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While the vast majority of e-books still consist of basic text delivered to a device, the next generation of digital books feature a range of interactivity and multimedia content. Known as “enhanced e-books,” they are stretching the definition of book by incorporating things like video content, animation, music and games. While children’s and educational publishers are at the forefront of the field, the growing list of titles includes cookbooks, encyclopedias, biographies and novels. Kojo explores the next frontier in digital publishing.
- Lisa Guernsey Director of the Early Education Initiative at the New American Foundation; Author of Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Your Young Child
- Jeremy Greenfield Editorial Director, Digital Book World; Contributor, Forbes Magazine
- Jim Fruchterman President & CEO, Benetech; Founder and CEO, Bookshare
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's "Tech Tuesday." When is a book no longer a book? The first electronic books were basic texts delivered to device. And while the vast majority of digital books sold still fall into that category, the next generation of e-books and book apps feature everything from video extras to animation to interactive games.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd many features have been developed to make books accessible to everyone, Including those with disabilities. While children's and educational publishers are at the forefront of the field, the growing list of titles includes novels, cookbooks, and non-fiction. So, what, if anything, is this adding to the reading experience? Joining us to discuss this is Lisa Guernsey. She is Director of New American Foundation's Early Education Initiative. She's the author of "Screen Time: How Electronic Media-From Baby Videos to Educational Software-Affects Your Young Child." Lisa Guernsey, thank you for joining us.
MS. LISA GUERNSEYGood morning, Kojo. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Palo Alto is Jim Fruchterman. He is President and CEO of Benetech. That's a nonprofit that develops technology addressing social issues. He's also the founder and CEO of Bookshare. Jim Fruchterman, thank you for joining us. I can't hear you, but maybe you can hear me. Let's try Jeremy Greenfield. He also joins us by telephone. He is the Editorial Director of Digital Book World. That's a website dedicated to covering the world of e-books and digital publishing. Jeremy, are you there?
MR. JEREMY GREENFIELDI am.
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us. You too can join the conversation if you have a question or comment for us at 800-433-8850. Do you think e-books that include animation, games or other special features can help kids learn to read or become better readers? Give us a call. 800-433-8850. Lisa, kids' books and educational materials are a natural for interactive books. What are some of the more interesting developments you are seeing around interactive books and apps for kids?
GUERNSEYWe're seeing a lot of interesting features out there that are enabling children to interact with books in completely new ways. One of the ones I saw just recently was on a Dr. Seuss book, which allowed a parent to record his or her voice to play along with the child while reading. So, if a parent is away, maybe a military parent who can't be with the child for some time, the child could actually hear that parent still reading to them. There's a lot of ways you can interact with books now that are completely different than what we had in the print world.
NNAMDIJeremy, as we said, the vast majority of e-books are straight text on a device, but there are also a whole range of other features being developed. What are you seeing in this area?
GREENFIELDWe're seeing anything that authors and publishers can imagine. There are books that read along with children. There are books that offer interactivity and animation. There are books that you might scarcely imagine resemble books at all, because, in addition to being words on a page and pictures, they're also online social experiences or trading cards that go along with those books. So, anything that can be imagined can be done. The only caveat for publishers now is that not many of these interesting experiences are making a whole lot of money for them.
NNAMDIExactly what kinds of features are we talking about when we say interactive book or enhanced e-book? I'll start with you, Jeremy.
GREENFIELDWe're talking about video embedded into the book. We're talking about audio. We're talking about things that involve geo-location or interesting use of images and stories. Probably a good commercial example is the new book, "Night Film," by Marisha Pessl has many images embedded into the book, as well as a companion app that people can use to read along with it.
NNAMDIAnything you'd like to add to that, Lisa?
GUERNSEYFor little kids, the text highlighting is a really big part of e-books, as well. And some new features that are enabling them to be able to follow along the reading.
NNAMDIThere's also a possibility -- go ahead, Jeremy.
MR. JIM FRUCHTERMANNo, this is Jim, actually.
NNAMDIHi, Jim. Go ahead.
FRUCHTERMANI would say that that follow-along feature is the killer app for kids with dyslexia. The ability to see and hear the word at the same time with visual highlight really helps kids who lack decoding skills. It's really important for accessibility.
