What makes a great e-book for kids?

What's the state of the eBook industry today? Let's shed some light on the landscape.

One of my favorite parts of the various writers' conferences I attend regularly are the industry panels, where insiders offer their take on the state of things--current trends and forecasts for the near future. I wasn't lucky enough to attend Digital Book World, SCBWI, or any other conference this past winter, and I haven't seen many insights about eBooks from any sources yet. But here's a patchwork of highlights and quotes from the past year, that collectively paint a picture of the landscape.

By way of Lee Wind, Digital Book World Pre-Conference Interview Roundup, talking with Kristen McLean, Director of New Business at Nielsen Book, a part of Nielsen Entertainment, March 2016:

The one thing that has remained constant at the heart of the children's market is STORY. You can create the most fantastic multi-media platform in the world and if it doesn't have a good story to tell, it's going nowhere.

Parents remain very invested in print books for their children, and even teens have a strong preference for print versus eBook...we expect eBooks to remain steady...or perhaps even decline. 

Tablets…are basically curiosity libraries for kids' interests, and the most successful digital representations of kids' books and story-worlds are not eBooks, but other forms of media like games, TV shows, YouTube videos, apps, and even audio in new platforms like podcasts.

The challenge for parents is going to be making sure kids get a balanced "play diet" with digital engagement in proportion to other kinds of things like imaginative play, building & construction, and getting outside. 

Authors, illustrators, and content professionals…will be surprised at how self-aware, positive, hopeful and engaged today's kids really are. In my experience, most of our adult fears about disaffected, tuned out kids should be completely re-written. I'm very hopeful about these children. I think it's very exciting. 

Keep an ear to the ground for interesting case studies, successful media projects and good insights about kids & families. Stay curious--about both your readers, and your art, and don't buy into negative fear mongering about today's kids.

From Lorraine Shanley at Digital Book World, February 2016:

The digital world that we might have anticipated when we started these conferences in 2012 has not evolved much, at least for children’s books. That’s not to say that children’s books haven’t been affected by the enormous changes of the last few years…rather, the effect has come in different ways than expected.

Children don’t read that many eBooks, and online storytelling is not the only way teens read and write (though hats off to Wattpad for their continued success).

Contemporary authors, in the meantime, have gone online to find and interact directly with their readers in a variety of creative ways, on every social media platform that comes along. Ironically, their marketing prowess has taught publishers how to up their game.

Again by way of Lee Wind, SCBWI: The Blog, attending KidsLaunch at Digital Book World, March 2016:

"Kids prefer print to digital. Kids love to share, which is harder to do in digital." ~ David Kleeman (Senior VP of Global Trends, Dubit)

"The kids in kindergarten this year have NEVER been alive without tablets" and will have "fundamentally different expectations of technology." ~ Ashley Anderson Zantop (Chief Content Officer, Capstone)

From Porter Anderson, Publishing Perspectives, "Children’s Book Summit: Nielsen on Kids, Their Trends, and Their Parents", Nov 2016

Ebooks in the children’s market seem to have peaked in 2014 around a high number of film tie-ins. And while print juvenile content held steady from 2014 to 2015, eBooks registered a 33-percent decline in the sector without similar tie-in power to bolster them. ~ again from Nielsen's Kristen McLean

There’s “a push toward mindfulness, having conversations face-to-face, and have more analog interactions” as a core element of millennial interest, which might argue for the kind of pushback against digital seen in some young family settings today. At the same time, there’s less black-and-white separation for this generation of parents between the on- and offline worlds. ~ from Jordan Rost, Vice President, Consumer Insights, Nielsen 

Again by way of Lorraine Shanley, attending Kristen McClean's talk at Digital Book World 2017:

“Audio is going to be the digital platform for books.” As ebook reading declines, audio (including podcasts and audiobooks) will surpass it. 

The takeaway from all this, by way of me: eBooks haven't taken off as much as was expected about five years ago. Parents are still guarding their kids time away from screens, which makes me happy. Story is still paramount beyond the bells and whistles of technology. Some of the most interesting things may actually be happening in social media, as authors figure out how to connect with readers. Other interesting spaces are non-story products like games, TV shows, YouTube videos, apps, and even audio in new platforms like podcasts. Authors might think creatively about how to create content for those channels. Audiobooks are a space to watch (happy to say I'm a HUGE audiobook listener). It remains to be seen where millennial parents will take all of this. And finally, I suspect that the digital landscape is a bit like the weather in New England. If you don't like it, wait five minutes. It'll change.

(Thanks to Nutsa Avaliani for the lovely illustration.)


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