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Are 8-12-year-olds REALLY reading eBooks?

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Worldbuilder
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I'm asking since I'm writing a book for this age range, intended to be an eBook, and I've read the stats and the numbers, but I just have a hard time believing that THAT many kids are using eReaders.

Do any of you know better? I'd like to know I have an audience to write for!
#1 - September 30, 2014, 03:36 AM
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Most MGers I know prefer books, but I don't have numbers in front of me. I think as more YA kids gravitate to the e-world, more MGers will follow. But who knows how long that will take. My niece is pretty good about reading via tablet, but my nephew must have a book in hand. But both prefer a book. It's an issue I've thought about too.

I don't know how much you are just sold on going to e-publishing, but  I'd encourage to do your best in the traditional way first. Then go e-book. The problem I hear from indie's is that they spend 30 to 50% of their time marketing instead of writing.  So be ready to market and market and market. I will say this, many Middle Schools are open for Authors to come visit. I went to four middle schools looking for beta readers last year - all of them thought I wanted to speak to the kids and were open to it. But I told them I just wanted betas for now, which caused a bit of a problem for me (kids don't always want to read if it's not for school or if they can't share it with friends). But I was surprised at how quickly the school opened it's doors.

So remember to schedule a school tour and even if you have to leave one book in the library/media center it can be worth it if the kids start talking about it. Just make sure your book is so good, they have to talk about it and are begging for the next one. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the first book to sell the second one.
#2 - September 30, 2014, 04:31 AM
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My 9yo reads ebooks on her Kindle all the time. Even my 5yo does! But they both read regular books, too.

(I suppose I should add that, so far, all the ebooks books they've read have been available in print, as well. That is, they haven't read anything that has exclusively been available in ebook form. But I don't know what the stats are.)
#3 - September 30, 2014, 04:53 AM
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I think the numbers will naturally go up because these days the mom's of small kids (even less than 2-years-old) are handing over the iPad so the kid can play with apps and watch moves. So, these same kids will grow up and reading an entire novel (not just a picture book) on an electronic device is going to feel more natural to them.

I just read an article which spoke about teenagers and their current preference for hard copies when they're reading. I prefer holding a book in my hand, too, but because of what I stated above, we may be grooming a generation of kids who feel more comfortable with a screen they can manipulate.

Regardless of what any of us think is going to happen, one thing is sure: The electronic market for middle grade books is only going to grow.
#4 - September 30, 2014, 05:38 AM
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My kids will only read something in e-book format if it's something they really want to read and there isn't a print option. They have told me many times, though, that they much prefer paper books. OTOH, their cousins of the same age read mostly e-books. Some kids just prefer one format over another. (Their parents have quite a bit more gadgets than we do--obviously, you can only read e-books if you have something to read them on.)

That said, I do think that visibility is a large issue with MG readers. I've noticed that my older kids will start with a premise--I want to read something about X, Y, and Z--and then they'll look for something that fills those requirements. My younger kids will say, I want to read something! And then they'll look at the covers of actual physical books and say, This one! Ie, I'll know it when I see it. Since physical books are more likely to be in sight, and e-books are things you have to actually search out after, there might be more factors at play than just, do I own an e-reader? I'm not saying that you can't sell MG e-books to kids, but there might be special considerations in effectively marketing to this age group. (Not to mention the fact that they have less disposable money than teens do.) These observations are totally unscientific! But it doesn't hurt to think about *how* to market a book more effectively.
#5 - September 30, 2014, 05:58 AM

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I've done a lot of research into this, mmrempen, and as some of you around here know, I am a big proponent of digital for this age group--not that I have anything against print books and am very aware of middle grader's love for physical books. So here's what I've learned on a nutshell--take all of this with a grain of salt because I read the stats with a bias.

1. There is no real market research. The studies for the most part are skewed because for a very long time (and I believe this is still happening) the industry has asked if kids are reading on ereading devices. They aren't. They're using tablets. And for the upper range (especially YA) they're using smart phones (which is why Wattpad is huge for teens, they can download smaller chunks and it's easier on their phones).

2. Even if there has been a shift (and I believe there has) with more kids in this age group going digital, you won't hear about it from the industry itself because middle grade and YA are driving print sales. They make more money off print. Another challenge is that print books are still essential in schools because of lack of access to technology.

3. What olmue said. Discoverability remains the biggest challenge to ebooks in this age group.

4. If you want to keep up with trends, read anything Alison Bryant at Playscience puts out, http://playsciencelab.com/ and follow the tweets out of the Kidscreen Summit, http://summit.kidscreen.com/2015/.

