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E-reading generation emerging

Alan Wallace
| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

A new “snapshot” of the habits that today's young readers — tomorrow's book-buyers — are forming under their parents' watch offers hints about what and how they'll read as adults, and how the books business can prepare to capitalize.

The “snapshot” is the latest edition of a survey that's been done for children's-book publisher Scholastic Inc. every other year since 2006. This time, nearly 1,100 children and their parents — about 2,150 respondents total — took part.

As The Associated Press reported, the survey found 46 percent of respondents ages 6 to 17 had read an e-book in 2012 — a figure up sharply from 2010's 25 percent. Yet 80 percent of young e-book readers said they still read print books.

Writing at The New York Times' Media Decoder blog, David Maxwell went deeper into the survey findings and added perspective from Scholastic, reporting that the sharp rise in kids' e-book reading “is not necessarily translating into a greater desire to read.”

While e-book reading soared overall, the portion of girls reporting they're frequent readers fell to 36 percent, down from 42 percent two years earlier. Francine Alexander, Scholastic's chief academic officer, told Maxwell that dip in girls' reading is related to how kids are reading e-books.

Just like readers as a whole, kids increasingly read e-books on tablet computers rather than on dedicated e-reading devices. That means additional distractions from reading — the web, social media, online games — not accessible via dedicated e-readers, and Alexander told Maxwell that girls using tablets “were social networking more.”

If there's a silver lining to that gender disparity, it's that it runs counter to the longtime trend of boys' reading lagging behind girls'.

Other survey findings are encouraging in terms of youngsters' overall reading: About a fourth of boys who'd read an e-book reported reading more books for fun, and half of respondents ages 9 to 17 said greater access to e-books would lead them to read more books for fun.

And echoing an observation frequently made by and about adults, the survey found that kids especially like e-books when they want “to be secretive about reading,” as Maxwell put it.

But kids are still kids: Most taking the survey still like print books for bedtime reading.

When it comes to reading, today's kids — who've grown up with and take for granted computers, the Internet and smartphones — probably are more likely than today's adults to think of e-books, not print books, first. As they become adults, and an ever bigger segment of book-buyers, that difference in background will have ever bigger importance for the industry, which must position itself to take advantage of their greater propensity to choose e-books.

Winning at war & at table

Two new books offer takes on the Allies' World War II victory and one of its chief architects that differ from most:

“Dinner with Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table” by Cita Stelzer (Pegasus) — A Hudson Institute research associate who's on the Churchill Centre's board explores how Great Britain's wartime prime minister — who loved food, champagne and charming guests — used dining to exercise his conversational talent, gather useful gossip and diplomatic tidbits, and argue for his policies in settings ranging from ostensibly social occasions to his critical conferences with FDR and Stalin. The publisher says the book “draws on previously untapped material, diaries of guests, and a wide variety of other sources ... .”

“Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned The Tide in the Second World War” by Paul Kennedy (Random House, available Jan. 29) — A prize-winning author who's been Yale University's Dilworth professor of history since 1983 offers what the publisher calls “a fascinating nuts-and-bolts account” of how “ordinary soldiers, scientists, engineers and businessmen” realized “their commanders' visions of success.” The book includes behind-the-scenes accounts of the development and use of a miniature radar unit, a multiheaded grenade launcher, the P-51 Mustang, pontoon bridges and the B-29 Superfortress and how such massive actions as the Normandy invasion were coordinated.

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or

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