Are Children Still Reading?

Generation Z, those children born after 1995, are digital natives. The first generation to grow up with ready access to the Internet, smartphones, tablets, and social media, concern has been raised about this generation’s short attention span and disinterest in reading.

Sales of Children's Books Have Grown

Interestingly, the rumors of the demise of reading with Generation Z may be exaggerated. The American Association of Publishers (AAP) reports that sales of Children’s and Young Adult books have grown over the past five years. Specifically, unit sales for Children’s and Young Adult nonfiction grew 17.8 percent.

A study by Scholastic and YouGov in 2017 found that 86 percent of Canadian children aged 6-17 years old were reading or had finished reading a book for fun recently. Another study by Common Sense Media in 2015 of U.S. children found one in four tweens and one in five teens reported reading for pleasure regularly. Both studies found that the majority of these children read print books (67% in Canada and 83% in the United States).

While it is good news that Generation Z is reading, we know that overall reading has decreased in the past few decades. One study on young people’s reading habits over the last 50 years summarized in “The Rise of Digital Media, the Decline of TV, and the (Near) Demise of Print.” cited a depressing finding. There has been a decline of daily reading of some form of print—whether magazine, book, etc.—from 60 percent in the late 1970s to 12 percent today. The authors use the notion of “displacement theory” to explain this decline—82 percent of young people use social media today (not to mention video games), which more than likely displaces time they might formerly have given to reading.

If you are a children’s author, these studies hold both good news and sad news. The good news is that Generation Z is still reading, and that they prefer print books. The sad news is that reading continues to fall wayside to other forms of entertainment.

Books Still Make Great Gifts

What can you as a children’s author do about this? I have two suggestions.

1. Help create a love of reading in children.

Studies show that children with classroom libraries are more likely to be frequent readers. Yet, only 43% of school-age children have access to a classroom library. You can be part of the solution. Volunteer to help build a classroom library for a teacher at a local Christian school. Donate some of your books as well as other age-appropriate books the teacher and kids are interested in.

2. Promote your books as great gifts.

Studies show that busy Millennial moms like online gift guides. In fact, some big box retailers like Toys R Us have gone out of business because many Millennials prefer to shop online. If you are a children’s author, put together an online Christmas gift guide for moms. Offer a range of gift ideas for the age-range your books target, and be sure to include your books in the guide.

Whether you are a children’s author, a young adult author, or an author of adult books, helping increase literacy and reading in children is a good cause to participate in. After all, children grow up to be adults, and you want to have adults read your books in years to come.

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Photo by Porapak Apichodilok.

One Solution to a Challenging Literacy Issue

The challenge: Getting tech-savvy kids interested in reading books.

One solution: Novel Effect

Good stories have always had the ability to captivate—to hold our hearts and imaginations—but today, books often lose out to flashier forms of entertainment. In an effort to make reading engaging for children, Melissa and Matt Hammersley developed the Novel Effect app for IOs, available for download in the Apple Store.

Novel Effect was featured on Shark Tank last fall. The company has won a Webby Award for the Novel Effect app and are now working with the Alexa Accelerator program to develop the growth of this voice-enabled storytelling platform. The Novel Effect app uses voice recognition technology to automatically add music and sounds to the book reading experience.

Novel Effect’s offering is built around children’s books. The company has created sound effects and other audio integrations for dozens of kids’ books, which get triggered when someone reads the books aloud. More than 150 audio “soundscapes” are available for free if a user owns a print book; these soundscapes can also run in the background with ebooks.

You can watch this video to get an idea of how this app works with reading a book:

Not surprisingly, the books that Novel Effect has created “soundscapes” for are all general market books. Hopefully, they will add Christian-themed books soon, or maybe someone else will come up with a similar app for Christian books for kids.

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Children’s Book Sales Hold Strong

Those of us who are older than Millennials often feel a small amount of distress when we see children playing on phones and tablets and not reading. We wonder if reading is becoming a thing of the past. We fret over how to keep literacy alive and thriving when the competition of video games and electronic entertainment on screens is so prevalent.

