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Friday, March 13, 2009

Share a Story - Shape a Future (Day 5)

Technology and Reading - What the Future Holds
     Welcome to the 5th and final day of the Share a Story - Shape a Future Blog Tour for Literacy. Today, we’ll talk about the impact technology is having on books and reading.
     We’re lucky to live in a time with multiple ways to enjoy our stories, such as ebooks, ereaders, audiobooks, podcasts and ... twitter books? But will these technologies mean the demise of the printed book?
     They'll certainly affect the way books are produced and how stories are shared, but what does that mean to you? If you enjoy your story as an audiobook, is it still reading? Most importantly, with all these new ways to enjoy stories, will kids still want to read?
     Ironically, literacy rates are up for the first time in decades. How do we explain that? I’m a firm believer that once people get hooked on new ways to enjoy stories, they will want to absorb them in as many ways as possible, be it DVDs, online, audiobook, ebooks, podcasts, whatever.
     Throughout history the storyteller has been the main source of entertainment in most cultures. (Check out the National Storytelling Festival's website here.) When books came along, they didn’t replace the storyteller, they gave the reader more freedom to enjoy stories when the storyteller wasn't available. Movies didn’t kill books. Video didn’t kill movies. Even hulu.com and fancast.com don’t seem to be killing television - just the way we enjoy it.
     The bottom line is it’s all about the content - the stories. The more we can have, the more we seem to want. Whatever the form, they remain our constant source of entertainment and enlightenment. And reading is still one of the best ways to absorb a good story.
     Good news for those who love stories, but how do the creators of those stories get compensated, and what role will book publishers play?
     The publishing world is going through rough times as they try to adapt to the new technologically driven market demands (and a rough economy). They make arguments for and against the various technologies as they fight and embrace them. (Read "The Winter of Disintermeditated Content" at Publishing Talk.) There’s even an entire conference dedicated to talking about where the market is going in our technological world. It’s called the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference (TOC). Chris Brogan, especially, is worth a listen.
     The market is changing and publishers are trying hard to keep up. In Simon & Schuster’s 39 Clues (on tour) - the story requires the reader to access information integral to the story online - making it technologically interactive! Publisher Thomas Nelson plans to start bundling their hardcover books with access to audiobook versions and ebook versions online (Publishers Lunch , Tuesday, March 3, 2009). Both publishers require the customer to register online to download the additional book versions and participate in online activities. (Customer tracking - brilliant!)
     The nice thing about the bundling option is it would keep independent bookstores in the game. So many of the digital options are attainable online, it could severely cut into brick and mortar businesses. Although Tom Clarkson says otherwise in this recent letter to Shelf-Awareness, "Attention Information Providers, Formerly Known as Booksellers."
     Personally, if I had the option of buying an eBook for $10 online vs. the hard-cover, eBook and audio bundled for $25 at my local indie - I’d get the hardcover.
     Why? Because, I love to listen to audiobooks while I’m illustrating, and being able to transport an eBook while traveling would be ideal, but I still love the feel of a book. I want to hold it in my hands and add it to my collection to refer to once I’ve finished it. Scrolling through my audiobook library on iTunes is not the same thing as having the book on my shelf. I want all the versions of my favorite stories and I think this will be a common desire as technology moves forward. (I also want to keep my local indie, Little Shop of Stories, alive and thriving!)

     How technology will affect books and reading is an enormous topic and while everybody is talking about it, nobody really knows what the future holds. But today, we're going to make a solid attempt at figuring it out.
     For Day 5 of Share a Story - Shape a Future I’ve pulled together some experts on the subjects of these new technologies to get their thoughts. I will quote them here, but the full interviews were so good, I'll be posting them in their entirety over the next three days. They're worth the read, so come back!
     First topic - eBooks:

Ebooks:
     Ebooks have been around for a while. It’s only lately with the invention of the Kindle, the Sony Reader, and common software for vehicles like iPhones that they’ve finally begun to take off.
     Ebooks are becoming a practicing alternative in colleges to distribute text-books to students, and editors are loving the freedom it allows them on trains and subways to peruse handfuls of manuscripts without the weight. But are they for everybody?
     Editor, Harold Underdown of The Purple Crayon was one of the early pioneers in the field and says:
     "Ebooks, unless they have added content of some kind (in which case they aren't straight ebooks any more) are a book format–print in another form, in this case digital, just as hardcovers and paperbacks are both books in paper form."