I believe the future for middle grade is cross-platform (digital and print, where each uniquely supports the whole and is not for example the same one story in both print and digital form) because this age group are collectors and will want something physical along with the ebook. Sadly, I've learned is that agents aren't ready to touch digital first/only for middle grade. I also think, as olmue said, a lot of it is preference. My 11 year old has a mom who writes digital first middle grade and likes physical books better.  :grin3
#6 - September 30, 2014, 07:04 AM
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I concur with Hilary on all points.

My 13-year-old reads almost exclusively on his tablet now. He started making the switch in grade six when we enrolled him in "Cyberschool" an advanced laptop program.

My eldest (sixteen) still prefers print.

We don't own a dedicated ereader, but use our other devices with ebook apps.

My book is available in both ebook and print. Right now my sales are about 3:1 digital to paper.

Hope that helps!

Rue
#7 - September 30, 2014, 09:59 AM
WIP: ETBs 10687/35000 (30.5%)
WIP: IWWP 12045/35000 (34.4%)

My 11-year old reads e-books on her mini-ipad, but prefers a regular book. E-books are either a novelty or something she chooses when the book she wants at the library is checked out and the e-book is available.

My 8-year old hasn't quite taken to e-books yet. I think she needs to hold on to a book right now, but I imagine eventually she'll have the same attitude as her big sister.

I think this is pretty typical based on what I've seen among their friends who are either not reading e-books or reading them rarely. Obviously this is entirely anecdotal and may even only refer to kids in our neighborhood schools or even only in our neighborhood.
#8 - September 30, 2014, 12:47 PM
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My 11-year-old stole my Nook. It is now his Nook. So, there's that.
#9 - September 30, 2014, 12:54 PM
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I think it will continue to grow as schools move more to digital content -- and that is happening. Print books are so easy to carry around so they won't go away. But if a few (or even one) big titles go e-first, it could make a dramatic change.
#10 - September 30, 2014, 01:26 PM
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My 11-year-old stole my Nook. It is now his Nook. So, there's that.

That, and as parents upgrade their e-readers, the old ones often get passed down.
#11 - September 30, 2014, 02:07 PM
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And phones and tablets and iPods and . . . ;)

Rue
#12 - September 30, 2014, 02:24 PM
WIP: ETBs 10687/35000 (30.5%)
WIP: IWWP 12045/35000 (34.4%)

As with everyone else, my experience is anecdotal.

That said, I am strongly convinced that while the MG reader will go that way in time. We aren't there yet.  I write adult, YA, MG, & pb. I can see the VAST difference in ebook numbers in each market. I can also see very clearly the role of different gatekeepers & marketing/PR outreaches being useful or not in each category.

My MG house says my series is one of the bigger ebook sellers, but that's still a minuscule fraction of what I see in my YA & adult--enough that the only reason I care that there is an ebook is for my YA & adult readers who pick it up despite it being MG.   

What I see in MG is enough that I would take a very very small trad deal before I'd go e-pub only.  The opposite is true in adult & YA. What it takes for an advance to be compelling there is much higher. There, ebooks are the dominant format, & the percentage I can earn epubbing is enough to make me seriously consider it.  I did accept a trad deal for my next adult book, but it took a few weeks of number crunching to do so.  With MG or pb? No contest.  The ebook sales in MG are insignificant, but the role of the School & Library market for discoverability is extremely valuable/critical and for them, I need print editions that are made available in library friendly binding.

YMMV, but that's my experience after comparing all of my books across markets in print & ebook formats.   
#13 - September 30, 2014, 03:08 PM

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In our home, I'm the only one who uses the e-reader, my kids will use it if they have to, but everyone has a preference for printed books. This means my house is still as messy as ever with piles of books everywhere. I had hoped that the e-readers would diminish a few of the piles but it has not happened.

I don't know of any studies but many schools (not ours) are using electronic devices and some of the parents I've spoken to say they have bought textbooks to keep at home because the kids are having a difficult time absorbing material from the e-format. I have some research books on the e-reader and must say it's a BEAR to try to go back and consolidate information. It not like flipping through pages.

