The Real Figures Behind Alarmist UK Children’s Reading Reports
October 4, 2013 | 12:51 pm
The Bookseller has just reported, in the context of its The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference currently taking place in London, some alarming figures on the reading habits – or lack of them – of children in the UK. According to The Bookseller, “‘Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age’, Nielsen Book’s latest research project, has found a significant fall in the number of children who read or are read to on a weekly basis, with the proportion of occasional and non-readers among children aged under 17 now at 28%, rising from 20% in 2012.” And the Nielsen Book report, based on research conducted in June 2013 through an online questionnaire surveying “hundreds of children across several age brackets,” pins the blame squarely on competition from other devices and forms of entertainment, especially tablets. “Only 20% of children use tablets for reading e-books,” warned Nielsen.
As it happens, the UK Nielsen Books report is confusingly titled the same as an ongoing series of reports from Bowker Market Research, “Understanding the US Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age.” As delivered at the Australian Publishers’ Click on Kids Conference in Sydney early in August, and available in full online, the Bowker presentation shows a rather less alarming picture of reading habits – drawn from interviews with 36,000 buyers representing 90,000 book purchases per year in the UK, and with 72,000 buyers representing around 150,000 book purchases per year in the U.S. The Bowker survey also has participation from major publishing houses, including Disney, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Sesame Street.
The Bowker survey’s baseline findings were that the children’s book market is very stable; changes are incremental, not exponential; and that kids are omnivorous media consumers. As of January-February 2013, the survey showed a 12 percent increase in ebook purchase of children’s books, and an 8 percent slide in hardcover purchases, but even though this is the highest share for ebooks since early 2011 at 23 percent overall, it looks like gradual change more than any need for crisis talk. For one thing, the importance placed on print books has remained fairly constant since 2011, and other media, with the single exception of mobile apps, have all declined. And the proportion of parents who prefer their kids to read in print has remained pretty constant too, at almost 70 percent.
I haven’t been able to find the Nielsen Book report online, although it’s flagged in Nielsen Book’s own press release on the topic as available for purchase. But in the circumstances, I’d be inclined to take its headline conclusions with a grain of salt.