e-ReaderIf you consider some recent trends, it might be time to start planning how to integrate digital books into your curriculum. As a diehard reader of print books, I cringe even as I admit to having my own library of e-books.

The numbers

According to a recent study from Pew Research, tablet and e-book reader ownership nearly doubled over the holiday gift-giving period. The New York Times reports in “E-Readers Catch Younger Eyes and Go in Backpacks” that publishers have witnessed an increase in purchases of e-books. Some popular titles include: the Chronicles of Narnia series; Hush, Hush; The Dork Diaries series; Pretty Little Liars, a teenage series by Sara Shepard; I Am Number Four, a paranormal romance by Pittacus Lore; and Before I Fall, a novel by Lauren Oliver. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing saw an increase in sales of titles like Clockwork Angel and books in the Night World series in that same time period.

Bowker’s Market Research Study, “Understanding the children's book consumer in the digital age,” found that 24 percent of children ages seven to 12 are reading e-books either on a tablet or e-reader. An article on the website AllthingsD.com reports that 350,000 textbooks were downloaded from Apple’s iBooks in three days and Harper Collins says that e-books made up 25 percent of all young-adult sales in January, up from about 6 percent the year before.

A Youthbeat study reports e-book ownership among youth households went up from 6 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2011. Amy Henry, vice president of Youth Insights, says:

  1. As long as stories are still evaluated for their narrative quality, and not their cool quotient, it shouldn’t really matter how we read them.
  2. Reluctant, struggling readers, and readers with special needs can all benefit from the way in which e-Readers reinvent the reading experience.
  3. E-Readers make books more complex – not more superficial.
  4. E-Readers make reading more cost effective and environmentally friendly.

In an oft-cited article from Publisher’s Weekly, “Are Teens Embracing E-books?”  authors found that more students owned e-readers than tablets (10.7 percent compared to 6 percent respectively). Cristina Gilbert, executive director of trade marketing and publicity for Bloomsbury, explains that “They’re [teens] so mobile, so digital. E-reading is an extension of how they live.”

Even Disney is jumping on the bandwagon, with plans to release several e-books this year. “Teens really do seek instant gratification,” says Suzanne Murphy, a vice president at Disney Publishing Worldwide.

Why they work

Digital books are easy to enhance. With some e-readers, you can mark up the pages, place sticky notes, and hold your place with a digital bookmark. You can copy and paste and email selections from novels. Young adult marketers are including promotions, contests, giveaways and free previews with their new releases.

A Report from Annual 2011: Teens Reading Digitally from the Young Adult Library Services Association describes multi-platform novels, Kindles used as classroom book sets, and Figment, where young adults can share their writing and “connect with other readers and discover new stories and authors.” The downloadable PowerPoint from co-creator of Figment, Jakob Lewis, makes for interesting reading.

Teens are becoming aware that they can “borrow” digital books from the library. Six out of the top seven young adult books on Kindle’s 100 top-selling e-books are from The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) or Twilight series (Stephenie Meyer). An article from Paid Content: The Economics of Digital Content website, “New Stats: Kids Find E-Books ‘Fun And Cool,’ But Teens Are Still Reluctant,” thinks that’s an anomaly : “Thirty- to 44-year-olds account for 28 percent of young adult (YA) print book sales and 32 percent of YA e-book sales. Eighteen- to 29-year-olds are the largest group of YA book buyers, accounting for 31 percent of YA print sales and 35 percent of YA e-book sales.”

But, a Publisher’s Weekly report says that “YA e-book checkouts increased from two million in 2010 to four million in 2011, according to OverDrive, which runs the e-book programs for 18,000 libraries and schools in 21 countries, including 15,000 in the U.S. Last year 22 percent of e-checkouts were for mobile devices.”

An experiment with elementary students reading Tumblebooks found that “the average fluency rate for the Tumblebook group was 23 percentage points higher than that of the control group. Students using the e-books had moved from a Lexile® Framework for Reading level of K to M. By January, the entire group of children in the ebook program had achieved fluency to the point that they were “exited” from [the teacher’s] pull-out sessions and integrated back into their regular classrooms.”

Libraries as a resource

As The Digital Shift, a website published by Library Journal and School Library Journal points out, libraries are Still an Important Discovery Source for Kids’ Books.

School Library Journals’ 2011 Technology Survey investigation found that 31 percent of responding libraries incorporate e-books in their collections,  28 percent of libraries expect to add e-books in the next two years, and 78 percent of school librarians in the Northeast plan to purchase them during the next two years.

Teen library services consultant Jennifer Barnes writes about her e-book experiment in the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) blog. In 28 Days of Teens and Tech # 5: Never Thought I’d Be Saying This With Glee, but “The Kindles are here!” she describes a grant funded project piloting the use of Kindles pre-loaded with public domain and advanced copy books. Plans are to record student reactions via survey forms and video interviews to see how e-reading impacts learning. You can see the students’ reviews on their group blog.

While many libraries in New Jersey enjoy digital (e-book and audiobook) downloads from ListenNJ, the South Jersey Audiobook and eBook Download Center (Overdrive) and e-Books on EBSCOhost (formerly NetLibrary), some publishers, from the group known as “the Big Six,” either prohibit libraries from lending e-books or limit the number of loans available. Some libraries carry subscriptions to Tumblebooks for younger readers.

Cape May County Library gets props from Teens on e-Books for its Teen Zone display which highlights e-books (as do many New Jersey libraries).

Other places to get e-Books

As mentioned earlier, some publishers are making book previews available for free. And just like some musicians, authors are now making their first novel in a series free in hopes that readers will get so hooked, they’ll pay for follow-up books. An example is Megg Jensen, author of Anathema, who makes her book available for free at the iBookstore and Wattpad. Wattpad is a completely free community designed to “connect writers with readers.”

Classics can still be found at Project Gutenberg, and the University of Pennsylvania Digital Library now includes Newbery Honor Books and Medal Winners. You can find children’s books at the Children’s Literature Bookshelf and the International Children’s Digital Library. Storia is a free e-reading app for kindergarten through grade seven and up from Scholastic that comes with five free e-books.

Teens and young adults can find free e-books at oBooko and Smashwords. Overdrive has a list of recommended books on its e-Books for Teen Read Week 2011. Along with its paid content and e-readers, Kobo includes one million free e-books. The Hollis Brookline High School Library website has links to many more sites that offer Free Ebooks for Teens.

The hardware

You can read e-books on many different devices, but not all e-book services provide digital books for all formats so be sure to read the descriptions before you buy or download. The most popular devices (in no particular order) are Amazon’s Kindle (which you can also download as an app for your iPhone, iPad or Android device) or Kindle Touch or Fire; the Nook (black and white), Nook Color, or Nook Tablet from Barnes and Noble (also available as an app), the Sony eReader, Kobo eReaders`: Kobo Vox, Touch or Wi-fi; most smartphones, or your computer. Many e-readers now have the advantage of including a Wi-Fi connection and capability to read email or browse the Internet, and all offer different hardware capabilities and bonus features like the ability to read digital versions of print magazines you subscribe to. Another bonus: teens love to accessorize! There are many versions of “skins” with cool designs and cases with “bling” that help make e-readers teen-friendly.

Patricia Bruder, president of Linchpin Solutions LLC, consults for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) located at the South Jersey Tech Park at Rowan University, Mullica Hill. EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for teachers, parents, schools, communities, and non-profit organizations throughout New Jersey. Learn more about EIRC at www.eirc.org or call 856-582-7000. Contact Patricia Bruder at linchpinsolutions@gmail.com.