Are children reading digital books? Paolo Albert’s intervention at BEA’s IDPF Digital Book conference 2015

Kids reading on tablets vs books
By Paolo Albert posted in News

This year, I have been invited to chair and speak at the IDPF Digital Book conference, the flagship digital conference at BEA and the longest-running digital conference in the publishing industry.

These are my closing remarks at the first session on Youth Reading: the session was opened by Kristen McLean, Bookigee CEO and Founder, who focused on young and teen reading patterns - see here a report on her speech.

There has been a lot of surveys and studies that came along lately on youth reading (See here and here). These seem to prove that children prefer printed to digital. The arguments that enforce this conclusion can be grouped in two areas:

1) Physical Book vs digital Book: the physical feeling of a printed book - the smell of the paper and the tactile sensus - makes physical books more attractive to digital. Moreover, reading a printed book provides a sense of accomplishment unattainable with a corresponding ebook.

2) Personal vs Social: reading a book is a personal activity, whereas digital is way better to get in touch with other people.

All of these arguments miss the point, which no survey or study might ever reveal, as this argument has to do a lot with what kids take for granted: when it comes to reading an ebook, what do they find? They find a static, reflowable book, and when they touch it, most of the time nothing really happens. This is fine for parents, they find cheaper content and lighter content. But the experience for kids is frustrating, as they have all of these menus popping up, pages flip, but the content is nothing more than a static bunch of text and images. The result is that they simply walk away. Ultimately, there is a missed expectation going on.

To put it in David Foster Wallace words: "There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning boys, how's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?'". This is a great metaphor to understand how kids perceive digital interactive content as something they take for granted, it is their natural element and our duty is to be able to create the right context. This happens in web and apps, and is somewhat still lacking in the ebook sphere.

Until this step will not be fully implemented, physical books will always remain the preferred ones as this preference it has nothing to do with the nature of physical and digital, but rather with the ways these are created. 

Paolo Albert

Paolo is responsible for the overall development workflow and roadmap, ebooks and product specifications as well as coding the HTML5, javascript, CSS and iOS exports. Prior to PubCoder, Paolo founded an IT company and spent 15 years helping publishers to develop their own digital products. He is an expert in development and project management on open source projects (PHP based websites and applications), on iOS and based Applications and frameworks. He does R&D in EPUB3 cross-platform development and in HTML5/CSS3 front end web and mobile design and is a speaker at various conferences worldwide dedicated to publishing.