The New Nook
Barnes & Noble just launched a new Nook ereader that is about the size and shape of a small paperback book and costs $139 - a few dollars more than the cheapest Amazon Kindle. Books are still about $9.99 each and month after month almost every ebook seller is reporting a massive uptick in sales. In fact, Amazon said that they're selling more bits than paperbacks and hardbacks combined. Ebooks - books that you read on screens, e-ink devices like the Kindle, or tablets like the iPad - are here to stay.
I'm a big book lover. I have a wall of shelves featuring titles that I've collected over the past 30 years or so including plenty of kids books I've kept for my son and daughter to discover as they grow up, just as my dad did when I was kid.
But I think all that's changing, and it makes me kind of sad.
I grew up in a house full of books - my dad bought them in bulk from library sales and just put them up on a shelf for me to find - and I want them to grow up in the same kind of house.
As new reading devices come down the pike, I worry that the era of the book as we know it is over. And, more important, I worry that our kids will soon lose board books in the inexorable march toward a digital ebook future. In fact, it's not so much a worry as much as a sense of resignation and acceptance and I think we, as parents, need to be ready for the day when our kids kids will be reading Goodnight, Moon on an iPad.
Children's books are already available on many platforms including the Nook and the Kindle. One company, Magicblox offers hundreds of interactive children's books on iPads and laptops. You pay a flat fee and can read as many as you want, ensuring the kids don't have to hear the same story five nights in a row (unless they want you to.) Think of it as the Netflix for the Everyone Poops set.
Many of these new books feature interactive elements like animations as well as "read-to-me" features. One $3.99 app called Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime, which I reviewed a few months ago with a bit of trepidation, lets a distant dad or mom read to his or her little one from afar. It seems like a wild intrusion of technology into one of the most sacred places in the home and, sadly, it also seems to be the direction children's books are headed, whether we parents like it or not.
I think we're nearly at the point where the average infant will not open a single book after their tenth birthday. Ebooks are here to stay and, as we all know, iPads aren't nearly as indestructible as a copy of the Hungry Caterpillar. However, with new technologies and improved ereaders, these devices will become as ubiquitous as a hardback on the bedstand.
So when it comes to the slow move towards ebooks for children, I don't like it but I know it's inevitable. I think kids will become as familiar with ereaders as we currently are with MP3 players. As much as I love the crackle and hiss of a vinyl record starting its mad spin on a dusty old turntable, I wouldn't give up my iPod. I think - I fear - that the same will soon be said of a dog-eared copy of The Hobbit that I saved from a yard sale one long and langourous summer a twenty-five years ago and that now sits, waiting, for eyes that may never read it.