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Children Turn Their Backs on eBooks as 'Screen Fatigue' Takes Hold, And Other Fictions

As I am sure many people know, The Guardian takes every opportunity – and sometimes invents those opportunities – to proclaim that ebooks are dying and print books are killing them off.

For example, back in April and May The Guardian misinterpreted UK Publisher Association annual revenue stats no less than four times in just over two weeks in order to proclaim that ebooks were over. (No, I’m not kidding.)

Now The Guardian is back again to once again beat the "ebooks are dead" drum. They are using those same revenue stats from April to claim that kids are choosing print books over ebooks.

One thing is certain: in troubled times the nation’s reading habits have become a lightning rod for parental pessimism about video games and the end of civilisation as we know it. There is, however, a silver lining to these clouds.

This week, as Britain’s schoolchildren creep like snails back to the classroom, fretful parents can take heart from statistics that demonstrate a mini-boom in juvenile reading. In 2016, for example, sales of children’s titles rose 16% to £365m, an increase attributable to the buying of printed books.

Forget the merchants of doom. According to The Bookseller: “Children are now reading more and want to read print.” This is confirmed by the Publishers Association, which recently reported that book sales for the previous year had jumped 7% to £4.8bn, and data suggests that this has been driven by that whopping 16% jump in revenues from children’s publishing.

More significant still, as e-book sales fell by 3%, the Guardian noted that “Britons are abandoning the e-book at an alarming rate, as ‘screen fatigue’ helped fuel a five-year high in printed book sales.” Moreover, for the first time since records began, nearly £1 in every £4 spent on print titles is on a children’s book, a market share of 24%.

There are a couple important details that the Guardian conveniently left out of their story, and they paint a very different picture.

For starters, the sales stats cited by the Guardian do not reflect the entire UK book market. As I have previously reported, the PA is only tracking about 62% of ebook sales in 2016, and so to claim that "ebook sales fell by 3%" is misleading at best, and arguably a falsehood.

I have made that point so many times that I am getting tired of the sound of my own keyboard, so I will not reiterate the point here.

Edit: And as I have pointed out in another post, screen fatigue is a myth that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Instead, let us consider the fundamental flaw in this article. This piece is based on the premise that "kids are choosing print".

The problem with the idea that kids book sales reflect kids preferences is that most kids books aren’t bought by kids. They’re bought by adults for kids, so you can point to sales stats as evidence of a preference.

But wait, there’s more.

The Guardian was so desperate to report that ebooks were dead that not only did they use questionable logic, they also didn’t bother to spend 3 minutes on Google to find the survey data that might actually prove their point.

In January Scholastic and Yougov released a report that showed that kids do prefer prefer print over ebooks. It doesn’t indicate an increase in the preference, however, and it also includes a factoid that effectively demolishes the Guardian’s entire premise:

If you can’t read the above image, it says:

75% of parents with kids ages 6-17 agree: "I wish my child would do more things that did not involve screen time"

What types of books do you suppose those parents are buying for their kids? print? digital?

They’re buying print, obviously, and that, in a nut shell, is why you can’t trust sales stats to indicate kids preference for print versus digital.

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Fahirsch September 10, 2017 um 7:07 pm

I’ll venture a guess: most children want to read Harry Potter

Hrafn September 10, 2017 um 10:03 pm

I would suggest that physical books, with their greater tactile experience and greater robustness, make a better entry into reading anyway. I see an eReader as a boon for the enthusiast reader more than for the novice.

Randy Lea September 11, 2017 um 1:41 pm

My opinion is that the 2 primary sources of ebooks are Amazon and public libraries in the US. I see no evidence that they are reducing investment in this area, I see the opposite from libraries.

The economics are clearly in favor of ebooks over print long term. The big publishers are fighting this for now, but what happens when one struggles financially? I predict they will slash ebook prices, which will force the other big houses to do the same.

Paul Biba’s eBook, eLibrary, eMuseum and ePublishing news compilation for week ending Friday, September 16 | The Digital Reader September 16, 2017 um 10:49 am

[…] Children Turn Their Backs on eBooks as ‘Screen Fatigue’ Takes Hold, And Other Fictions (The Digital Reader) […]

Ebook Industry News Feed – About Ebooks September 20, 2017 um 4:38 am

[…] If kids are reading paper books, parents might be to blame 10 September (The Digital Reader) Do juvenile reading habits actually reflect a preference? If 75 per cent of parents wish their children had less screen time, it’s no wonder they’re buying them printed books. […]

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