To eBook or Not?

I have been asked by potential buyers if my books are available for Kindle, and others have suggested that this would be a good idea. Yes, when children are travelling, perhaps this would be useful. Yes, for getting more books sold, it is probably a good idea. Would I? Should I?

For now, at least, the answer is a firm (yet gentle) no. Why do I choose to miss out on those sales and that revenue when I am a fledgling business? The answer is easy; I love books.

When I was a child, the “success” of a Christmas or birthday was always the number of books I was given. But it’s more than that. I love the idea of children snuggled into a parent, an aunt or uncle, a babysitter, an older sibling, pointing to the page, running their fingers over the words, sharing. Sharing, sharing. I also love paper, paper of any kind.

I am totally for eBooks, but I am not writing for this format yet. To me a good eBook is an interactive adventure, a little like a 21st century “pick-a-path” book. I am not ready to learn all I would need to know to present a book to its best in an interactive way.

I strongly believe that picture eBooks should be designed for the pages to be read consecutively. Mine are still designed to a “facing page” format. My illustrations, particularly as I work on the next series, need that page turn, that suspense, the adult deciding just when to reveal the surprise over the page. I like that.

Jon Skuse puts it particularly well. Jon Skuse worked in the computer games industry then did a Master of Arts in children’s book illustration to develop his skills. He is now a freelancer helping publishers move into world of eBooks. He says:

“There are two aspects to this – the business side and the creative side. The eBook is cheap to make once the technology is in place and it is cheap to buy. And you are not limited to a certain number of pages in the way a print-based book is. It doesn’t have to be linear in its construction either. The creator can make different ‘branches’ or routes; for example, the reader can tap on a door to take one route or tap on another to follow a different narrative.” (Cited in Children’s Picturebooks The art of visual storytelling, Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles, 2012 ,Laurence King Publishing Ltd London, pg 184).

He continues on to say

“The eBook isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about an ‘exploration’, an experience, rather like a pop-up book. What many publishers are doing wrong at the moment is just copying printed picture books on to this format, which does both media a disservice. It’s just like looking at a PDF. Children will simply flick through. A printed picturebook is a particular kind of physical experience that can be savoured and revisited. The eBook needs to exploit its own particular characteristics and strengths to evolve as similarly special but distinct experience.”

This month one of the keynote presentations at the world-wide Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy, is the development of eBooks in the digital age. Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” has at least two re-makes into interactive apps, and these will be explored in-depth. I think the presentation description of a book “re-engineered” is very apt:

Case Study: Two apps; one caterpillar — How StoryToys successfully re-engineered a beloved children’s publishing icon, with interactivity in mind.

Emmet O’Neil of StoryToys. Winner of the 2015 BolognaRagazzi Digital Award. Emmet will provide a case study into the details of making the award winning My Very Hungry Caterpillar. (Excerpt taken from the programme update emailed to me).

This is a glimpse of the future for children’s picture eBooks. I am impressed, I think it is exciting, but I am not in a hurry to write for this model. For now I will leave that to the younger writers and the computer enthusiasts.

I write for junior teachers who read to classes. I write for grandparents who grew up with books and want to share their love of the printed page with their digital age grandchildren. I write for children who want to touch the page, to revisit images, to add their own imagined world into the white spaces I leave, and I write to keep shared reading alive.

It’s even more simple than that too. I don’t love screens. I love books.

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