Surprisingly, the news on children’s reading is not as bad as we fear. Families today invest a lot in their children. Many young parents are placing parenthood above career and financial success. With such a high value on good parenting, it is no surprise that children’s books are selling well and will most likely continue to sell well in the future.

Nielsen, a company that tracks book purchases and uses the data to help publishers stay abreast of industry trends, reports that following in regards to sales of children’s books:

  • The U.S. book market is stable, with little change year over year.
  • The children’s book market shows more growth than the overall U.S. book market. While the overall book market has grown 33 percent since 2004, the children’s book market has grown 52 percent growth since 2004, with a four percent compound annual growth rate.
  • Children’s book formats have seen growth since 2013–2014, with the most rapidly growing formats board books and boxed sets.
  • Religion is a category that is growing in both children’s fiction and nonfiction year over year.
  • The age group five to eight years accounts for almost 40 percent of children’s book purchases.

This last point—that books for 5- to 8-year-olds account for almost half of all book purchases—is good news for those who produce picture books. Picture books are generally designed for four- to eight-year-olds. So, if you are or have published a picture book, be encouraged by these statistics.

In fact, even though children are spending so much time on screens, it appears that they still prefer to read print books. Nielsen’s studies have found that only four percent of children’s fiction is sold in digital format. This means 96 percent of children’s fiction books are sold as print books.

Children need engaging books that point them to their creator. The news that children’s religious book sales are growing is heartening. The fact that the vast majority of children’s books are still purchased in print format means that the demand for print picture books is strong.

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Creating an Augmented Reading Experience

Books have been around in one form or another for thousands of years—ever since man began writing. I believe books will continue into the future, but their form may change.

Originally books were written on stone tablets, then papyrus, then scrolls, until they evolved into the print books we know today. However, book forms have not stopped evolving. We now have digital books and audiobooks.

Google appears to have created a new technology that will bring the print book reading experience into the augmented reality of the 21st Century. Google’s recently patented a new technology called “Storytelling Device” or “Interactive Book”.

This “Storytelling Device” outfits a physical book with numerous page sensors, touch sensors, and motion sensors. Based on the reader’s movements and the story line of the book, the system adds augmented reality elements over the pages.

The augmented reality comes from a small hamburger-shaped device that plugs into an interface over the spine of the book and projects imagery over the pages, while a small speaker adds sound to the experience.

Googles patentOver the years, I have seen many companies come up with ways to integrate books and technology. Most are aimed at children as a way to get them interested and engaged in the reading experience. However, I have yet to see one that actually becomes popular and replaces the act of simply reading a book.

What do you think? Do you think Google’s patent has a potential to reinvent children’s books?

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Read Aloud Campaign

Research shows that reading aloud to a child is the single most important thing a parent can do to prepare a child for reading and learning. Yet, only 48% of young children in this country are read to every day.

Read Aloud

The Read Aloud 15 Minutes Campaign is seeking to change this statistic. The campaign strives to encourage all parents to make the effort to read aloud to their young children for just 15 minutes every day. Reading aloud matters and helps set a child up for educational success.

Every publisher of children’s books should care about this campaign. The more parents are reading to their children, the more demand there will be for good children’s books. So, supporting this campaign is a great marketing strategy for every publisher of children’s literature.

As a publisher or author, you can become a Read Aloud 15 Minutes Campaign partner. Partnership with the campaign is free. Read Aloud simply asks that all partners distribute Read Aloud 15 Minutes campaign messages to their audience via email, social media, blogs, website, etc., three times a year during:

  • Read Aloud Month in March.
  • Seize the summer in midsummer.
  • Supporting a Parent Dialogue in October.

In exchange, Read Aloud 15 Minutes will list your company on their website in their directory of national partners.

Joining with national campaigns that fit with your target audience is a great way to increase your marketing messages and engage more readers.

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