Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Do non-interactive books do a better job of encouraging literacy than interactive books?

A recent study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center seems to indicate that they do. The study found that when parents and children read together, children recall significantly more details when reading print books or regular, non-enhanced ebooks than they do when reading interactive ebooks. In addition, children engage with the content more when reading non-interactive books, with actions such as pointing and talking about the story.

So what does this mean? Are interactive books a dead end? I personally don't think so. We live in an era of options, and while all those options sometimes make it difficult to choose, in the long run this is a good thing, because there is no one right option for everyone and every situation. There are many ways to read and many ways to publish, and we can pick and choose as the situation requires. The key, as with everything, is balance.

For Parents

The old advice is still the best: read to your child early and often. We started reading to our son the day we brought him home from the hospital, and read to him almost every day after that until he was a teen. Even then, we sometimes read books together as a family, taking turns reading. We spent a glorious weekend reading the last Harry Potter book together the weekend it was released. I don't think it's unrelated that, at age 16, my son just finished his first year of college, living in the dorm, earning excellent grades and fitting in well with the other students. Reading to him was certainly not solely responsible--he's his own person and in large measure responsible for his own success--but it certainly helped.

But interactive books have their place as well. They may not be as good at developing traditional literacy skills, but computer literacy skills are just as important in today's world, and interactive books do help with those. In addition, the study also showed that interactive books have a lot of appeal for children, and can help encourage an interest in books, especially for reluctant readers. And in some cases, interactive eBooks can teach things that are difficult to teach using traditional books, or provide additional experiences and information about a particular topic. So the key, as it always has been, is in providing a variety of experiences for your child: books, ebooks, apps, not to mention "real life" experiences.

For Publishers, Self-Publishers, App Developers, and Authors

Parents will need books in a variety of formats, which is good news for everyone involved in creating books for children. Publishers can choose to provide their content in a variety of formats, or focus on just one or two. Print, Kindle, ePub, iOS, Android, computer: it's all good and all will be needed. Publishers need to keep aware of the changes in the industry and be prepared to act accordingly. Read industry newsletters and learn as much as you can about the different options, so you can make appropriate choices. Print is not dead, and I don't believe it will go away any time soon, but there's no denying that print markets are shrinking, so publishers need to think carefully about what formats to publish in, and run the numbers to see what makes sense and what will be profitable.

Some projects will be ideally suited to interactive ebooks, others will be a good fit with print and traditional ebooks, while still others will make sense to do in both formats. Any absolute statements about what publishers "must" be doing should be viewed with caution and evaluated carefully. There is no one right solution, and thank goodness we live in an exciting time of options.

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