If You give a Teen an eBook Reader..

From Cindy Orr, in her monthly blog post, shares thoughts on engaging teens with eReaders.

In a post about a year ago, I suggested that reading devices may be one of the few new technologies that trickle down from an older generation to a younger one, though I wondered if different devices would appeal to different ages. (Perhaps dedicated reading devices would appeal to older consumers, and newer, more versatile devices like the Apple iPad might catch on with younger ones.) So what happened? Where are we now, a year later? It’s looking like that trickle down is happening.

Gifts.com recommended eReaders as great gifts for teens last year, and of course the 2010 holiday season saw incredible growth in sales of reading devices and eBooks. This year we’re beginning to get some data on bestselling eBook titles, and some interesting patterns have emerged. One thing that has become evident is that titles aimed at teens are selling extremely well. Books such as Justin Bieber’s autobiography, I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series, and the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer have been near the top of the most downloaded lists for OverDrive.

The New York Times began listing eBook bestsellers last week, but their lists so far cover only fiction and nonfiction for adults. They plan to include eBooks for “children” in the future. USA Today, however, publishes a list of the top selling 150 titles ranked by sales regardless of format, genre, or age level, which means that you can really see how titles are selling. USA Today has been covering Kindle sales since July, 2009, but this month, for the first time, the list began including eBook sales from Barnes & Noble and Sony as well. The results are fascinating for several reasons, but let’s just look at youth books for now.

Among the Top 150 are titles in the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Kristin Cast’s vampire books, and books by self-published author Amanda Hocking, who also writes about vampires. Seven of the top 25 bestselling eBooks this week are books for youth. And 19% of the Top 150 are youth titles, even when you don’t count those aimed at younger children. These figures are even more impressive when you remember that “youth” in the book world covers a very few years in a person’s life, unlike “adult,” which spans decades. And don’t forget that many teens read adult books as well.

Another source of information became available when Bowker’s Kelly Gallagher presented results of a BISG/Bowker poll at the recent Digital Book World conference. This poll asserts that only 5-6% of the YA market is reading eBooks. Hmm, if that’s the case, then that 5 or 6% must be reading a lot of books. Of course, some adult readers cheerfully admit to enjoying youth fiction, so this may affect sales numbers.

A Pew research poll result draws the conclusion that it’s Baby Boomers buying reading devices, not young people. Their poll says that 18 to 34-year-olds own only 5% of eReaders. It’s impossible to draw final conclusions for the youth cohort from these numbers, since they do not include figures for anyone under age 18, but even so, the top cohort, people in their 40s, owned only 7%—not that much more than 5%.

Cost is always a factor for young people, who may not have much cash, but prices for eReaders are dropping, and schools and parents may help teens and children acquire readers in the future. Sales numbers should increase as schools begin folding reading devices into programs such as a project recently described in the American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services division’s blog. In addition, some schools are trying to solve the problem of excessively heavy book bags by delivering textbooks via eReaders. Another thing that might increase sales is that some parents may like the idea of giving their kid a device that does only one thing…deliver books. That way they’ll know that their child is really reading, and not surfing the Web or playing a game. And some parents may pass down their old readers as they upgrade to newer versions. All in all, indicators seem to point to increasing sales of devices that can be used by youth to read eBooks.

Dedicated devices are not the whole story, of course, since teens can read eBooks on their computers or phones as well, but the New York Times featured a very interesting story recently, with anecdotal evidence that teens and children are taking to eReaders. The article also reports some eye opening statistics. In 2010, young adult books made up 6% of the total digital sales for St. Martin’s Press. So far in 2011, it’s 20%. An executive at Simon and Schuster said that some of their digital titles for young people nearly doubled their sales after Christmas. His take? “Boy, a lot of kids got e-readers for Christmas.”

So, my conclusion: want kids to read more? Buy a reading device, load it up with popular titles, let them show their friends how cool they are, and maybe they’ll take to reading. Oh…and some of the devices are backlit…just the thing for reading under the covers when you’re supposed to be sleeping.


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