NNAMDIWell, Jim, since you started talking, you might as well continue, because you come at this from an accessibility point of view and you say the traditional print book is a one size fits all technology. Can you explain and talk a little bit about how e-books are changing the landscape?
FRUCHTERMANWell, we really care most about the people who can't read a standard print book. It's an example of a technology that didn't work very well for blind people, for dyslexic people, for people who are unable to use their hands to turn the page. So, at Bookshare, we run the largest digital library for blind and dyslexic people in the US. We serve a quarter million people. And our whole goal is to turn that inaccessible print book into something you can use. And there's like 10 different ways you could do that.
FRUCHTERMANAnd that's the power of the e-book, to help people who can't use a print book. For example, you push a button, it's an mp3 file with a computer voice. You push a button, it's large print. You push a button, it's Braille coming out of a Braille printer or on a Braille display. So, the e-book, really, is like the ideal book technology for people who couldn’t use regular printed books.
NNAMDIAlso, there's the use of the term "enhanced reading experience," Jeremy and Lisa, through an app, for example. Can you talk a little bit about book apps and what they might add?
GREENFIELDSure. I think Read Along is probably the most significant innovation for, in terms of what people are using commercial viabilities. There was a recent study by an industry player, so you can take it with a grain of salt, that children actually comprehended more of the story after using a Read Along feature versus when their parents were reading along with them. But I think that -- any kind of interactive experience you can imagine, such as what we get through the web, is something that we're going to see popping up in books, if we haven't already.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned the term, "interactive experience we can imagine." Because I think that's what Ben in Berryville, Virginia specifically wants to address. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENHi. Thank you for taking my call. I think one of your guests said anything that the creators can imagine, but I thought the whole purpose of a book was to get the reader to use their imagination. And while the accessibility things are great -- I mean, my grandmother, when she had macular degeneration, got books on tape in The Library of Congress, and that was amazing. Now with e-books, that wouldn't necessarily be necessary. But I think you have to keep in mind that it's the kids not using their imagination and not imagining what Blackbeard the pirate looks like, for example, you know, that's causing the decline in cognitive ability. That this lack of imagination because it's too easy, you know, to go see the movie.
NNAMDILisa Guernsey, what do you say?
GUERNSEYWell, it really depends on the content and the context in which the e-book is being used with young children. I think it's an interesting question. A lot of people worry about that. They wonder if a book that has a lot of animation -- is it really a book? Are we just now giving children a video? And we need to -- there's a lot of blurring lines going on here. There are other books, though, that are, essentially, the same as a beautifully illustrated childrens' picture book.
GUERNSEYBut just in a form that can be downloaded to an iPad or a Reader or even a computer screen. And so children are seeing, maybe that same picture of pirate that they might have seen if they were reading the book with their mom or dad on the couch, but now maybe mom or dad are next to them, still on the couch with an e-Reader or perhaps the computer. And is there something different about that experience since it's coming at them from a screen versus on print paper, or is there a chance for the children to still have an imaginative experience by, well, looking at that picture?
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Ben, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can give us a call. Are you interested in books with extra features like author interviews, animation or interactive games? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet at kojoshow using the hash tag techtuesday. Or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jim Fruchterman, many features designed to help those with disabilities are apparently useful to a broad range of the population. How so?
FRUCHTERMANWell, you know, when we go into a school and we're giving, you know, accessible e-books to the one or two percent of the student body that's most disabled, we get all this demand from people saying, well, this kid's got ADHD and he doesn't pay a lot of attention. Maybe this will help him focus on reading the book. Or, this kid's an English language learner and his parents aren't reading at home, as you heard from Lisa, because they don't read English naturally. Could we actually deliver that?
FRUCHTERMANSo our figure is, we guess that 20 or 40 percent of the population would love to have these accessibility features, and it's this whole idea of universal design. I mean, that curb cut in the curb helps people, far beyond people who use wheel chairs. We think these Read Aloud features, the ability to enlarge the text, help a lot of people who don't think of themselves as disabled, but might actually benefit from that.
