Print books may be under siege from the rise of e-books, but they have a tenacious hold on a particular group: children and toddlers. Their parents are insisting this next generation of readers spend their early years with old-fashioned books.
This is the case even with parents who themselves are die-hard downloaders of books onto Kindles, iPads, laptops and phones. They freely acknowledge their digital double standard, saying they want their children to be surrounded by print books, to experience turning physical pages as they learn about shapes, colors and animals.
Parents also say they like cuddling up with their child and a book, and fear that a shiny gadget might get all the attention. Also, if little Joey is going to spit up, a book may be easier to clean than a tablet computer.
“It’s intimacy, the intimacy of reading and touching the world. It’s the wonderment of her reaching for a page with me,” said Leslie Van Every, 41, a loyal Kindle user in San Francisco whose husband, Eric, reads on his iPhone. But for their 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Georgia, dead-tree books, stacked and strewn around the house, are the lone option.
“She reads only print books,” Ms. Van Every said, adding with a laugh that she works for a digital company, CBS Interactive. “Oh, the shame.”
As the adult book world turns digital at a faster rate than publishers expected, sales of e-books for titles aimed at children under 8 have barely budged. They represent less than 5 percent of total annual sales of children’s books, several publishers estimated, compared with more than 25 percent in some categories of adult books.A study commissioned by HarperCollins in 2010 found that books bought for 3- to 7-year-olds were frequently discovered at a local bookstore — 38 percent of the time.
And here is a question for a digital-era debate: is anything lost by taking a picture book and converting it to an e-book? Junko Yokota, a professor and director of the Center for Teaching Through Children’s Books at National Louis University in Chicago, thinks the answer is yes, because the shape and size of the book are often part of the reading experience. Wider pages might be used to convey broad landscapes, or a taller format might be chosen for stories about skyscrapers.
Size and shape “become part of the emotional experience, the intellectual experience. There’s a lot you can’t standardize and stick into an electronic format,” said Ms. Yokota, who has lectured on how to decide when a child’s book is best suited for digital or print format.
While the entry of new tablet devices from Barnes & Noble and Amazon this fall is expected to increase the demand for children’s e-books, several publishers said they suspected that many parents would still prefer the print versions.
“There’s definitely a predisposition to print,” said Jon Yaged, president and publisher of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
“And the parents are the same folks who will have no qualms about buying an e-book for themselves,” he added.