For the last decade, futurists have predicted that kids will readily adopt ebooks and the future of books and publishing lies in the digital landscape. To study ebook adoption by kids and school libraries, School Library Journal and Follett School Solutions recently released the Sixth Annual Survey of Ebook Usage in the U.S. School (K-12) Libraries (September 2015). (http://www.slj.com/downloads/2015schoolebooksurvey/)
It’s clear that ebooks aren’t wining the war, yet because ebooks frustrate kids. According to the 2015 study, eBook adoption plateaued and actually decreased to 2013 levels, with 56% of U.S. school libraries reporting they now have ebooks available for students. The study delves into preferred genres, breakdowns by age level, and much more.
Ebooks Frustrate Kids
Reading over the study, however, one statement struck me as the most telling: “. . .students are even more frustrated with the ebook access and download process—and having to juggle multiple vendors, accounts, passwords, etc.—than are the librarians.”
Indeed! As an indie publisher of children’s books, I am frustrated with the messy ebook landscape, too. For the widest distribution, when I publish an ebook, I have to convert the files to pdf, epub, and Kindle. That doesn’t sound too bad, but it doesn’t stop there. Instead, I must check how the ebooks look on multiple devices. If I slip up and don’t get the formatting right for a customer’s device or app, I risk bad reviews, so this is crucial. However, for Kindle alone, that can be eight different devices and apps on 27 different devices, each with slightly different requirements. Add in the iBook, Kobo, Nook and other devices, along with their associated apps on multiple devices, and it becomes overwhelming.
School librarians also have to consider proprietary apps from different publishers or distributors. Some publishers, such as Arbordale, have created an proprietary app; when you subscribe, you have access to their entire catalog of materials. Follett, an educational book distributor, has it’s own proprietary distribution system that is browser based, rather than device dependent. Browser-based solutions are popular in schools because ebooks can be accessed from any browser on any device. In other words, book publishers and distributors are jockeying for position in the school library ebook market and there are no clear winners.
If a school library chooses several options for their ebook collection—let’s say Kindles and Follett—students have to learn multiple systems and maintain multiple passwords. No wonder kids don’t read on ebooks!
24% of school libraries loan out ebook readers; about 50% of schools have a one-to-one policy, which means that each student has his or her own tablet/device for at least part of a school day. eBooks are present in schools; however, students tend to use the ebooks for reading nonfiction related to their school assignments and tend to read fiction for pleasure in print formats.
Follow the ePub 3.0 Standard to Make eBooks Appealing to Kids
The way forward would seems clear to me: The International Digital Publishing Forum is “the global trade and standards organization dedicated to the development and promotion of electronic publishing and content consumption.” (http://idpf.org/about-us) The ePUB 3.0 standard was approved in May 2010 with some minor revisions since then.
Why are ebook devices still not following the ePUB 3.0 standards? Why aren’t ebooks easily interchangeable from device to device? When each manufacturer or publisher decides on modifications to the standards, it guts the standards and defeats the purpose of attempting to describe a standard ebook. But it also leaves the ebook landscape so complex and confusing that kids today are turning away from ebooks to something simpler.
If we want kids to move into the digital world with ease, ebook devices, tablets, and apps must comply with the standards – completely! If they don’t manage to do this, then ebooks will continue to lose ground to print books, whose technology IS standardized.