Monday, 26 September 2011

Do teenagers buy ebooks? by Nicola Morgan

Before I start: hello! This is my first post as a member of Authors Electric and very delighted I am to have been accepted into the group. Thanks to everyone.

In a few months, I'm releasing the ebook version of my very first teenage novel - Mondays are Red, which was originally published in 2002 and is now out of print. I'm doing it jointly with my ever-supportive and patient agent and the question we have is a rather basic one: do teenagers buy ebooks? I hope so!

Today and tomorrow, I'm going to be asking them. I'm speaking at the Appledore Festival in Devon, with a family event on Sunday and school events on Monday.

This won't be the first time I've asked teenagers this question but it's the first time the answer is going to be terribly important. Here's what I've learnt from the few (probably too few to be significant?) times in recent months that I have asked:
  • When I ask a mixed group whether they have ever read a book or part of an ebook, about a third say yes. (The others look at me blankly!)
  • When I ask those who have not done this whether they would in theory like to read an ebook, most say no. (And I'm guessing it's because they aren't interested in reading at all, whether paper or runes.)
  • Of those who have already, many (half?) have no objection to reading ebooks. They seem to divide fairly equally into those who still prefer physical books and those who prefer ebooks. 
  • And the keenest readers tend to have a passionate view about one form or the other.
  • But the interesting thing to me is that of those who like to read on screen, most (hugely most in the small samples I've taken) choose to read on their phones.
And THAT's what I find strange. It makes my eyes feel fizzy even thinking about it!

Some more questions I want to ask, though:
  • When it comes to buying books for their phones or Kindles or whatever, are they allowed to do this themselves or do they have to ask permission? (They'd need to have permission to use a parent's credit card account?)
  • How much is price an issue? (A lot, I'm guessing.)
  • And how fast is all this changing?
  • I'm also interested in whether the Kindle (or other device) is perceived as a desirable gadget among that age group.
There's something else interesting that I've learnt already. Over the last nine months, I've suddenly had several emails from schools who had been "teaching" Mondays are Red. (It's a book which lends itself to classroom activities and English teachers like it.) Their class sets all seem to have fallen to pieces at once and they have suddenly discovered that the book is out of print. Where can they find it, they are asking? So I've been able to say, "Ah, well, I'm bringing out the ebook soon - is that any use to you?"

"YES!" they are all saying, because increasingly schools are acquiring Kindles and other ebook readers. So, what I will do, to show goodwill and thank them for their enthusiasm, is offer a free pdf version of the text for use in their school. And, as long as they pledge only to use it in school or for school activities, then they can do what they want with it - make powerpoints, copy bits, anything. And I'll hope they (and their pupils?) will enjoy it enough to buy some copies of the ebook.

So, those of you who have already published YA ebooks, what do you think? Do teenagers buy books? 
And teenagers - do you?
Parents - how do you allow your teenagers to buy ebooks? Do they have free rein? Do they need to ask you?

I'm really interested! And I'll report back on my findings from sunny Appledore.


Dan Holloway said...

Welcome on board, Nicola!

I'm not surprised by the preference for phones. I think there's been a sense for a couple of years that phones were the natural home for ebooks and that ereaders were transitional objects, and the success of the Kindle has surprised people. I have a feeling ereaders will struggles to catch on in a big way outside of the 30+ demographic, because they're in direct competition with smartphones. In terms of what we as authors need to deliver I don't think it makes a difference, but in terms of distribution channels it may. I still wait for the fully fledged text novel to take off in the UK the way it has in Japan, because that offers authors a genuinely exciting new format to get our heads around.

I think the make-up of the UK Kindle charts suggests there's still a way to go for YA authors although the picture seems to be rosier in the US

Karen said...

Welcome, Nicola, a good post with an interesting question. I've just finished writing my first YA book so would be interested in feedback from your questions at the Appledore festival. Do blog about it!


Diana Kimpton said...

My eleven year old granddaughter is desperate for a Kindle because all her friends have one. That's probably an exaggeration but Staples are selling them now and had them in their back-to-school selection.

Last Christmas was the tipping point with Kindles for adults. Now the adults that were given them are giving them to other people including their children and I'm guessing that this Christmas could be the tipping point for e-books for children and teenagers.

Katherine Roberts said...

Nicola, it'll be very interesting to know what answers you get.

My feeling at the moment is that my younger fans are not buying my e-books... some want to, but can't because of practical considerations such as no Kindle downloads in their country, no money of their own, or no easy way of puchasing them with cash/pocket money. I think most of the e-book sales I've made so far are to adults... which is interesting in itself because my publishers never even considered that I might have an adult readership.

When I do the runes, they always say "patience - the time is not quite right". But e-readers in schools will come, I am sure of it.

dirtywhitecandy said...