NNAMDII won't admit that I use the curb cuts all the time. Jeremy, publishers aren't sure if things like books apps are a viable avenue, but they're looking to those that are. Can you talk, for example, about 39 Clues?
GREENFIELD39 Clues is one of my favorite examples of experimental publishing that has really paid off. It's from a company that we all know called Scholastic. If you remember from most peoples' childhood, Scholastic book fairs and Clifford The Big Red Dog. Very successful, very large company decided years and years ago to experiment with what's called transmedia. Building new kinds of media experiences that cross boundaries between books and interactive and other things.
GREENFIELDAnd 39 Clues is a series of ten titles, each written by a different, fairly well known children's author that came out in succession, very rapid succession. Each book came with a set of trading cards and a set of interactive codes that kids could use to join this online network. And so far, there are I believe something like 15 or 16 million of these in print. Millions of children have joined the website and thousands more join every single day. And this is five, six years later.
GREENFIELDAnd the life cycle for most popular children's books is just a year or two. So, it's been very, very successful, and it may, in a way, represent the future of reading. When I spoke with David Levithan, the Editor at Scholastic who pioneered this, I asked him, is this the future of what reading is going to be? Are adults going to be demanding only these kinds of experiences? And his assertion is that they're building readers. They're building people who are going to crave the kinds of reading that we all have for a very long time.
NNAMDIWell, the latest technology in this area seems to blur the definition of book. For example, there's the Nancy Drew series that are more like games on which the child is the main character. When something becomes a completely multi-media experience, when do we stop calling it a book. First you, Lisa Guernsey.
GUERNSEYYou know, this is a question that parents are actually getting pretty worried about. There was a study that came out from Scholastic last year, a survey, of a thousand parents and a thousand kids. And one of the things that parents said they were most worried about with e-books was that things like games and interactive features on the book might actually take the kids away from the actual act of reading. There are lots of other things they appreciated about e-books, but that sense that it might turn too much into a game is something that parents are wondering about.
GUERNSEYAnd I think it leads us, and I'm a parent of a nine-year old and an 11-year old, have E-readers, are dealing with the screen all the time. And there are these moments where I'm like, you know, I want you to be able to just truly enjoy this as a reader.
FRUCHTERMANWell, I think this is gonna have a huge impact on education, and it's about equality of opportunity for a much wider audience. For example, what if I'm in a rural high school that doesn't have a lab? What if my Chemistry book actually allows me to do virtual simulated labs, and I actually get, you know, about 60 percent, or 80 percent of the experience I'd have doing the experiment myself? Because I wouldn't otherwise have even had the chance. I think that enriching the learning experience -- it gets back to sort of Lisa's point. What's your goal in the reading?
FRUCHTERMANIn the case of a text book, it's to acquire the knowledge that you're supposed to learn to go on to succeed in that field. And so, I think these enriched books give us a much better opportunity to help many kids who wouldn't have the kind of opportunities, whether they're disabled or not.
GREENFIELDYeah, this a question I'm particularly interested in. And the reason is because there's been so little actual research done. There was the Scholastic study this year. Digital Book World, along with a company called Play Collective did almost exactly the same study with very similar results. Sesame Workshop and Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame has been doing studies. The only one that I'm aware of that really truly studies whether these interactive elements actually help reading comprehension and learning, or not, is the Joan Ganz Cooney Center did some very limited experimental field studies.
GREENFIELDWhere they looked at children and reading comprehension between print books, e-books and what we're talking about now is enhanced e-books. And they found that children preferred reading on e-books. However, reading comprehension was lower on enhanced e-books than it was for both e-books and for print books. But the fact is, we just don't know. Of course, accessibility is a huge issue, and being able to have access to information that you have no other comparison to is a great boon for very many.
GREENFIELDBut educators worry and parents worry, rightfully so, that, perhaps, these interactive reading experiences don't match the quality of what we're used to. Unfortunately, it just hasn't been studied enough yet.
GUERNSEYIf I could add...
GUERNSEYI'm really glad, Jeremy, that you brought up the Joan Ganz Cooney Center report. Because it brings up some really interesting points about the context of reading. And it was looking at how parents interacted with their children when they were reading together, whether it was print or on the screen. And in the cases of the e-books, and maybe this is because it's still such a novelty, but the parents would talk about things like, don't click there. No, no, no, don't turn the page yet. Wait, why are you pressing on that?
