Monday 9 May 2011

Kids and Kindles by Elen Caldecott

The Kindle version of my books appeared one day on Amazon. This came as a surprise to me, as I didn't know that my publishers had decided to turn a contract clause into a real live ebook.
I write for 8-12 year-olds, so I was sceptical about the value of ebooks (please read the whole post before throwning the rotten tomatoes of technophobia at me!). I awaited my first post-Kindle royalty statement with interest. Would I be the next Amanda Hocking? Well. No. In April, my statement told me that paper copies outsold ebook copies by a pretty substantial ratio (8000:1 in case you're interested).

Gratuitous picture of my ebook
Paper, it seems, still rules the school.

So, is there any point in bothering to make ebooks for younger readers available? There's a huge product surge taking place right now, not just in publisher produced ebooks, but self-published new works, or authors giving their out-of-print books a new lease of life through the technology. Katherine Roberts has a particularly useful series of posts on how she went about doing just that.
Is this a bandwagon I should be on? Or should I stay on the fence and wave as it goes past like a northern Jenny Agutter?

I took a look at Amazon's Top 100 Paid children's ebooks last Sunday.
It was - almost - wall to wall vampire novels. My suspicion is that even though these books might be classed as children's books, they are in fact being downloaded and read by young adults, or, you know, adult adults. However, that 'almost' is interesting. There were some books in the Top 100 that really were kids books, though probably downloaded by adults as a result of seeing a film or play-tie in (Rosemary Sutcliff and Michael Morpurgo). But once you'd got past those, there were one or two books that made me pause. Lady in the Tower by our own Marie-Louise Jensen was there. Lily Alone by Jacqueline Wilson. The H.I.V.E. series. Were these books being bought by adults? It seemed unlikely to me. So, are some children buying ebooks?

Last year, I had a conversation with my agent about the value of children's ebooks. Her feeling was that it's only a matter of time before the market takes off. There were a few barriers she saw to their success. First, the ereaders. Who would give an iPad to a nine year old? Well, the iPad2 is now out. Anyone who upgrades might as well give their redundant iPad1 to their children. I certainly saw it happen with smart phones.
Gift-giving was another barrier, she suggested. Lots of books for 8-12s are bought by adults as gifts. You can't wrap an ebook. Will Amazon gift vouchers really do as a birthday present?
Then there's actually making the purchase. Once, my 10-year-old brother bought a camper-van on ebay using my dad's credit card. That was a dark day in the Caldecott household. And a valuable lesson in why my dad should keep his credit card hidden in the back of his wardrobe (yes, Dad, we know where it is...) But a PayPal system for children would overcome that difficulty. Are the children who have overcome these barriers buying H.I.V.E? Probably.

Many school libraries are moving away from printed books to ebooks and ereaders. Children who are in kindergarten now might well start High School with a tablet computer in the bag with no need for a new pencil case on the first day of term.

Right now, I feel that my royalty statement is right. Kids ebooks haven't come of age. Not yet. But it's only a matter of time. I best buy my ticket for that bandwagon!
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Keren David said...

Holiday time is when people will invest in ebooks for their kids - I've heard of people buying kids' kindles for the summer holidays.

Harry Seo said...
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frances thomas said...

What happened to the camper van?

Gill James said...
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Gill James said...

A factor in this must be the STILL very high price of Kindles. Children can't afford them. Parents are reluctant to spend so much on something that may be vulnerable in the hands of a child. Yet the evidence is that reluctant readers may read more if they had a Kindle.This is certainly happening amongst the IT literate 20+s who aren't good at organzing buying books, even via Amazon as they aren't good at recieivng post. (Not in during the day and in bed too late on a Sautrday to nip to the sorting office) It's so easy with a Kindle. You just download the next book. Avid readers are becoming even more avid. I think it will happen soon for the younger generation, actually.
Another factor for younger children has to be the lack of colour. That is a lack I'm having diffculty understanding.

Elen C said...