     Ebooks definitely have their advantages, but they're not perfect. Again, Harold:
     "One strength of ebooks is their low cost, which is achieved largely by cutting out all the expenses involved in creating, shipping, and warehousing physical books. One weakness is that unlike print books, they require a device on which to view them – a computer or a reader of some kind. To a considerable extent this cancels out the cost advantage, and makes them less convenient than print books in some ways. Differences like this mean that ebooks will never "replace" print books. They will become a preferred or alternative format in some areas of the market and not in others."

eReaders:
     As ebooks become more popular, industries are scrambling to invent the iPod of the eReader world. Already in existence are the Kindle, Sony Reader, iRex, iPhone (who now has a “Books” category within their Apps library along with a Kindle reader for iPhones), etc. You can see all current examples at The Evolution of eBooks (Forbes.com).
     So which to choose? To learn more about eReaders, their history, evolution and present state, Sheila Ruth recently wrote an article for Horn Book called “Better Than a Suitcase”.

     Where can you find these things? I've put together a resource of links to eReaders, Ebooks, Audiobooks and Podcasts at: http://dulemba.com/index_ShareAStory.html

Audiobooks:
     Audiobooks aren’t new either - they’ve been around for quite a while. We’ve been able to check them out on records and cassettes from our libraries for years. So, why the sudden buzz about them? Because they have a lot of new advantages.
     Now you can transfer your audiobooks to your iPod or other digital listening device. Suddenly you can take them with you on a bus, a plane or to the middle of a cornfield. They’re a way to keep up with your reading while stuck in a car or working. (I listen while I illustrate.) And you’re not limited only to the selection at your local library - you can choose from vast collections online such as at Audible.com, AudibleKids.com, and iTunes. You can also buy directly from the audiobook creators such as Full Cast Audio, where they use a full dramatic cast rather than a single reader.
     Bruce Coville, famous author and founder of Full Cast Audio says,
     “One benefit of the full cast approach is that it lets us use kids as kids, which is one of our signature sounds. The credibility this gives us with the child listener is remarkable – they identify much more closely with the true child voice than with the altered voice of an adult reader.”

     For the reluctant reader, audiobooks can be a great segue to introduce a love for stories which can naturally grow into a love of reading.
     Bruce said,
     “I was speaking at a library a couple of years back, and the librarian told me a fascinating story. Her daughter, a very smart girl, was underperforming in reading. She was confident the child could do better. She got her some unabridged audiobooks and sat her down with the audio and the matching text, had her spend time listening and reading simultaneously, and within a couple of months her reading level had jumped by a matter of years.”


     National Certified Teacher-Librarian, multiple ALA Audiobook award chairman and proponent, and author of Audiobooker, Mary Burkey, says,
     "...voracious audiobook listeners are usually also voracious readers, and teens are the fast growing segment of listeners."

     For a nice write-up on Mary as well as more information about audiobooks from AdLit.org, read "Listen Up!" by Jamie Watson.

     Another new tech gadget for listening to stories is the Playaway - audiobooks which include their players, available for checkout from your local library. They even come with earphones! To learn more about these, visit Cheryl Rainfield’s “New Ways to Get Teens ‘Reading.’”

     But does listening to an audiobook count as reading? Harold says:
     "Audiobooks are not reading . . . but are still a very worthwhile way to experience a story . . . Storytelling existed before books did, after all."

