Digital Future for Picture Books

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Photo credit to goXunuReviews.

The Shatzkin Files is one of my go-to blogs for information on e-books.  I appreciate that his point of view is not one of librarians, but instead looks with from the point of view of someone in the publishing industry. 

A recent article on his blog talks about the challenges of bringing highly illustrated and children’s books to e-books.  This is something I have also been wondering about.  I see business books, adult fiction, and even teen fiction working well on e-books, but it seems that picture books are being transformed into apps rather than e-books. 

The layout itself is a challenge because with e-books the size of the text changes to match the settings on the device.  Add illustrations that that becomes immensely more complicated to manage.

Here is one of Shatzkin’s paragraphs that speaks to children’s books, but the entire article is definitely worth reading, especially if you are a librarian trying to figure out how e-books are changing things:

I have been asking publishers about sales of their children’s and illustrated trade material. I haven’t found anybody yet that says they’re going well. On the children’s side, where there have been pockets of success, the one Big Six digital executive who expressed an opinion to me felt that price was killing sales for the ebook versions of successful franchises. Children’s apps from such distributors as Touchy Books are priced quite low, generally $2.99 and less. But many branded titles like Eloise are $9.99 and $12.99 and up! This executive points out that paying that price for a novel you will spend many hours with is much less painful than paying it for a children’s book your kid will work through in 15 minutes or less.

8 thoughts on “Digital Future for Picture Books

  1. I have a color Nook, and my kids LOVE the read aloud function on the picture books and easy readers we have on the Nook. I love the idea of how creative and interactive books can become on a touch screen reader. I think it is only time before publishers figure out how to make this all work. I feel as though publishers have been coming at the e-book phenomenon from a place of fear. I’m so interested to see how thing shake out!

    Nice, thoughtful post!

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  2. I too am wondering about the future of children’s illustrated books. I wrote a very personal review of the Barnes and Noble Nook on my blog, based on trying it out with my 6 year old daughter. She read a picture book and enjoyed the voice reading it as she turned the pages, but when I asked her if it was more like watching a movie or reading a book, she said “like watching a movie.” This does not speak to the sales side of the issue. But it seems to me that parents who travel a lot will use this feature with their kids. But nothing will replace the connection children feel when they are read to by a real live human being. Of course, one can disable the voice and simply read from the ereader yourself to the child in question. Still, as a writer and illustrator, I would agree that the illustrations are no where near as vivid or immediate when shown electronically.

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  3. It’s weird to hear it’s catching on with picture books. It just doesn’t seem right. I’m trying to be less critical about e-books but I would never read a picture book on a kindle or anything like that.

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  4. I’m surprised at the number of teachers in our school who will hand their iPhone or an iPad to their one year old to look at! The kids will tap through a book, but I can’t imagine doing that with my children (okay, they’re almost 20). They would have slobbered on the device and then dropped it, going by what they did with cloth and paper books. Maybe e picture books will catch on.

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  5. I think picture books should remain paper and cloth. When my kids were little and reading books to themselves in bed a night, they rolled over and fell asleep when tired. If they’re reading on an electronic device, the backlight keeps the brain stimulated and kids won’t get sleepy.

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  6. My NOOK is black and white, and illustrations look terrible. I’ve accidentally checked out a few picture books from my library (they have great digital resources) and they’ve been pretty much unreadable.

    I really think digital picture books are not a great value, especially for a library. But I’ve seen some great stuff on iPads and other tablets that do look worthwhile.

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  7. I just recently self-published an illustrated children’s book on the iBookstore and iTunes called The Soggy Dime. Because the platform for e-books was intended to allow the reader to manage text size, as you note in your blog, it was not really conducive to books that required a fixed relationship between the text and graphics. I found a digital graphics company which was able to convert my book into an Epub file, and my impression is that iTunes and the other distributors are making this easier for fixed text books, so I expect to see more illustrated ebooks soon. My book is priced at $4.99 (it is 80 pages), and it is too early to tell whether that is too high or too low as it has only been online for a few days. On a different note, as a self-publisher, the ebook option makes so much sense from a cost standpoint. For that reason, my book is available only in that format, at least currently. It also allows me to do more with color, which is very helpful for a children’s book. (If the title of my book, The Soggy Dime, sounds like nonsense, it is. The philosophy of the Dr. Suess quote above, about nonsense waking up brain cells, is what motivated my book. It is directed at kids between the ages of 8-16.)

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  8. This is a very interesting topic! Back in October, I attended a talk by Stacey Williams-Ng on exactly this issue — the advantages/disadvantages of transferring children’s picture books to e-format (here is a link to her PowerPoint presentation. She includes a bibliography at the end, with links to other sites that discuss e-publishing)

    In general, her view was that electronic versions of picture books need to be interactive rather than just turn-the-page-style. The latter, in her view, is better for text-heavy books.

    One interesting point she made: when she let a group of first-graders try out an early version of her Astrojammies book app, to see what features they liked/disliked, she noticed that they felt let down if only some of the images on a page could be activated. I.e., let’s say there’s a page with a bunch of planets, and a few of the planets move or make sounds when the child touches them. Well, the child then expects ALL of the objects on the page to do something when touched.

    I still haven’t gone the e-reader route myself — I like having a paper book in my hands. Plus, it’s easier on my eyes, and I don’t get a headache from staring too long at a computer screen. Then again, the newer models are boasting more eye-friendly screens. And then there’s the varying environmental impacts (how much energy does it take to make a Kindle and keep it running, vs. the energy and trees needed to make paper books?) . . .

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