Gadgets trump reading, Bookseller Conference hears

Gadgets trump reading, Bookseller Conference hears

The number of children who rarely read—or do not read at all—has risen in the past year, according to new figures from Nielsen Book revealed at The Bookseller's Children's Conference today (26th September).

"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.

The research shows that children's reading is being affected by alternative activities, such as playing games, watching videos on websites like YouTube, and texting. During the past year, children's access to tablets more than doubled over the previous year. The devices are being used for a range of activities, but reading is considered one of its least important uses. Only 20% of children use tablets for reading e-books, while 6% use them to read magazines and comics. Jo Henry, director at Nielsen Book (pictured), said: "This dramatic drop in engagement with reading (seen in the context of an 8% drop in the number of books bought for those aged under 17) in the first half of 2013 will give pause for thought for anyone involved in children's publishing, particularly at the older end of the market, which has seen the greatest decline."

The study was carried out during June 2013 using an online questionnaire which repeated a series of questions from last year's study, as well as including new questions on the topics of devices, apps and book discovery. Hundreds of children across several age brackets were questioned, with parents answering on their behalf, while children aged between 14 and 17 answered for themselves.

Despite the rise in the numbers of children who do not read regularly, the proportion of children reading digitally has risen among some age groups. Between 25%–33% of children overall have read books digitally, while a significant proportion of 14 to 17-year-olds report that they only read books in digital form. The same age group recorded the biggest year-on-year increase in those who had read e-books or book apps at all, and this is the only age group that prefers dedicated e-readers to tablet devices.

The figures also show that while there is a decrease in the amount of reading that children are doing, there is no sign that overall attitudes to reading are becoming more negative.

Henry said: "The challenge for publishers is to find fresh, compelling content to compete with the activities—principally gaming and communication with their peers—that are increasingly now attracting the interest of children in these age bands."