Story Time With Kobo

“Come on Eva, let’s go have story time.”

I scoop up my daughter and take into her room. We settle into the big pink rocking chair and get comfortable. I tuck a pillow behind my back and pull Eva’s favorite blanket around us both. She snuggles close and I pull out my iPad.

Wait, what?

I know. It’s 2013, I should get with the times. Don’t get me wrong, I have read many a book on a portable reading device. While in Japan, I devoured Terry Goodwin’s Sword of Truth series on my iPhone during endless commutes by train. I used to spend most of my time lugging around textbooks and teaching materials and the last thing I wanted was to carry around another book to read on the train. Having ebooks on my iPhone was a Godsend. I am all about the portability and variety eBooks afford the reader.

So why can’t I get into eReading with my daughter?

This year, Kobo launched a campaign around Mother’s Day to encourage parents to read with their kids using eReaders. The company also published some very interesting articles on their website about children’s literature. There were a lot of stats demonstrating that, while eBooks for kids is a growing market, print books are still the preferred format for most parents.

Whew! I’m glad I’m not alone. So what is it about kid’s eBooks that is lacking? For one thing, it turns out many people felt that so-called enhancements were unnecessary. Studies done by the non-profit Joan Ganz Cooney Center showed enhancements were even detrimental to reading comprehension and retention. I personally find having to click and slide and search for enhanced features on the pages is distracting and takes away from the narrative. It’s also annoying that every time my daughter inadvertently touches the screen the page shifts or changes. With a print book she can gleefully point to things on the page without a care.

Another factor that resonated with me was the fact that for many parents, the books they choose for their children are largely nostalgic. Sharing my original childhood copy of The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats has been one of the best moments as a parent for me. Reading my brothers copy of The Giving Tree by Shell Silverstein – complete with my brothers scribbled attempts to color the illustrations – brought back so many happy memories. As she gets older I look forward to sharing my weathered copies of the Little House on The Prairies series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Maybe the next generation of parents will delight in tapping the turn page button, or discovering the pop-up features on their old iPads or Kobos while they cuddle with their little ones during story time. I have no doubt next generation of reading devices will only continue to adapt and lend itself to the genre of children’s books. It will be interesting to continue to watch how things develop. For now, for me at least, story time with Eva requires no other enhancement than a big, beautifully illustrated book.

From Canada With Love

For many years I worked as a teacher in Japan. Arriving in 2003, I knew almost nothing about Japanese culture. In truth, when I was hired by a small school in Shizuoka prefecture, I couldn’t even find the city on the map. On the website for the prefecture, it described Numazu as “a small fishing village”, so I attributed my inability to locate it to its’ small size. I arrived to find this so-called small village to have a population about the size of Ottawa. Obviously the word “village” had different applications in the land of the rising sun. Years later I moved to Osaka. With a population well over ten million, I was not disappointed by descriptions of one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

Whether I was living in Numazu or Osaka, one thing remained true; Japan was heavily invested in English language learning. The local bookstores had whole sections devoted not only to ESL textbooks and materials, but a variety of English fiction and non-fiction books for adults and children. While the selection was not what you would find here at home, it was amazing to see how popular English titles were, especially considering that the only official language in Japan is Japanese. I’ve often been hard pressed to find French titles at a local Chapters in Ottawa, one of Canada’s few truly bilingual cities that also shares a border with Quebec.

As English spreads its’ tentacles across the globe and becomes more and more the preferred language of business, I think we can expect to see an increased demand in the market for English books in general. As a teacher, I know for a fact that reading plays a huge role in language acquisition and comprehension. As a parent, I also know that the key to fluency is to start early. With populations in the billions and fast-growing economies, Asia is quickly becoming an opportunity for publishing partnerships. The market for book sales overseas will continue to grow and some Canadian publishers are already testing the waters.

In a recent Quill and Quire blog post it was announced that Patricia Aldana, formerly of Groundwood, recently agreed to a publishing venture with CCPPG in China. CCPPG is the largest state-owned publisher in China and the agreement will allow them to create a unique publishing program for children’s books. I think it’s wonderful to see partnerships like these. There is so much potential gain for everyone involved. I think it’s a great opportunity for Canadians to share their expertise in a new environment. It’s also a great opportunity for foreign countries to share culture.

Now, having lived and worked overseas, I don’t pretend that there won’t be some growing pains in the process. In the Quill and Quire article, Patricia points out that she has a very well laid out arrangement and is going into this with her eyes open. I think that is a good approach. With any new business arrangement, there will always be hiccups along the way. I can attest that cultural differences, language, and business practices can often be both subtle and baffling. But I think it is always worth the effort.

The Globalization of the eBook Market

If you consider what people have been saying about the publishing industry lately, you might think the sky was falling. Print books are seemingly under attack, and the threat of the eBook market overtaking traditional publishing is enough to keep even the most level-headed of us who love the printed word, up at night. Having recently started a publishing course at Humber College in Toronto, this is especially true. Have I made the right career choice? Will I have a job when I graduate? If I get an internship will my days be spent in front of a computer screen looking at ePub formatting, never to smell the paper and ink of the physical book again?

I recently found solace in the Shatzkin Files. Michael Shatzkin has been an unknowing mentor of mine throughout these past few months. His extensive knowledge of publishing, his appreciation for the traditions of the industry and his embracing of new technology is inspiring. It is a fine balance I hope to one day – hopefully in the very near future – achieve. During a recent trip to South America, Mr. Shatzkin spoke about the eBook market and pointed out some very interesting issues to an international audience that has largely been immune to the influx of eBooks. While his points are based on information and stats from the United States, I think a lot of it applies to the Canadian market as well.

First, he points out that the rise of the eBook has been possible because of two very important factors. The first factor, is the existence of Amazon. Without this powerhouse retailing devices and reading materials, eBooks could not have gotten a foothold in the market. The second factor playing a large part, is that America has one language. When you look at the process Canadians go through just to translate and publish material in our two official languages, it is easy to appreciate the benefits of only having to publish in one language. America is somewhat of an anomaly, as many countries around the world have more than one official language. I can only imagine the undertaking it would be to translate, format and publish eBooks in a country like China or Luxembourg.

Another great point he makes is regarding the use of credit cards as a form of payment. It is easy for people in North America to accept that VISA really is everywhere you want to be. I remember several years back when I was in Toronto visiting from Japan. At the time, I was in the middle of an around the world tour. I stopped over in Canada to attend a friend’s wedding and planned to continue on to the UK. When I tried to pay cash for my flight, I was regarded with suspicion and told I had to pay with a credit card. My money was no good. So I turned to a friend, who was with me at the time, gave him the money at which point the travel agent happily accepted his credit card as payment. This disdain for cash seems common place in North America, but for most parts of the world, it is still the preferred way to pay. While living in Japan, I so rarely used my credit card that it expired and I didn’t even notice until a year later.

The three criteria required for a thriving eBook market are: devices on which to read, a store at which to purchase the files, and a payment system. Of course someday in the future eBooks will be embraced around the world as technology improves and globalization mixes markets. For now however, for those of us Luddites in the publishing industry, there are still plenty of places in the world that are still a ways from having all the necessary components in place, where printed books are still being published and the smell of paper and ink still lingers in the air.

Gosh, I better start posting my résumé in South America…