Children’s books & digital

I have to say, when I read this news from EA Games last month I was not TOO blown away:

Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: ERTS) today announces the development of FLIPS, an innovative new book range created for the Nintendo DS. FLIPS has been designed to give children of all ages a fun new way to read their favorite books. EA has worked with some of the UK`s leading publishers of children’s books and magazines, including Egmont and Penguin Publishing, to bring modern classic titles from critically acclaimed authors such as Cathy Cassidy, Eoin Colfer, Enid Blyton, and the various writers from the popular boys series, `Too Ghoul for School` to the DS. Each FLIPS title features multiple books and the first four titles will be released exclusively on Nintendo DS in the UK on 4th December 2009.

But then I saw one (the Artemis Fowl-Eoin Colfer collection) in action at the CBI Digital Developments Seminar on Saturday 28 November in Tallaght Library. I’m still not blown away but I am more impressed than I thought I would be. The device is the same as any DS but the program is actually fairly clever and offers a range of extras that kids might just find enjoyable, though to a certain extent it remains in essence a book on screen. I don’t think this will be converting non-readers into readers. Still, interesting move.

One of the discussions that I tumbled into on Saturday was whether digital products opens a new market for books and will deliver new readers. I’m not sure that it will in any real sense. It may make it easier for people who have always read to read digitally, or enable people who have wanted to read but couldn’t to read with great ease, but NEW readers, people who simply didn’t read out of choice deciding to read on screen, seems unlikely, especially not book length pieces.

Still, one interesting development I spotted [in Publishers Weekly] today is that ScrollMotion are launching a series of releases for their Iceberg ereader which will be heavily child focused with:

animations, audio content, interactivity. Picture books in the Iceberg Kids format are more than books—they’re activities. The app has a sleek and entertaining aesthetic and navigational system (though all e-books will be sold as separate apps for the moment, they all share the same design and navigation system), featuring five buttons—”Read,” “Bookmark,” “Index,” “Record,” Settings,” “Help”—that make musical sounds when tapped.

To accommodate full-page illustrations in the iPhone’s small format, the application automatically pans around the illustration while the child or parent advances through the text on that page. By pinching the screen, one can move around the entire illustration at will. The text can be made larger or smaller, and automatically moves to accommodate the art.

I remain unconvinced by the need for these type of applications when they could be as easily hosted on a decent website, that had a mobile access mode, but still, it is good to see development on the area one way or the other.
Eoin

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8 comments

  1. Hi Eoin,

    Enjoyed meeting you at the CBI workshop on Saturday. It opened up a lot of ideas for me. Would love the chance to meet up and discuss what we are trying to do at The Authors Friend.

    Kind regards and many thanks for an interesting and useful Saturday morning.

    David Jones

  2. I’d tend to agree with you on the interactive childrens books Eoin. I think that by and large, a laptop/notebook provides a better medium for this type of app.

    In regards to eBooks attracting new readers, I really hope they do. To me thats one of the most remarkable and important aspects of digital texts – the accessibility and convenience. I think that ebooks will appeal to the “digital natives” now emerging from the social networking mist as well as its different delivery options appealing to a broader spectrum. Take Dailylit for example – bite size chunks of books by subscription via your email -hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

    1. Hello Gareth, thanks for the comment.

      I HOPE you are right. Really I do but if you explore that concept it presents problems:

      1) Are people NOT reading now because books are inaccessible or inconvenient?
      I think on the whole not, most likely they are reading because they don’t want to*. There may be a segment of the population whose only real access to books is through libraries, if the cause of that lack of access is poverty, digital products are unlikely to reach them or be affordable for them. That is tragic, but it is also true.

      2) Appeal to the “digital natives”?
      You might be right with this perspective, but the evidence is just not there yet. If anything the evidence suggest that these digital natives tend to read less in long form and like multimedia presentation, but even that is not certain. I see no reason why just having access to a book on a mobile device will make this segment read books (digital or print) more?

      3) Dailylit
      I love Dailylit, I think it is an amazing tool. But what’s its age profile? I’ve asked on twitter, if I get a response I’ll update!

      Eoin

      *I accept that there is a market for those with poor sight, hearing or some other physical or other difficulty. But this is hardly a massive money spinner for authors or publishers

      1. 1) accessibility. Fair points – I think that there definitely has to be a motivation factor there. Moving into 2), maybe the medium has to not neccessarily re-invent itself, but re-pitch itself to a new, more visual audience, to create the interest and motivation.3) regarding Daily Lit, which is a really good way of re-orientating literature to suit teh modern lifestyle, I believe it’s about 30-50 and female. Working mothers etc were their main area of focus.

        As an ex secondary school teacher, I did some really interesting literacy studies which I’ll post to my blog later this week. Part of the results indicated that the interactive features discuused in your original posting would encourage a lot more interest in reading. But basic obvious truths also play a huge factor -Parental/siblings reading was also a huge factor in the interest and reading consumption of the students.

  3. Thank you for this blogpost Eoin. Digital texts or mobile applications can give readers an alternative/a choice. We publish interactive children’s picture ebooks – not to replace cuddling up with a good book but to introduce a different medium for reading that is fun and interactive. Rather than kids paying mindless games on a PC why not make screen time educational and fun too?
    If the books are well designed to support literacy skills then the more exposure we can give kids to reading activities the more likely they are to develop their literacy skills. With 1 in 5 kids leaving primary school in both UK and USA without meeting the required standard in literacy is making reading fun by introducing it in different mediums such a bad thing?

    1. Hello Jeanette,

      Thanks for the comment.
      I don’t deny that digital text enables choice, in fact I rather welcome that> I just suspect that it is unlikely to create new markets.

      As for helping kids read, that can never be a bad thing and I’d never oppose it, if it works. Fundamentally better teachers (or just more of them) is probably more important than the tools that get used.

      As a lover of a good PC game as well as a heavy reader, I’d caution on the use of the word mindless, most of these game, regardless of the theme or content, requires a lot of learning, even if not the kind we necessarily think of as valuable.

      Eoin

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