     And Mary says,
     "No, I don't feel that listening to audiobooks is reading - but it isn't cheating either! In today's world, we often overlook the listening component of Language Arts. By integrating audiobooks into a literacy program, students increase vocabulary, gain fluency, hear how phrasing and intonation results from punctuation, and experience authentic accents and dialects. As a student's listening comprehension is usually two years above her reading comprehension, audiobooks level the playing field in the classroom."

podcasts:
     Podcasts are a bit different in that you rarely get an entire book via podcast. They are more like mini-programs, either purely audible or including video. Because they are inexpensive to produce, anyone can create them allowing for a vast array of subject matter for even the quirkiest interests.
     Personally I'm finding podcasts make a wonderful support structure around books. They're a great way to learn about the book creator, for instance Authors on Tour Live out of the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver makes for addictive listening, as does Book Bites for Kids and the interviews at TeachingBooks.net and Readingrockets.
     Of course you can’t talk about podcasts in children’s lit without mentioning Just One More Book! - a thrice-weekly podcast which promotes and celebrates literacy and great children’s books. Hosts Andrea Ross and Mark Blevis have gained a large and loyal following as they sit in their local coffee-shop and talk about books that have become hits in their home. In addition to talking about books, they interview authors and illustrators which has expanded the range of interest. They also happen to have a fantastic “About” page which describes podcasts in detail, including some videos from Common Craft - experts in breaking down confusing tech-concepts into everyman speak.
     Truly, Just One More Book! may be the perfect example of how all the technologies tie together. Andrea buys a book to read to her children, then talks about it via podcast. Listeners decide to buy the book for their children, but maybe they buy the audiobook for their car and a hard-cover, “real” book for bedtime.
     The cool thing is, their kids are now surrounded by literature, the spoken language, the stories and the lessons that come with expanding their horizons and learning new things.

Even More:
     Oh no, we're not done yet. A new trend in China is books being downloaded chapter by chapter to iPhones or even tweet by tweet via twitter. They're so new, they don't even have a name yet - can I coin the phrase "twitter books"?
     We have a special surprise guest joining us to talk about the future of reading - author, Kathleen Duey, talks about "Reading the Future" at her blog writerwriterwriter. What a treat to discover how Kathleen first fell in love with words and writing and what it's all leading to in these new ways to share stories!

Wrap-up
     So what does all this technology mean to readers? I have a proposal to make - perhaps this latest generation should be called the “sponge generation” as they have more ways to absorb stories and knowledge than ever before. And it's becoming apparent that the more that's available to them, the more their interest grows, and the more they want. Through these various forms of sharing stories, we may be creating the most intelligent generation our planet has seen. That has got to be seen as a positive step forward.
     And with $650 million of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act going towards education technology, read "Libraries Get Some Relief From Stimulus Package" at School Library Journal, we’ll be seeing more options in our future. I know the kids are ready for it. Are we?

Thanks so much to my contributors:
Bruce Coville of Full Cast Audio - read his full interview Saturday.
Harold Underdown of The Purple Crayon - read his full interview Sunday.
Mary Burkey of Audiobooker - read her full interview Monday.
Also, thanks to:
Cheryl Rainfield of CherylRainfield.com
Andrea Ross and Mike Blevis of Just One More Book!
Mary Ann Scheuer of Great Kid Books
Jamie Watson of AdLit.org
and special guest, Kathleen Duey

     Thanks especially to Terry Doherty, Executive Director of The Reading Tub and author of Scrub-a-Dub-Tub for inviting me and bringing together our first ever Share a Story - Shape a Future event.
Your hosts have been:
Terry Doherty of Scrub-a-Dub-Tub
Sarah Mulhern of The Reading Zone
Susan Stephenson of the Book Chook
Eva Mitnick of Eva's Book Addiction and
Yours Truly, Elizabeth O. Dulemba of dulemba.com

Again, I've put together a resource of links to eReaders, Ebooks, Audiobooks and Podcasts at: http://dulemba.com/index_ShareAStory.html

     Please let us know what you think of our blog tour for literacy - leave lots of comments!
     Also, please feel free to use the logo at the top which I created for Share a Story - Shape a Future, or the logo below created by Susan Stephenson, just please include appropriate credit with a link back to our websites. Also, please be sure to include a link to Share a Story - Shape a Future, so others can follow and enjoy our Blog Literacy Tour as well!
     Thanks so much for reading!


p.s. - as my free giveaway - I'd like to point you to my free coloring pages at (click the banner):

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