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Monday, April 11, 2011

In the Forecast: A Deluge of e-Picture Books?

Comparison of book version and ipad version of spreads from The Three Little Pigs illustrated by L. Leslie Brooke
Like Kitty in this post, I've been thinking about the flood of technology changes for readers. In particular, I've been amazed at the shift to ebooks: by the middle of 2010, Amazon reported that e-book sales for its Kindle device had surpassed those of hardcovers, and by early 2011, they had surpassed sales of paperbacks. That's a phenomenal shift in the way many people read books.

But like many other children's book people, I've been assuming that picture books are different, that they will persist almost exclusively as physical objects rather than evolve into electronic files to be consumed on a reader. (See, for example, this post by the fabulous author Eric Kimmel.)

For one thing, who wants to hand a young child an expensive electronic device to get dropped, banged, smudged with sticky fingers, and perhaps even drooled and chewed on? For another, reading with a young child is a cozy, physical experience - curling up with a screen just doesn't seem the same from an emotional viewpoint. Finally, there are all the difficulties of picture books that most e-readers aren't well designed to handle, beginning with color, and continuing through full spread illustrations, and the wide variety of sizes and shapes of books that don't translate precisely to the fixed screens of devices.

But I'm starting to realize I was wrong. Picture books are going "e" and I wonder how profound and rapid the shift will be.

Image on Color Nook from Go Dog, Go by P.D. Eastman
 One reason is the introduction of more e-readers that can handle color. The recent debut of the color Nook (the Barnes and Noble reader) and the growing popularity of tablets like the ipad means that more e-readers can provide a visually pleasing reading experience.
Screen shot of the cover of Green Eggs and Ham ipad app

Another is that the proliferation of ipads and other tablets is leading to the development of more and more picture book apps - a medium that's part book, part game, part animation. (See for example this recent NPR article on children's book apps for the ipad.) More "shiny" choices for kids = more people buying this format rather than traditional books.

I think too that I underestimated the comfort of young parents with sharing their electronics with their kids. In the grocery story now, I nearly always see a mom distracting a fussy toddler not with a cookie but with a game or book app on her expensive smart phone. (I'll also wager that there are teams of engineers right now developing readers aimed at hard-using tots.) And as this other NPR article reflects, today's parents don't feel as awkward as I do about snuggling at bedtime with a device and an interactive app that does all the work rather than a paper and board book that I have to read out loud myself.

So what do you think? Are ebooks going to replace traditional picture books? Do you use them? Love them or hate them?

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