Tips, news, and services for e-book authors and indie publishers

Another survey says kids who only read ebooks are poor readers. Is the correlation real?

by BB

The UK's National Literacy Trust in a recent report concludes that kids who ebooks read more poorly than those who read paper books. News outlets pick up this news with ensuing public relations buzzing that ebooks are bad for kids. "E-books affect children’s reading level, research says" is the headline of the an article survey with a headline 

To this I say, "Sigh! Not again." And I ask, "Where is the proof?"

The results of a survey are published by The National Literacy Trust and summarized in a May 16, 2013 article entitled, "Children’s on-screen reading overtakes reading in print." Among the results the summary article states:

The research examines the influence of this technology on children’s reading abilities and their enjoyment of reading. It found those who read daily only on-screen are nearly twice less likely to be above average readers than those who read daily in print or in print and on-screen (15.5% vs 26%). Those who read only on-screen are also three times less likely to enjoy reading very much (12% vs 51%) and a third less likely to have a favourite book (59% vs 77%).

The report also states (emphasis mine):

For the first time children are reading more on computers and other electronic devices than they are reading books, magazines, newspapers and comics. This is potentially detrimental to children’s reading levels as those who read daily only on-screen are much less likely to be good readers than those who read in print. We are calling for a healthier reading balance using both books and technological devices.

This article states, as if it's a fact, that e-books are "detrimental" to children's reading levels. Ouch!

But let's look at the facts here. The survey says high reading levels are correlated to reading both books and e-books. That makes intuitive sense. Kids who read a lot read everything, everywhere, all the time. They read cereal boxes, newspapers on the coffee table, magazines left in waiting rooms, their parents' junk mail... kids who like to read, read from a lot of sources. They read more, this causes them to get more proficient at reading, they read a little more... low and behold they perform better on reading tests at school. 

None of that shows that digital books "cause" lower reading levels. There's no correlation there at all. Kids who are not "above average readers" may read more e-books than print books. This does not prove, however, that e-readers have any causal relationship with lower reading levels. That is, just because only "above average" readers read books in both media, that doesn't mean that those who read digitally are being damaged by digital books. 

This kind of news reporting is fully biased against digital books, it's factually inaccurate, and it really needs to stop.

One of the main reasons this unproven denigration of digital readers needs to stop is that it districts from the really amazing and positive facts revealed in the research. The rest of the report shows these wonderful insights that can lead to great progress for children's education. Here is some of the rest of information from the article:

Our new research with 34,910 young people aged eight to 16 reveals:

  • 39% of children and young people read daily using electronic devices including tablets and eReaders, but  only 28% read printed materials daily. The number of children reading eBooks has doubled in the last two years (from 6% to 12%).
  • Children say they prefer to read on screen. Over half (52%) said they would rather read on electronic devices but only a third (32%) would rather read in print.
  • Nearly all children have access to a computer at home and 4 out of 10 now own a tablet or a smartphone, while 3 in 10 do not have a desk of their own.
  • Girls are significantly more likely than boys to read in print (68% vs 54%)
  • Girls are also more likely to read on a range of on-screen devices including mobile phones (67% girls vs. 60% boys), eReaders (84% girls vs. 69% boys), and tablets (70% girls vs. 67% boys).

Here are some very valuable insights that are being missed because of the "digital reading scare" that's falsely extrapolated from this data.

a) Kids love e-books. Anything kids love, they will do more. 

b) E-books are not just for the wealthy. We are now approaching a point where "nearly all" kids have access to digital literature. 

c) Boys, who historically spend less time reading paper books than girls, prefer e-books to paper books. Maybe this will show a trend towards higher reading for boys?

Let's keep doing research on the new phenomenon of ebooks. We need to know how this new technology is affecting kids. But let's report the results in an unbiased and fair way. 

Posted by BB on June 10, 2013 in School and Library tips