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At The Bookseller’s recent Children’s Conference in London (25 Sept 2014) we heard, direct from each source, the results of two recent studies that offer compelling insights into reading behaviors among purported “digital natives.” The first, by Voxburner, focused on the 16-24 year-old demographic; the other, by Nickelodeon UK, studied 6-11 years olds. Taken together, these studies make me wonder if children’s publishers should be wary of basing future production decisions on the tastes and habits of today’s teens. Rather, I find the data more instructive in helping us anticipate what the next generation of readers will be expecting from us tomorrow.
The Voxburner data reveal that 16-24 year olds largely prefer print to electronic editions of their favorite books. They find eBooks too expensive. They love to smell pages and run their fingers along spines. To them an eBook does nothing to help flaunt their status as a reader: books that live hidden in electronic devices cannot be displayed for all to see on a shelf; and the book one is seen to be carrying is a huge identity statement for this age group, it turns out. Respondents also said they “resent being enslaved by technology,” causing some publishers to speculate that because teens already spend so much of their day on screens, reading for pleasure may mean getting away from electronics.
When Porter Anderson asked, “What kind of message publishers might see in some of these data as to how to approach the 16-24s' market?” Head researcher, Luke Mitchell, responded, “Perhaps not go wild about innovation and formats, look at content 'likes' and trends instead.”
But these readers are aging out of kidlit and into the NA and Adult markets. So are their behaviors even relevant to children’s publishing? What’s more, I suggest that these readers, while young, are not “digital natives” at all.
To me, true “digital natives” are those children who emerged as readers into a world already awash with touch screens, like the toddler in the video above. Their earliest interactions with the written word may just as likely have taken place with a print book as a tablet. If the average child begins to read at five, and we peg the era of the touch screen to the release of the first iPhone in 2007, that would make our oldest digital natives approximately 12 years old today, if born into a home of early tech adopters. Most “digital natives” are younger.
As the mother of an 18-year-old who was devouring 700-page Harry Potter books by the age of 7, I can attest, first hand, that while she is tech savvy and spends much of her day connected to a screen, she is not a “digital native.” She’s just a few years too old.
It would seem wise, therefore, for publishers to look to the younger set for a truer indicator of future reading preferences, trends, and behavior.
Nickelodeon UK’s study, called Me, My Selfie & I, looked for insights into the impact of the digital world on our youngest citizens. One thousand 6-11 year olds participated in the study. Fifty-five percent of them have three or more screens in the home, including a tablet. The data reveal that these children travel seamlessly across their devices and have developed quite sophisticated expectations about what content experiences they will encounter depending on the size and type of screen. TV, for example, is associated with entertainment; PCs are connected to exploration and socialization; tablets and mobile devices are for relaxing and learning, i.e., for activities such as reading.
These data, I believe, paint a very different picture of the future of reading habits of our rising MG and YA readers. It’s a future that’s right around the corner and one that children’s publishers, in particular, must reckon with today if the act of reading is to compete with other screen-based content tomorrow.
In a recent blog post penned in defense of the future of BookApps, Kate Wilson, MD of Nosy Crow, stated that publishers have a responsibility to be wherever children are. "If children are spending a lot of time with touch-screen devices,” she writes, “I think that we should want reading to be part of the entertainment they find there.”
I agree. We must provide quality content where our audiences want it most. It is in both our best interest as well as theirs to be wherever they are. And where they are differs, these latest research studies reveal, whether you were born before or after the invention of the touch screen.
I may only have arrived in London two weeks ago, but I couldn’t resist the temptation, yesterday, to crawl out from under the boxes to attend The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference 2014.
I am so glad I did!
What a wonderful opportunity to cross paths with the few people I already know in the UK Kidlit world – shout out to you, Lucy Coats – as well as to make the acquaintance of so many other fellow writers and publishers. Most importantly, it provided me a quick lesson in all the latest news and updates in the UK world of creating awesome content for children.
Here’s a summary of what I learned:
In her opening keynote address, Ann-Janine Murtagh, HarperCollins Children’s Books, likened the current era in children’s publishing to the Gold Rush. In her view, there has never been a better moment to be working in children’s publishing. It's the fastest growing sector in the publishing market, at least in the UK.
