Paper books and kids

monsterattheendofthisbookPatrick Rhone makes a great point regarding ereaders, paper books and kids. He and his wife want to demonstrate their love of reading to their daughter. The couple owns a lot of ebooks, but staring at an electronic display is no clear queue that mom/dad are reading a book:

“The books we actually read, the majority of any reading we do, are mostly on screens now… [but] we could be doing anything on the screen. And she knows it. She knows the Internet is sometimes on that screen. She knows that movies are sometimes on that screen. She knows that games and music are on that screen..How is she to pick up the physical cues that Mommy and Daddy read a lot of books?”

That’s a great point. So, Patrick is going to make an effort to read more paper books, so his daughter can see mom and dad reading. Well done.

Now, excuse me while I switch into Curmudgeon Mode.

I don’t like electronic kids books. At all.

I worked as a teacher from 1994-2000. Back then, “interactive books” were popular. Some featured a strip of sound effects buttons that were to be pressed as the story was read. I despised those books because the students treated them as toys that just happened to have books attached. Some even pulled the buttons off, disregarded the book and walked about making random sound effects.

Living Books by Brøderbund were also popular back then. They shipped on CD and featured read-along animations based on popular titles like Arthur and Dr. Seuss. I still have that damn Just Grandma and Me memorized, right down to Little Critter’s inflection. The problem with Living Books was that nearly every object did something; click a crab to make it snap its claws or click a bus to hear its engine rumble. They were toys masquerading as books.

The “book as toy” phenomenon migrated to the iPad with digital children’s books. I’ve purchased a few for my own children (ages 7 and 9) and found the experience disappointing. Instead of listening to the story, my kids only want to “see what it does,” randomly tapping, swiping and flicking every image. When they find an interactive element, they go nuts — swiping, tapping or flicking it repeatedly. At that point, we aren’t reading. We’re playing a video game.

I know there are several decent interactive books for adults available, and that’s fine. But ebooks for kids that “do stuff?” No, thank you. My daughter loves the Harry Potter series. We do play around on Pottermore, but despite the fantastic ebooks available, we read of Harry’s adventures in paper exclusively.

How book stores foster ebook sales

bordersclosedA post by Dennis Johnson for Melville House bemoans the mass closings of Barnes and Noble (B&N) stores across the US. Within the last 30 days or so, Johnson points out, B&N locations in Los AngelesSan FranciscoPhiladelphiaWashington, DCSeattleChicagoDallas (two), Austin, and Manhattan have shut down. Ebook sales likely had a significant role in B&N’s decision to close those locations, which is interesting as brick-and-mortar book stores foster ebook sales.

The practice of “showrooming” — seeing a thing before buying it — affects buying behavior. Specifically, customers are more likely to buy an ebook after seeing its physical counterpart in a store. David Streitfeld noted this behavior for the New York Times in December 2012, in reference to the shutdown of Borders:

“Another, more counterintuitive possibility is that the 2011 demise of Borders, the second-biggest chain, dealt a surprising blow to the e-book industry. Readers could no longer see what they wanted to go home and order. ‘The print industry has been aiding and assisting the e-book industry since the beginning,’ said [Michael Norris, a Simba Information analyst who follows the publishing industry].”

Another survey suggested that 40% of the people who buy books online looked at them in a bookstore first.

Ebooks might become my “old man sticking point.” The appeal of a toting a library on a device the size of a magazine isn’t lost on me, but I’d rather read a paper book any day.

The Silent History is the most fun ebook yet

The Silent History for iPad and iPhone (free to download, full content available via in-app purchase) is a brilliant marriage of story, electronic publishing, geo-location and the huge number of mobile devices in people’s hands. I’ve had more fun with this book over the last few days than I’ve experienced with any other ebook. Hopefully, my first attempt at a contribution will be accepted. Here’s why you ought to be reading The Silent History.

The Silent History is a serialized novel about the sudden, international spike in births of children who never develop spoken language. These children aren’t deaf or mute, nor are they on the autism spectrum or physically impaired. They simply never begin speaking. The “Silents,” as they’re referred to, confound parents, teachers, caregivers and the rest of the speaking population. Especially after they begin displaying other unusual behaviors.

The story is told via “testimonials” and “field reports.” The testimonials come from a variety of sources, including nannies, teachers and parents who’ve interacted with Silents. They’re very short — between 500 and 1,000 words — and written in a casual, conversational tone. Time and place varies from testimonial to testimonial (many are set in the future, as Silent births began to rise in 2011), which makes the narrative fun. However, the real fun is in the field reports.

These are location-based, and can only be accessed when physically standing at specific geographic coordinates. I’m lucky enough to have one not far from my house, so I went to check it out. The app let me to the scene above — a twenty-foot post standing bolt upright out of the sand of a Cape Cod beach. The field report itself was written from the perspective of a man who was visiting the beach with his wife. After a time, a group of Silents appeared, obviously a field trip from a local summer camp. Several of them splashed in the surf, and eventually found this piece of driftwood. Without speaking, the group began digging a hole in the sand and inserted the post. Then they simply stood, staring at it.

Another shot of the post. Really, how *did* it get there?

For me, the act of physically standing in that spot, touching the post and hearing the surf while reading the story was eerie and delightful. The story described “dark sand where a cave used to be” that I found easily. It was just so much fun and truly enhanced the story. Plus, I never knew that post was on this beach, despite having lived on Cape Cod for 18 years. Thanks to this book, I’ve visited a beach I’ve never seen before.

There are field reports all over the globe. Note that if you can’t visit them, you needn’t worry. They don’t change the story, only add to it. You can contribute a field report, too. I’m currently scouting for a setting that will elicit a good story from me.

The Silent History is a winner. The story is compelling and the execution ingenious. Download it now and get hooked.

Amazon teases direct sales of Potter ebooks [Update]

Amazon has teased direct sales of Harry Potter books on its Kindle ebook store. AllThingsD reports that Amazon has posted a teaser image (above) to its Kindle ebook store, featuring an owl and the line “Wizardry is on the Way” in a font similar to that on the cover of paper Harry Potter books [1. Note that I could not get the image to appear, despite refreshing the browser a few times. Ten points off for Gryffindor.].

Potter author J. K. Rowling made electronic versions of her books available for the first time in April, but required customers to purchase them through her own Pottermore website. Amazon’s tease suggests that’s about to change, though representatives were elusive with AllThingsD when reached for comment, saying, “We’ll have to ask you to stay tuned for an upcoming announcement.”

As of this writing, there are no similar hints on the Nook store or Apple’s iBookstore.

Update: Amazon has confirmed that the Harry Potter books are coming to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

Pottermore sells $1.5M worth of ebooks in three days


Pottermore sold more than £1 million ($1.59 million) worth of ebooks in the first 3 days of availability, according to Pottermore CEO Charlie Redmayne. Sales were higher than expected, Redmayne said.”

Why isn’t Rowling selling through Amazon, B&N or [1. Actually, the books are available through the  Kindle and Nook stores. I thought shoppers were required to go through Thanks to reader Darren for setting me right.] Apple? Why would she?