Keren - that's a good point, my agent said that Christmas presents might be a driving force, so that we'd see a rise in sales next Jan and the Jan beyond.

Frances - Hmmm. Many emails and a terrible ebay rating later, my dad was able to return it. Bad times...

Gill - I think colour ink is on its way, but to be honest, the kindle is limited. I think if it becomes an internet browser, or iPad3 uses eink so can be read outside, then we'll have the perfect reading temptation for everyone, not just reluctant readers.

frances thomas said...

My first Kindle is in the post even now. We've just about run out of book space, so I'm looking forward to reading books that don't have to find a place on a shelf afterwards. I'm also looking forward to catching up with some of my fellow childrens' authors. A mixture of reasons, and I guess it'll be the same with children. The lure of a real book - especially a picture book - will always be there. But nice for kids to keep a few downloaded books that they can read on long journeys or in waiting rooms.
Is your dad still talking to your brother?

Ms. Yingling said...

The one thing that has made me want to get a EReader for my school library is the availability of UK books without the enormous shipping costs. Still, my students prefer actual books, although there are a few who have their own EReaders. It will come eventually but widespread use will take some time.

madwippitt said...

This was interesting - I've found myself wondering the same thing myself, as I plod onwards with my own collection of short stories for kindling. But with or without a readership at the end, I'm finding it a wonderful way of working my way back into writing fiction again after a long break during which I've been writing non-fiction. Knowing that it WILL get published as an ebook is great incentive to keep at it.

Keren David said...

Of course teens are more likely to read books on a iPhone than a kindle, if they have one already

Farah Mendlesohn said...

I'm pretty sure that if e-readers had been around when I was a kid I would have saved and saved for one. I was a "super-reader", 16 books a week, minimum by the time I was about 9. Given the amount of free reading that can be downloaded I'd have been in hog heaven.

Elen C said...

Frances - yes, it was 10 years ago now!

Ms Yingling - I still prefer paper books myself too. i think lots of children will. But the convenience of ebooks is thei biggest attraction, I think.

Madwippitt - Yes, the technology has broadened the chances for things like short story collections. And it's only a matter of time, I believe, under this IS a readership. Just maybe not this year.

Keren - it's the multifunctionality that will make the system attractive to younger readers too, I think. So reading on tablets, phones, DS and other gaming systems. I want a Kindle. But I want one I can browse the internet and make phone calls on!

Katherine Roberts said...

Thank you for the mention, Elen! I do think at the moment it's mostly adults and older teens who buy e-books, but that is bound to change as Kindles become cheaper and trendier (i.e. colour).

I think the one big hurdle will be children not having the means to buy/download their own e-books - but adults can always buy for them in the same way they do from a shop at the moment, and download the titles straight to their child's Kindle.

I suggested to amazon (as part of my Kindle feedback) that they might provide some kind of credit facility for children and design a special children's store of "approved" titles where young readers can shop using this credit... I would have loved that as a child, a bit like being let loose in the library!

As for whether you should take any notice, have you tried reverting any of your out-of-print rights recently? Books that are not available in print will sell as e-books. Publishers know this, or why else are they hanging on to rights like grim death?

Elen C said...

Katherine - no worries about the mention, I really enjoyed reading your series!
I haven't any reverted rights to use, so it would be for original work that hasn't yet found a traditional home. It's an area I'll be watching closely, for sure.
And I love your idea about a child-friendly Amazon. It would be so easy to top up a child's account for birthdays or whatever and let them loose in a virtual bookshop.

Leila said...

This is really interesting, and yes - whither the children's ebook? I'll be very interested to find out!

Stroppy Author said...

You can easily enough set up credit for a child on Amazon or the iTunes store - people just need to be encouraged to do it. And kids can read Kindle books on their phones (not just iPhones) - again they simply need to know, and want to. Amazon is not promoted the knowledge that you can read Kindles without a Kindle, of course. Why would they?

Katherine Roberts said...
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