GUERNSEYWhereas, when there were this, the regular print book, the conversations were about character, story, plot, motivation. And that might be a key to understanding reading comprehension. We're also seeing that in some earlier studies that came out of Vanderbilt and Temple University.
NNAMDIWhich brings the question, Jeremy, how do we know when the features overwhelm the learning?
GREENFIELDI don't think we do at this point. Aside from Joan Ganz Cooney and some of the other organizations, you see companies that are producing some of these interactive apps and e-books in very early efforts to try to understand this. There's a company called Ruckus Media that produces many of these kinds of apps and it has built in some of these educational measurement tools into the app to see how long kids will interact with the books, and what they do with the books, and if they can answer simple quizzes at the end of the books, and how well they do.
GREENFIELDBut I think that we just don't know yet. And that's a really good point about the novelty of the media. It might be that people don't yet know how to use these educational tools.
FRUCHTERMANAnd if I may run with Jeremy's...
NNAMDIPlease go ahead, Jim Fruchterman.
FRUCHTERMANYou know, the print book doesn't measure very much of what you do. When we hand you a textbook, a printed textbook, it's kind of fire and forget. Do you ever open it? We have no idea. With these e-books, with the connections to the internet sort of built in to the E-Readers, and into your PC's and Macs. We actually can observe whether any kid ever got past the first chapter of the textbook. Now, we may learn very scary things about that, but I think that this possibility of actually gathering information.
FRUCHTERMANLet's say we use it in a way that abides by privacy and, you know, isn't very Facebook-like in how we hijack it, but imagine how we could learn how you learn by observing what you do with the reading that you're doing.
NNAMDIWe're going to have to take a short break, but I'd like to pick up on that when we come back, Jim, and talk about the big date possibilities in many of these technologies. But you can still join the conversation, even as we take a break, by calling 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Do you think flashy graphics distract from learning? Do you prefer good old fashioned print books on paper? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our "Tech Tuesday" conversation about interactive books. We're talking with Jeremy Greenfield. He is the Editorial Director of Digital Book World, a website dedicated to covering the world of e-books and digital publishing. He joins us from studios in Buffalo, New York. Lisa Guernsey joins us in our Washington studio. She is Director of New America Foundation's Early Education Initiative. She is the author of "Screen Time: How Electronic Media-From Baby Videos to Educational Software-Affects Your Young Child."
NNAMDIAnd Jim Fruchterman is President and CEO of Benetech. That's a nonprofit that develops technology addressing social issues. He's also the Founder and CEO of Bookshare. He joins us by phone from Palo Alto. And we were talking before the break, Jim, about how the technology today is able to gather information about exactly how people are reading. You've talked about the big data possibilities in many of these technologies. Can you talk about what we might do in that area?
FRUCHTERMANWell, you know, we see Google understands pretty well what we're searching for. And Amazon, what kind of books we read, and Netflix, what kind of movies we watch. It might be terrific, in the long term, that these enhanced e-books, just through the process of watching us do most of our reading, get a really good handle on what suits us best. If we learn visually, give us more visual material. If we learn auditorially, let's go ahead and read it aloud. And, you know, if I use both synchronized, and that works best for me, I get it that way.
FRUCHTERMANIt's this whole idea of the first wave of analyzing big data is, on the average, what works best for everyone. But the future of that might be what works best for me? Or, give me options that you think will work best for me, and I can decide whether or not I take advantage of those recommendations.
NNAMDIThe goal, you say, is to move away from that one size fits all approach. Are we talking here about customized books?
FRUCHTERMANThere's a lot of customization of books going on already. I mean, teachers actually don't use the standard textbook. They assemble their own curriculum, or assemble parts from other books. And, frankly, the digital world makes that really easy. I mean, right now, if you wanna learn about a given topic in Math, like the Pythagorean Theorem, there are probably hundreds of digital resources allowing you to learn that online. And actually our challenge is how to assemble the best curated educational experience for each of these kids.