What an interesting question, Nicola - I'd never thought to consider it. But it has to be the way forward - much better than lugging armfuls of books everywhere. As most of the schoolkids I know have laptops, aren't they more likely to read on those?

Susan Price said...

Nicola, I for one, couldn't be more pleased that you've joined us!
Roz, I think a kindle beats a laptop because it's smaller, lighter and neater; doesn't have a load of other stuff to distract you from your book, and isn't back-lit. I could read on my laptop, but I don't.
Not to be outdone by Kath, I cast the runes, and Odin sez: Fruitful Harvest, Sun and Native Land. Which I interprete as meaning something like: there is a rich harvest to be gathered by those who undertake the risks of the journey and help each other. Believe it if you like...

Travis Smith said...

The younger teens that I have been around all seem to be interested in e-formats as a whole, but I don't see many with a dedicated e-reader. It is always either on their phones, i-Pads/tablets, or netbook/laptops.

I suspect that for teens that the kindle, Nook or other readers will not be as common as reading e-books on devices that have other uses as well.

Debbie said...

I've just given a copy of my YA novel to the 15 year old daughter of a friend - she "borrows" her dad's kindle. Personally I think ebooks will take off with teenagers/kids more on tablets than kindle - they're far more multi-purpose and my own 15 year old is permanently welded to facebook, so she'd be far more likely to read on something that has duel purpose - roll on amazon's next kindle offering!

Debbie said...

Dual purpose, not duel of course. Although I'm sure a kindle would make a good weapon.

Elen C said...

I've read a couple of ebooks on my phone now, it's much nicer than on a laptop because you can snuggle in bed with it. The screen size isn't too bad, really. It's not knowing how far I am from the end of the chapter that always gets me, though!

Joan Lennon said...

Looking forward to hearing what you find out in Appledore!

Enid Richemont said...

Nicola - such a thought-provoking post. My sales, so far, have been dismal, in spite of the fact that the books I've re-published have been very well reviewed. I re-tweeted Appledore because it sounded so lively and interesting. I look forward to reading your comments, both here and on Balaclava.

Linda Newbery said...

Hi, Nicola, and welcome - and thanks for asking such important questions! Er - I have to admit that I don't yet possess a Kindle! I'm planning to get one soon, though, as soon as the prices come down after the launch of the new whatever-it-is. I don't want bells and whistles - just want to read books on it!

Anonymous said...

Teenagers do not, for the most part, buy ebooks; it requires access to a credit card or paypal account, *and* it's outright forbidden by many ebook stores' TOU, which require people be old enough to enter a legal contract.

Kids can't easily make online purchases of any sort. They can sometimes used gift certificates and gift credit cards, but there's no simple, easy way for them to turn their allowance or birthday money into online money on a regular basis. (There are exceptions--kids whose parents set them up with a monitored paypal account, emancipated minors, and so on. They're a very tiny group.)

Teens who want to buy ebooks have to get (1) permission to have digital money and (2) permission to shop at that particular ebook store; that's two barriers against casual purchases. Price is a third... with mainstream publishers wanting $13 or so for popular titles, most teens will borrow from a library or wait for the paperback to make the rounds among their friends rather than get the ebook--that they can't even lend to their friends when they're done.

The lack of access to ebooks for young readers is a growing problem, and is likely to be one of the big stumbling blocks for the future of publishing. Kids who can't buy ebooks now aren't going to suddenly start when they turn 18.

Katherine Roberts said...

That's exactly what I sensed, elf... it does seem that those of us who write genuine children's fiction are still better off publishing in paper formats, though "crossover" YA books that have an adult readership ought to do quite well as e-books.

But maybe in future some enterprising e-bookshop will make things much easier for kids to buy and download? As for price, my independent kids e-books are at most £2... and that's affordable, I think.

Nicola Morgan said...

elf - I agree with some of what you say. However, one thing I don't agree with is "Kids who can't buy ebooks now aren't going to suddenly start when they turn 18." Why not? After all, we've all started buying ebooks? People change habits very quickly when they want to or there's a good reason.

Re them accessing accounts - yes, this requires some commitment and trust but it's not insurmountable. I've spoken to a number of teenagers who have no rpobelm doing this, and the great thing is that they are often evangelical about it.

SO, what did I discover in Devon?? Well, again, these are small samples, but I did find a huge majority of pupils who were very positive about the idea of ebooks and who either have read them or want to. They also do seem to read on their phones but would prefer to read on something bigger.

My impression is that keen readers will want Kindles/readers, but to make less keen readers read ebooks they will prefer to use a device which is not ONLY for reading.

I also think that this Christmas MANY teenagers will get Kindles. We have to be around to make the most of that.

But I believe we must be very careful and keen to continue to support physical books and, especially, bookshops and libraries. I believe that without them the underpinning of what we do and the creation of readers will be damaged, to everyone's detriment.

Linda - I haven't got a Kindle either. It's not a crime!