Tuesday, 5 November 2013

E-books and e-readers – are we expecting too much?


This is the second article in a series on books for the teen/tween market, to mark the launch of The Cloud Pearl (Book One: Legends of Liria).

I’m in the classic demographic to possess an e-reader. Female, mother, and of a certain age. I woke up to the revolution two years, submitted several manuscripts and I have now have six books deals. They are all initially e-books.

I assumed everyone was familiar with e-readers, even if they didn’t own one. Well, I think I’m horribly wrong.

I was at the hairdresser’s, a classic place to catch up on my reading. I left my e-reader on the table and a crowd formed. Not one of the women there had ever seen one before – and it was a wide age range, from late teens to post-retirement. When I showed them the cover of one of my books on the screen, there was a general ooh and aah. Far from being flattered, I was horrified.


For the past year, I’ve been busy writing and trying market e-books for adults and children. I’m now unsure about the adult market – and what’s more, I have concerns about the complex issue of e-books for younger readers.

From personal experience, I can vouch for the fact that so many more teen/tween and YA titles are now available electronically. For instance, the early Septimus Heap books I got out of the library. Now they’re all electronic as well. It’s quite an explosion. I felt encouraged that writing for a younger market would be successful.

But I’m an adult. I have a Paypal account, an assortment of credit and debit cards, my own laptop and a personal e-reader. I can click on any book I like.

But let’s assume I’m 12, how do I get started? Hope the school will give me a tablet? Yes, some schools have piloted projects, offering tablets pre-loaded with juicy stuff, but it’s an expensive business.

I know. I’ll plague Mum and Dad into buying me one. But e-readers are still costly, the high-end tablet readers especially so. What if my folks simply can’t afford one this Christmas? I’ll try Granny. ‘Oh, I don’t know what to buy, dear. Why don’t you go and read a proper book?’ Unfortunately the queen herself is of this opinion, according to the press.

And even if I do wangle an e-reader, how do I get hold of the books I want? The local library, perhaps? But how many libraries have a decent e-book section yet?

Perhaps I could go back to the school? Some schools have e-libraries, but it’s still a relatively new phenomenon. And it’s a big ask, especially for the smaller school, for example, even if they wanted to. I’ve read of pilot projects here and there, but not as many as I’d expected.

So, it’s back to asking Mum and Dad to buy the book for me. This is so uncool it’s untrue.

When I think back, I was in control of my own reading from age seven or so. Our junior school library was reasonably well-stocked library, and as I moved into my early teens, I kept going. By mid-teens, I started on the books at home. It was a natural progression to buying my own when I was an undergraduate and had the cash.

As an author, I now have a dilemma. To whom do I direct my PR campaign? International e-libraries, literary mums, indulgent dads, enlightened schools, forward-thinking (and affluent) education authorities, teens and tweens themselves ...? Well, I’m stumped.

In the meantime, I’m trusting that my e-publishers continue to seek out e-library prospects. Such complex marketing strategies are way beyond the remit of a lowly author.

However, I have come up with one ploy. I’ve been invited to participate in a literacy workshop at a local junior. Although the literacy co-ordinator admits to preferring real books and there is no e-library to speak of, I’m going to push for some on-screen e-book activities. I need to read up on using digital text books in a classroom setting. Even it’s tricky, I believe literacy teaching should use every weapon, including the most up-to-date technology, to promote a love of reading, and the ability to do this electronically, for that is where the future of learning lies. Although it’s tempting, I’m certainly not going to print out chapter one for discussion. This would defeat the object.

But most importantly, I’m going to suggest the children complete an online questionnaire to find out for myself what they think.

If you have any questions you’d like me to ask, do please let me know. 

By Pamela Kelt





8 comments:

  1. You are ahead of your time. BUT time will catch up to you...I hope, as I am in the same boat.

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  2. I thought I'd better keep up with the technology. Didn't want to be left behind in the 20th century!

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  3. I think it depends on the people. i read in bed so love my e-reader. A friend reads in the bathtub (relaxing) You can't take the reader in there. Others simply like the idea of having a book in their hands. Cost is also a factor. An e-reader tablet is an upfront expense. If funds are tight, well, it won't hit the budget.
    Heather G - Natasha's Dream
    the saga continues - Natasha's Diary

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  4. I agree that it might be far too early to assume that many kids already have e readers, but I also don't think it'll be too long before more of them do- if there is a running budget for using them, as you point out. Although at 99c a book might be cheap, when I was 7-12 years old I was racing through about 3 books a week from the library + whatever school required. My folks couldn't have paid back then for ebook purchases and it might still be the same for good readers now. Library loans will still appeal to those families who tend towards them anyway. Sadly, for me too since I've an unpublished book for early teens, I think the rise in ebook reading will be with older teens - maybe those in the 16 plus bracket who might be able to pay towards the cost themselves. AND the only way that there will be a general surge there, will be if they are 'cool' marketed. If the street cred is there for an ereader then they will be bought, but the online games market is pretty sound in that age bracket- I think. For many teens it's easier to play a game than think about reading a novel. The women you spoke to might not read much anyway - could be they're telly addicts! :-)

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  5. So many good points. I've just recalled a conversation at the hairdresser. One mum had already bought all the games stuff already for her sons' Christmas! Well, all I can say is, I bought my daughter an e-reader last year and she loves it. In fact, she uses it to read pdf files for her uni course work. I've heard of e-coupons for books, so perhaps that's a way forward for younger readers. Must look into it.

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  6. I just asked my 13-year-old son if any kids his age use e-readers. He's seen one or two kids with them at school. That's it. I do, however, think this will increase. He is of the instant-gratification generation. Downloading a book is way faster than going to a store, going to the library, or ordering it online and waiting for it to arrive.

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  7. This is so interesting. Thanks. So where do we go from here? Just putting the books online is not enough, I feel. There needs to be a bridge for younger readers. I can't think how to do this, but I feel this is the case. I've mentioned e-coupons. A way forward. It would be great to enable younger readers to choose their own books. It might put us in our place a bit, though.

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