FRUCHTERMANIt's a -- again, we're very early on this. And, as Jeremy points out, we don't even know if it works, but I'm sure people are going to be playing with this now that it's possible.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. We go to Alexa in Alexandria, Virginia. Alexa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALEXAHi. Thank you for taking my call. My comment, I guess, is twofold. First of all, I do get concerned about the amount of time that children are spending looking at screens. And the distractions that occur when they are bombarded by all kinds of images coming at them, all at once. And secondly, the bigger concern I think I have is the experience that children have with grownups or with other children, just interacting over a book. Some of my very best memories of my mother are with her reading to us and us having conversations about books that I wouldn't normally have read on my own.
GUERNSEYAnd the same is true as a parent, bringing books to my children, that I can read with them and snuggle up on the couch, and have conversations and look through the pictures and talk about what we're imagining together. And I just don't see those e-books being able to replicate.
ALEXABecause there are, while I appreciate some of the comments and some of the reasons for people who might have disabilities, that might need some of these, or could use, not need, but could use some of these new technologies. I worry that when the option is there for an e-book, or the option is there to press a bunch of buttons when you're sitting there with your parents, that that's gonna be distraction. That's not gonna be an interaction.
NNAMDILisa Guernsey, what's been your experience with that, and what have you been reading about it?
GUERNSEYYeah, I'm finding that it really does come down to parenting. And thinking, being critical thinkers, as parents, about what kind of screen media we have in children's lives, and how we're interacting around it. So, I aim at the three c's. I look at the content. Is this high quality content? Is this a great story? The context. Are we reading it together or are we getting distracted? And then, your child. And for different children, the answer may be different. I think that Jim Fruchterman's work with Bookshare is a great example of how we can't imagine that everybody has exactly the same child, and has exactly the same needs around media.
NNAMDIDo you find, that when you're working with your own children, the little distractions that you mentioned earlier -- don't touch this, don't touch that. Do you find that that somehow detracts from your ability to discuss the content of what you're reading?
GUERNSEYI think it absolutely can. And that's why we do have to be critical thinkers about this. So, if we want a book experience for our kids, maybe we don't wanna choose e-books that have a lot of hot spots and distractions and extra games in them. Those are choices, I think, that parents will need to make. My own children, as they've grown to become readers, really still love getting immersed in a story. And that can happen with just the plain text on the page and nothing else to see.
GUERNSEYSo, we need to find a way to make sure that they're still having those kinds of experiences, if that's what we're gonna value.
NNAMDIAlexa, thank you for your call. I don't know if you care to comment on that, Jeremy Greenfield.
GREENFIELDI would, because I think that a lot of parents have these concerns. And I think that, you know, many parents throughout history have had similar concerns. I'm worried that the experiences my children have won't be as rich as the ones that I had when I grew up. And it doesn't mean that their unfounded, but I think there are a couple of things to consider. One Pew Internet and American Life came out with a study not too long ago that showed that about 85 percent of kids 16 or 17 years old read a print book in the last year, putting them far ahead of every other category.
GREENFIELDI think kids wanna read. And just as Lisa said, they want a good story. And good stories really just haven't changed as technology has changed. And the other thing is, I would point out that there are advantages with digital books, as Jim has been pointing out, that we don't have with the print experience. For instance, yes, a parent may not read to their kids the exact same way they did before, but what if that parent is out of town? Or overseas, for instance, in Iraq or Afghanistan? There are now technologies where parents can record their voices and read along with their children. Or a grandparent, who lives far away, can record their voice and read along with their children, helping create a new kind of experience that might have its own richness.
NNAMDIOn to Carl in Paw Paw, West Virginia. Carl, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARLYeah, I was wondering about the books you were talking earlier that the adult was reading. Is that reading with the child or to the child? I wonder if there's any that are sensing that it's like leaving the child behind and then he's just sitting and listening, or if it adjusts to speed, or if that's just kind of future thing.
GUERNSEYYeah. Some of the e-books that are out there now for kids allow parents to go into the settings and change things so that you can customize that a little bit. Children -- so, customize, for example, whether it's your own voice. You can customize whether you don't want the book to constantly just be reading at children and have children have to interact with it in some way first. You can turn off settings so that children are still reading the text, so they're not hearing the text. These are really, I think you're raising some really good questions about the new research that we need to do on this, to understand what's gonna make sense.