She believes this is due to “the incredible transforming power of the story;” that in this increasingly fast paced world of screens and all the distractions that go with them, children are in need of being transported by narrative like never before.
I would argue, too, that kids are in ever increasing need of the story’s power to calm the mind and to bring quiet to an otherwise “noisy” day.
Narrative, Anne-Janine said, is the new gold. Creators and publishers of children’s media, she went on, are the natural custodians of the business of narrative.
“Have confidence in the resilience and power of great content,” she urged us, “and give kids the best, because they deserve it.”
That children’s publishing is a growth area was confirmed by John Lewis of The Bookseller, whose stunningly clear and in-depth overview of the UK children’s book market thus far in 2014 indicates there will be year-end growth in all segments of the industry, including fiction, non-fiction, picture books, and study and teachers guides.
In the second keynote speech, Alison York of Nickelodeon UK revealed the results of her research on the impact of technology and new media on developing minds. Her conclusion is that “digital natives,” i.e., those born into the world of smart phones, touch screens, and interactive virtual experiences, are able to negotiate seamlessly between the digital and real worlds. What’s more, the most successful media products for kids tend to facilitate access between the actual and the virtual. She stated that kids love immersive experiences: the bigger the screen, the better. But, in a world of quantity, it’s quality that holds kids' attention longest and keeps them coming back for more.
Michael Acton-Smith of Moshi Monsters' fame talked about how challenging it is to achieve success if limited only to the mobile space. The key, he stated, is to diversify across formats. Tom Bonnick of Nosy Crow joined him in this advice, advocating that re-purposing beloved kid's content across formats not only makes it available to a broader audience, but can also extend the life-cycle of both characters and narrative.
As you can imagine, I found the above advice very validating, coming as it did from these two industry pros, as this is a business direction we’ve already taken at Time Traveler Tours & Tales.
Similarly, literacy & technology consultant Bev Humphrey offered the TTT&T a proverbial pat on the back. Her presentation confirmed that schools are indeed “switching on,” that is, adopting digital learning tools, thus presenting a great opportunity for publishers targeting the education market.
The Bookseller Children’s Conference 2014 also included two great panels with voices spanning the industry from the usual agent and editor to the librarian, author, independent bookstore owner, and reviewer. I found this extremely refreshing – Bravo Bookseller conference staff!
One panel focused on the need for more industry collaboration across these groups at the service of win-win marketing, and of making kids media more discoverable, at a time when marketing budgets continue to shrink. The second panel focused on what’s working in social media marketing. Panel participants spoke, in particular, about where kids are congregating. The upshot? YouTube and Tumblr. But mostly YouTube.
So get your video mojo on folks! Our target audience still loves to read and to be transported, and calmed, by a great story, that much is clear. But they appear to be searching for their new fave reads on line, through primarily visual media, like book-trailers and author interviews.
The next Bookseller conference, FutureBook,
will take place on 14 November in London.
Can you guess who’s going to be there?
Sorry to be so quiet of late, friends. There's a reason I haven't blogged in a while.
I've been busy these past several weeks traversing the globe to attend events surrounding the coming launch of Time Traveler Tours & Tales.
My first stop was Bologna, Italy, and the Bologna Children's Book Fair. That's where I first announced the coming of my burgeoning twin imprints, Time Traveler Tours & Tales, and where I revealed that my Team and I are now open for author submissions.
Un-agented authors, don't be shy!
All are welcome to submit.
Click here for our submissions guidelines.
My next stop was New York City and a Kidlit Meet & Greet hosted in my honor by Julie Gribble and Roxie Munro.
This is where I announced that Team TTT&T is now offering its expertise and experience, developing interactive apps and books for educational tourism and travel, to cultural organizations worldwide.
Coincidentally, on that very day, 5 May 2014, I landed the first museum client for Team TTT&T: Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home. Can't wait to sink my teeth into this project!
Back in Paris, it was my turn to co-host, along with my dear friends, Sue and Bob Greig, the Paris Thank You & Pre-launch Party.
Invitees included everyone in my Paris life who has thus far played a supportive roll in my circuitous journey from teacher to writer to accidental entrepreneur and now digital publishing maven. They included...
my teachers and coaches,
early readers and critique group partners,
pilot tour guinea pigs,
app tour beta-testers,
Kickstarter campaigns donators,
French translation partners,