I could get my hands on – even cereal boxes and shampoo bottles (hmmm, maybe that’s why my characters always want lustrous locks and a breakfast fortified with 14 vitamins and minerals…).
But all kidding aside, it was always about the words – the way they worked together like pieces of a puzzle, the way I found a kindred spirit in Margaret or went on an adventure with Nancy Drew. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if those words were printed on paper, a box of tissues, post-it notes – or an ereader. And face it, today’s kids are used to technology. Those girls reading Dr. Seuss on an iPad won’t suddenly dislike ereaders when they are eight… or nine… or ten. In fact, they’ll probably seek them out.
Because once again: it’s all about the story.
And hopefully, it always will be.
So what do you think? What does the future hold for ebooks and the middle-grade reader? Have any creative ideas of your own?
Tell me in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out our nine-book giveaway here. Today’s the last day to enter, since tomorrow we’ll be picking a winner.
Jan Gangsei writes this post while surrounded by stacks of boxes in preparation for a rather daunting overseas move. Sadly, most of her cherished book collection has to go into storage. But she’s happy to report her extensive ebook library will be coming with her. You can follow Jan’s tweets at twitter.com/JanGangsei.