GUERNSEYThere's often, you know, a couple of things we're trying to get out of books. For teachers and maybe parents of young kids, we're really trying to help our children learn to read. When children are a little older, we're also trying to ensure that they're enjoying the new content, or learning something about the world. Or finding out something about themselves. And so, depending on what our aim is, that's gonna change the, kind of, the questions that we'll ask.
FRUCHTERMANWell, you know, we have blind users who will read their books at 400 words per minute, which is like nearly triple normal conversational speed. And they get a lot out of that, and those are features that people are interested in. And another key feature to an audio book is the sleep switch. If you're not paying attention, it turns itself off so that you don't lose your place.
NNAMDIOnto Jana in Baltimore, Maryland. Jana, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JANAThank you very much. I am a librarian, and frankly, these issues are concerning to me. I've been a librarian 20 years. And a medical librarian, so we've been dealing with this issue for a long time. But I wondered about -- I was glad to hear you talk about the Pew Internet Life Study. I wonder if you've also read the American Library Association Study and OCLC Studies regarding the use of books by children and adults in the e format.
JANAIn my field, health policy, we're not there yet. And the National Library of Medicine has done wonderful things for e-books, but in my field, it's just not there yet. And I'm wondering if it's the right time for children. It may be early. What do you think?
NNAMDIWhat, are you suggesting that e-books, in general, might be too early for children?
JANAI'm wondering if that's the case, because there is a time and place for everything. And as we migrate to an e format, there is a time frame that needs to take place, gradually. When the National Library of Medicine did their Turning the Pages experiment in the late 90's, it was a little bit too early to turn pages electronically on the textbook. We may have changed since the 90's.
NNAMDIIt's a fascinating question because I don't believe there's one "a-ha" moment, so to speak, Lisa Guernsey, because the mere fact that we're having this debate right now is an indication that what we're doing is evolving in our understanding of this. So, what would you say to Jana in Baltimore?
GUERNSEYYeah. It's a really interesting -- we're in very early days. I will say that some of the most interesting things I've observed are these hybrid kind of moments, where, say, children in a pre-school center have an opportunity to hear a story told to them. They're sitting on the rug in a circle. And they're seeing the print book in front of them. And then they are, and they get to know the characters, and they're excited about the story. And then they have a moment where they go to an e-reader, a Nook, or an iPad, or tablet or something.
GUERNSEYAnd someone, you know, a teacher brings it over and says, and here's the story again. And the kids are just on fire with excitement, and they want to see the book again, but they want to see it in this new way. And then, the next day, they're asking for the print book again. I mean, for kids growing up today, we may find that they aren't -- they certainly need that print, but they're also getting more and more excited about that e-experience, and we may wanna find a place to have both in their lives.
NNAMDIWell, by way of example of the relationship between losing traditional picture books read to a child the old fashioned way and e-books. Can you talk about the Dr. Seuss books?
GUERNSEYYeah. Well, so, most of the- I think now all of the Dr. Seuss books are out there in e-format now through publisher Ocean House Media. And I think it raises a lot of really interesting questions when you think about Dr. Seuss on a screen. There's, on the one hand, I think there's almost a little bit of sadness in thinking, wait a second, isn't just the beauty of the poetry of Dr. Seuss and the simplicity of him -- isn't that enough?
GUERNSEYAnd, on the other hand, you think about kids who may not have access to that in any other way, and how they might be brought into a new world where they can enjoy Dr. Seuss while they're in the car. And, of course, you can bring Dr. Seuss books in the car. No doubt. It's pretty hard to bring a stack of maybe 25 of them in the car with you. So, we have to figure out, kind of, what are the tradeoffs? What are the balances we want to strike with this?
NNAMDIGotta take a short break. Jana, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you listen to audio books? Do you use assistive technology for reading? What do you think of how the technology is developing? 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, using the #TechTuesday. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's a Tech Tuesday conversation about interactive books with Jim Fruchterman, president and CEO of Benetech. It's a nonprofit that develops technology addressing social issues. He's also the founder and CEO of Bookshare. Jeremy Greenfield is the editorial director of Digital Book World, a website dedicated to covering the world of e-books and digital publishing.