I think reading a story where you do not constantly have to refer back to older material is more suited to the e-reader and as more kids make that transition, the numbers will grow.
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#14 - September 30, 2014, 03:33 PM
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It IS possible to find sales numbers for print and ebooks from sources such as the AAP, and they do seem to be accurate, within certain limits (they only report on sales from AAP members, for example). I haven't checked the numbers recently (you can find them pretty easily by searching at the AAP site or Publishers Weekly site, I think), but what I've seen over the past few years is that ebook sales, after climbing steadily for several years, seem to have plateaued. Adult fiction is around 40% ebook, I think. Children's/YA is maybe 15%. YA vs. children's generally doesn't get broken out, but people seem to agree that the percentage is greater for YA and gets smaller the younger you go. So, maybe, ebook sales make up 10% of total sales, which I thihk fits in with Melissa's comment above. So.... if you go ebook only at the MG level, at this point, you're limiting your sales potential. What about the future? Well, I don't own a crystal ball but I expect the growth rate for ebook sales to stay slow, and not to return to the strong growth of the past five years. But of course, it's hard to say--growth in ebook sales is driven by technology. And if someone comes up with a ereader that's a significant improvement over what's on the market now, all bets are off.
#15 - September 30, 2014, 07:36 PM
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Harold, those numbers mesh pretty closely with my adult and my friends' who track theirs (45-60% depending on title). My YA ebook share tends to be quite a bit higher than the percentage you cited, but I think that this is a result of adult readers of YA & the fact that my first book has had numerous ebook promos. For me, MG is in the range you cite too.

Another way to break it out in my head has been that my library & ebook sales are inverted in MG & adult.  In adult, library sales are weak in comparison to both my YA & MG, but my ebook sales are high.  In MG, however, my library sales are solid, but ebook sales are comparatively low.  I've received starred reviews in Library Journal for adult & SLJ for kids, so it's not a review lack (I think). It appears to simply be a case that the demographic consumes words via different routes, and ebook is not a dominant route for young readers en masse.  There are exceptions we can all cite based on personal experience with readers, but the larger scale does not reflect a strong ebook presence in MG.
#16 - October 01, 2014, 07:52 AM

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Great discussion. Thanks for sharing.
#17 - October 01, 2014, 10:28 AM
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Thank you everyone for sharing your knowledge. This has been super helpful.

I mean, it totally makes sense. Aside from the fact that the e-readers are relatively new, in general I would imagine younger kids to prefer reading books they can hold. Once you're a teenager you get more into technology to communicate with friends, and so the higher e-book numbers for that demographic makes sense.

I don't know what this means for my series, which I'm self-publishing, and had intended to focus on e-formats. Guess I'll need a new strategy!

On the other hand, if you were able to corner the e-book market for that small group of MG readers that DO like e-books and use e-readers, you'd have a great niche audience to hold on to. That might be enough to gather an audience, which might interest a publisher.

Just thinking out loud now. Thanks again for the advice.
#18 - October 02, 2014, 02:29 AM
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Here are some numbers, as current as you can get, covering adult, YA, and children's, of print and ebook sales. Good information:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/64170-e-books-remain-third.html
#19 - October 03, 2014, 07:32 PM
Harold Underdown

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Harold's (well, PW's) numbers sound right to me. I know quite a few children who read ebooks, but even those children only read a minority percentage of books as ebooks.
#20 - October 03, 2014, 08:13 PM
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The 13%, excluding young adult, is interesting to me. Not a huge number, but the market is present. 
#21 - October 04, 2014, 06:22 AM
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If they aren't now, they will be in the future - probably the near future.
#22 - October 05, 2014, 08:44 AM

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As I said above, Pons, I think that depends on the technology. When Amazon put the first Kindle out in fall 2007, they had the first workable approach to ebooks.  There had been ebooks widely available since the 90's, but no simple consumer-friendly approach to handle them. That's what the Kindle provided. Amazon's initial strategy with the Kindle (priced at cost, best-sellers cheap) was aimed at a particular group of readers: readers who read a lot and had the money to buy lots of books rather than take them out of the library. They wanted to get those readers ON the Kindle and keep them there, and they've largely succeeded. They haven't had as much success with people beyond that core group, which is a main reason ebook sales growth has slowed. They've tried various things (such as their lending program, Kindle Prime, and efforts to get exclusive content) but none of them have had the same impact.

So, without a new technology or radical new pricing approach, neither one of which is a predictable event, I don't think the next seven years will have as much change as the last seven. But who knows? We will just have to wait and see.
#23 - October 05, 2014, 11:58 AM
Harold Underdown

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Just my personal experience...My 10yo daughter, who is a big reader, loved to read on her Nook at first, but the novelty of doing so wore off and now she only plays games on it.  Her room is a disaster of books because she likes to surround herself with her favorites.  I think she likes to see her collection grow, and I think it's a comfort to her to be able to see books on the shelves as well.  She doesn't have the technical skills to search for her own books online, but let her loose in a library...well!

The ones she did read on her Nook were sequels to books she had read in print, and books she had seen on the Scholastic form she brought home from school. 
#24 - October 06, 2014, 09:13 AM

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Harold, this has been driving me bonkers. I read something, somewhere by someone deep in the digital trends research that said the Nielsen data is flawed and outlined why, and for the life of me I can't find it. Maybe it was a Kidscreen talk I followed on Twitter? I'll keep searching for it.

