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Children reading less

7 October 2013

Nielsen research made public at the recent Bookseller Children's Conference suggests that the number of UK children who rarely read, or do not read at all, has risen in the past year from 20% to 28%. As in the US and elsewhere, children's reading is being affected by alternative activities, particularly games, watching videos online and texting. It is significant that their access to tablets has doubled in the last year but only 20% of children use them to read ebooks.

Jo Henry, director at Nielsen Book said: ‘This dramatic drop in engagement with reading (seen in the context of an 8% drop in the number of books bought for those aged under 17) in the first half of 2013 will give pause for thought for anyone involved " in children's publishing, particularly at the older end of the market, which has seen the greatest decline. Hundreds of children across several age brackets were questioned, with parents answering on their behalf, while children aged between 14 and 17 answered for themselves.

It's perhaps good news that the proportion of children reading digitally has risen among some age groups. Between 25% and 33% of children overall have read books digitally, while a significant proportion of 14 to 17-year-olds report that they only read books in digital form. The same age group recorded the biggest year-on-year increase in those who had read e-books or book apps at all, and this is the only age group that prefers dedicated ereaders to tablet devices.

There is however no sign that overall attitudes to reading are becoming more negative. Writers working on books for children can take comfort from the fact that children's books are one of the most buoyant parts of the market in the US and UK, as well as many countries across the world. This is because parents will cut back on their own book purchases at a time of austerity, but they will not reduce their expenditure on books for their children, which are seen as an essential part of their education.

Children's writers and publishers might well wish that more parents would take this approach and use it to transform their approach to reading with their children. In spite of the widespread understanding of the importance of reading with your children, most parents do not do so. A recent article in the Denver Post concluded that:

‘Reading to young children is proven to be the single most important thing a parent can do to ensure their child's success in school. Not only does reading improve children's language development - the single strongest predictor of school success - but it also brings parents and children closer together. Yet, a study conducted for Reach Out and Read shows that fewer than half of American parents read to their children daily. Young children who aren't read to are at the highest risk of reading below grade level once they begin school. More than a third of American children start kindergarten without the basic literacy skills they need to learn to read.'