The primary questions around kids and reading used to be: What do they read? And how much? These days — stuck in some sort of netherworld between competing technologies and traditional paper books — I find another question is being asked just as frequently: How are they reading?
In my house, e-readers and then iPads made a relatively early appearance, so we’ve been caught in a transitional period for a while now. I’m a big fan of e-readers for kids. With three of them running around the house and all in a similar age range, having digital copies of books has a lot of appeal. No tearing out pages, fighting over the only copy or leaving the books in a heap. The complete library is available on the go (very useful for extended camping trips), the devices are compact and lightweight and e-readers these days are quite reasonably priced.
With the iPads, the kids have an ideal digital platform for comic books. Big enough not to need zooming, fully capable of showcasing colors, an on-demand purchasing platform and the backlit display makes reading in the dark easier than ever. They can be used as e-readers too.
I fully transitioned to digital reading years ago, doubling up my book collection to regain some shelf space and buying only e-books going forward. But with the kids, the situation has been far more complicated. E-readers haven’t been the hit with them that I’d hoped. They seem to find the grayscale displays lack excitement and the single-purpose nature of the devices (no video games, movies or YouTube) leaves them unimpressed. On top of that, their school is still firmly in the analog age, so library books, book fairs and the like are all paper.
The iPads as a comic book platform have been a hit but… We still like to visit the comic book store, so paper copies continue to make their way into the house. And the iPads have limited battery life, so the prospect of them replacing the stacks of comic books I stash in the trailer for rainy days and electricity-free campsites is low.
The net result is that for our kids at least, our reading material is currently a jumble of mixed media. Some book series are split into different media: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a paperback, the rest of the series we own as e-books. This jumble of books and e-books isn’t exactly ideal and while I’m seeing some of the benefits from going digital, we’re still stuck with most of the downsides of the old school paper world — missing pages, missing books, competition for a single copy and the mess that only kids can make. Along the way, we’ve had one e-reader and an iPad die untimely deaths as well, so forget about any potential cost saving benefit that might have been part of the equation.
At least we’re not alone. Our somewhat extended transition is reflective of the outside world. Our local comic book store seems to be carrying more collectibles and games and fewer comic books, the bookstores are loading up on housewares and ornaments and libraries are scrambling to build digital collections and repurpose themselves as meeting spaces to keep visitors coming.
I suspect five or ten years from now we’ll finally have things figured out. In the meantime the current situation serves as a reminder that transitions can sometimes be more challenging than the problems new technology sets out to solve in the first place.