There's a lot working against digital middle grade including that parents control the purse strings for this age group and surveys show that most parents have a persistent bias in favor of print, although that is sloooowly changing. There have been some very interesting studies done on the benefits of ereading, particularly for kids with learning disabilities that has been a surprise.

The whole thing fascinates me. I do feel we are missing a huge opportunity to expand print and digital sales by directly engaging middle grade readers with cross-platform content, especially reluctant readers.

ETA: And, Harold, I think you are spot-on about pricing.
#25 - October 06, 2014, 09:51 AM
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H., keep looking! Yes, I'm sure the Nielsen data is flawed. So is the AAP data. But those two are about all we have. Several years ago or more the Children's Book Council started an initiative to collect sales data directly from the publishers, but it didn't get anywhere, so...

We guess, we blunder along. One of the good things about working in children's books is that unlike movies, say, they are relatively inexpensive to produce, whether print, ebook, or app, making it possible to just try things out and see what works.
#26 - October 06, 2014, 05:36 PM
Harold Underdown

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I couldn't find anything when searching Kidscreen for it, Harold. Maybe it was an O'Reilly TOC conference roundtable? I did come across this very interesting, and more recent therefore more relevant article on Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/suwcharmananderson/2013/01/07/can-nielsen-bookscan-stay-relevant-in-the-digital-age/

You make an excellent point about relative costs, which makes me wonder if this is why most of the real innovation in the digital storytelling space is coming out of media companies and not publishing.

Saw this yesterday and thought all of you might be interested. Again, it's geared towards YA, but what strikes me is how different the attitude towards digital is when you step outside the industry, http://www.thebookseller.com/futurebook/interactive-media-melt-storyworld-memory-machine-0
#27 - October 07, 2014, 07:08 AM
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You see this, THIS, is what makes me  :crazy! http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/Frankfurt-Book-Fair/article/64290-frankfurt-book-fair-2014-apple-amazon-in-race-for-mobile-readers.html?et_mid=696608&rid=239305325

Two things jump out, right in the intro paragraph.

The rise of reading on mobile phones is a hot topic at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and a new survey of readers by Publishing Technology shows that some 43% of respondents say they read e-books on their phones.

The rise of social/mobile and the decline of the ereader was the hot topic at the Digital Book World conference. In January.

But perhaps the most surprising finding of the survey is that Apple is giving Amazon a run for its money among younger mobile readers.

The Kidscreen Summit, in February, brought together a tween/teen focus group, marched them onto the stage and asked them, what do you want from us? They want apps or smaller chunks of content (cheap). Why? Because they read/watch on their smart phones...oh, and Apple and Under Armor anything are must haves.

I really don't think the publishing industry has any solid data on this age group, imo, because publishing remains behind the rest of the media industry.

And finally,

The takeaway, Cairns stressed, is the extent to which the "very significant" opportunity for publishers with smartphone devices exists "beyond what we’ve seen with the Kindle." And, whether publishers are "concentrating enough on that opportunity."

For this age group, I don't think they're concentrating on it at all.
#28 - October 08, 2014, 10:13 AM
« Last Edit: October 08, 2014, 11:01 AM by H. Pinski »
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I went to an Apple meeting for some authors in July, & they really ARE trying to compete.  All new devices (smartphones, tablets, & laptops) will have the iBooks app installed. It seems odd that they didn't default to that earlier, but there it is.  They have a LOT of devices out there, but they weren't preloading.

For readers who read on Smartphones, it could increase percentages, but it's not the sort of growth rate that we can count on in the NOW or the near present.  Moreover, new devices are typically not what the MG demographic get.  They more often get the hand-me-down phone/laptop/tablet. 

So while I appreciate the optimism of the article, I think we need to also note that there is also some subjectivity going on as the person who is being quoted is "Publishing Technology CEO Michael Cairns."
#29 - October 08, 2014, 05:36 PM

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H., I have to tell you that coverage of or publishing talking about reading on smart phones/cell phones isn't anything new. It wasn't new in January or February. I've seen people talking about it for YEARS, quite literally. What I think happens is that different media outlets glom onto that "news" as they notice it...

On the whole, though, you're right. Publishers aren't talking about digital as much as they might. But I think there's a good reason for that. Book publishing, now 7 years post-Kindle, has not been challenged to anything like the extent that the music industry or the newspaper industry has been by changing models. It still might be, and that time might be soon, but so far publishers see rising sales of ebooks helping their bottom lines. I don't know if I would call them complacent but there certainly isn't the anxiety there was 3 or 4 years ago.

We live in interesting times.
#30 - October 08, 2014, 06:06 PM
Harold Underdown

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