Yesterday at work, a customer saw a leaflet we had on display advertising the e-readers we sell. He wasn’t the first person of the day to ask me if we sell many of them. My answer was simple. We sold a lot at first, when the initial interest was high but now, we don’t sell as many as other cometition has emerged. Digital publishing is still a very new format and the way we react to it is reliant on a lot of things. I didn’t want to appear for or against the e-reader and digital publishing because I am very objective in my opinion about them and can see the good and bad sides of them – especially when children’s publishing is concerned.
A few years ago, when the publishing industry was in a frenzy and at a loss of how to make e-readers work for them; everyone was debating how on earth digital publishing would be applicable in children’s publishing. I myself was fresh out of university and with a very young and naive view of publishing having just started the long, long journey in getting an entry level job role. Children’s publishing is my main interest and so I have always been keen to keep up with daily developments in this trade. Publishers were wary in expressing their concerns for the industry. They didn’t want to write off digital publishing but had absolutely no idea how to incorporate it into their businesses.
It’s all gone by in a digitally enhanced haze and the only major things I can recall is a publisher claiming they were working on a touch and feel app and the first teen e-books being published.
The customer I spoke to yesterday was quite clear in his opinions. He doesn’t like e-books. He said he wasn’t a technophobe, he works at a computer all day and is quite computer literate. And yet, I can’t help but feel the way he dismissed the e-readers without even looking at them was a reaction to fear of the unknown. And this fear stems from the widely shared opinion that it’s got to be one or the other – the e-reader or the paperback book. It doesn’t.
Julia Donaldson’s recent comments regarding her refusal to have her world famous picture books published as e-books have re-flamed the ongoing debate of whether digital publishing is actually good for children, never mind the industry. After the self-confessed luddite customer left, my colleague and I discussed how important it is that we connect to our childhood books. We have an individual connection to each and every book we see on our book shelves…where we read it, what we felt, what we relate it to. We can physically delve in to a pop-up, touchy feely book and escape the grip of the snappy crocodile in Peter Pan. That physical touch of slowly turning a page in trepidation of what’s to come next or hastily reading to the final pages to discover if Harry Potter survives is so, so important to a connection with our emotions.
But equally important is the experience of new things and sharing them. It was actually the Nosy Crow app-trailer for their award winning app The Three Little Pigs which made me realise what digital publishing has to offer children. It has been suggested that the joy of reading and learning and feeling is gone if you just stick an iPad in front of a child and leave them to it. Well, that’s not the iPad’s fault, that’s the parents and their choice if that’s how they want their child’s reading experience to be. The Nosy Crow trailer introduces a notion of a whole new world of possibility that children can share with their parents and friends and there is interaction of story to child more so than ever.
Whilst equally the children revel in pressing snazzy buttons on a smart piece of technology, they’re also producing a reaction and reading…almost producing a book themselves. There’s so much possibility out there and these apps and so forth are testament to that. Achieved in merely a few years, I’m excited to see what the next few years bring.
Just don’t forget your slightly tattered, bitten, chewed favourite books on your book shelf. I treasure them so much, both in my memories and my ability to still creakily open a copy of Little Women and read until my heart is content. For now I’m happy to have an e-reader for holidays, an iPhone on my bedside table and my trusted books precariously balanced on my bookshelf.
To read the article in which Julia Donaldson refused to let The Gruffalo be published as an ebook, click on this link