Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
After reading books to her son on her iPad, a friend of mine became so dismayed by her toddler’s absorbed trance and alarming affinity for the touch screen that she marched to the library in technology defiance. She picked up a “good old-fashioned library card,” kept her iPad use to a minimum, and now encourages her son to read real books. “It creeped me out how obsessed he was getting with my iPad,” she said, shuddering. “What if he never learns to read a real book?”
For generations to come, it’s quite possible. The children’s and YA ebook market is growing faster than ever with sales up nearly 300 percent, according to the AAP. Last week Toys“R”Us introduced their very own kid-friendly tablet, Tabeo, to be released October 21. The seven-inch Android tablet priced at $150 is Wi-Fi enabled, fitted with a drop-safe bumper, pre-loaded with 50 apps, and here’s the kicker: You can only get it at Toys“R”Us. According to analyst James McQuivey of Forrester Research, their approach is a gamble:
“This is a much more challenging thing than selling a few books on a Nook tablet,” McQuivey said. “You don’t really think of one particular brand as being the source of toys the way you think of, say, a Barnes & Noble being your source for books.”
Their announcement also landed awfully close to the unveiling of Amazon’s revamped Kindle offerings as well as Kobo’s new tablet, and may even be sandwiched by a [rumored] iPad mini announcement. With the Kindle Fire and Galaxy Nexus 7 selling for $200, Toys“R”Us’s $150 kids’ tablet isn’t far from their price point. Tabeo does have built-in parental controls, but so do their direct competitors: the Meep and Kurio tablets are also seven-inch Android tablets, sport similar features, and cost around $150.
Aside from myriad devices parents can choose from, there are also deep-rooted, personal attitudes towards teaching children to read from ebooks in the first place. Ebook-averse parents, like my friend, prefer to push physical books while gadget-loving parents will have no problem transferring their habits (and money for devices) onto their children. This summer I often saw families on vacation, the children buried in iPads reading, while their parents sipped cocktails undisturbed by the bar. By no means are all parents eschewing these attention-absorbing devices.
Though my next of kin at the moment has four legs and not two, I’m not sure how I’ll handle what devices, if any, I’ll stick in my children’s hands. I’ll want to flip through Matilda and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, cracking open the old spine of my beloved children’s books to read to my child. But will I *gasp* end up reading from Roald Dahl’s newly released e-book collection, transferring my nostalgia digitally?
In the end, whether you like it or not, children’s ebooks are here to stay. The issue will remain: Kids’ sticky fingers can rip pages out of precious, glossy books, but they can also spit up on your brand new $500 iPad. Will this drive parents to cheaper options like Tabeo? Do we even want them to?