NNAMDIAnd Lisa Guernsey is director of New American Foundation's Early Education Initiative. She's the author of "Screen Time: How Electronic Media - From Baby Videos to Educational Software - Affects Your Young Child." We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Email can be sent to email@example.com.
NNAMDIJim Fruchterman, we got this email from Jean in Annapolis: "I'm the parent of a newly diagnosed dyslexic 7-year-old. She's getting some help at school. But I like to provide some fun reading resources at home. Can you give me some suggestions for apps or interactive books for her?"
FRUCHTERMANAbsolutely. Well, Bookshare is a free library for anybody whose student has a print disability. And so you just go to bookshare.org and sign up. And there are dozens of apps that you can use to consume these books. On the iPhone and the iPad, a couple of leading ones are Read2Go -- it's a software that we've developed. There's also something called Voice Dream, which I think is 10 bucks, that we think is very cool.
FRUCHTERMANAnd on the Android phone, there are free apps, like Go Read and other reading apps. And even in web browsers, there are things that read things aloud. Google -- we've worked with Google so that their Chrome browser will build a text-to-speech engine in there to speak the books aloud that you actually view on a webpage. So there's a lot of options out there because, you know, text is pretty universal. And presenting it different ways is something that a lot of people are interested in for a lot of reasons.
NNAMDIAnd, Jeremy Greenfield, we got this email from Sally in Bethesda: "I love my Kindle, and I also read plenty in print. But one complaint about e-books is that I can't easily or affordably share them with others. E-books cannot be donated and resold as print books can either. I have print books that were favorites of my children that I've saved for my grandkids, but I don't see e-books doing this, especially when technology changes so rapidly. Are those who are producing e-books addressing these issues?" Jeremy.
GREENFIELDThey are addressing these issues, but not in the way I think the emailer wants. Companies like Amazon, like Barnes & Noble, Nook, really don't want you to resell e-books or share e-books. There was recently -- a court case decided against a company called ReDigi that wanted to build a marketplace for used digital goods. That did not go in the company's favor.
GREENFIELDAnd companies like Amazon want you to go to Amazon for all of your needs and want you to have to go back every time you want to read a book. There's not much financial incentive to allow the kind of sharing that exists in the print market. So the companies are addressing the issues -- they're certainly aware that readers have these concerns -- and, I think, in some ways, working toward alleviating those concerns.
GREENFIELDThere are ways to get your books out of these devices and out of these ecosystems. And, of course, you can always buy what are known as digital rights management free e-books, which will allow you to take the file and do with it what you want. So this is a tough issue for the industry, but it is perhaps a main disadvantage of e-books versus print.
NNAMDIIn that email, Lisa Guernsey, Sally also said, "How many libraries and schools depend upon fundraising from sales of used books?" And our last caller identified herself as a librarian. How is this phenomenon changing the role of librarians?
GUERNSEYYeah. It's a really huge question. It's changing the role of librarians. It's changing the role of libraries. I mean, that point about sharing books is a huge one. It comes up for me with my own book club and whether we should even download a book or whether we should just pass around the paperbacks to each other, when we can check them out from the library, when we can't.
GUERNSEYIt's certainly an issue for my own kids. They want the print version of the books that they love. They want it in print so they can show their friends, so they can have it sitting next to them on their bedside table and remember that it's there and then so that they can share it. I will say that I'm worried about libraries. I really want them to succeed in this space. And I think we need to start turning our attention to what they can do, what they can make possible for us when it comes to being able to kind of check out books and share them.
GUERNSEYI have been impressed by some librarians I've seen out there who are really taking this e-book trend and building the momentum to show everybody how much libraries can be a part of the e-book space. There's a woman that I've come to know named Cen Campbell -- that's a woman, but her first name is Cen.
GUERNSEYAnd she runs a website called littleelit.com where she curates e-books and gives parents and teachers a sense of what's out there, what's of high quality, what do we need to be thinking about when we're using these kinds of books, how can we get them from our libraries, how can we use them in story time in our libraries? And we need more folks like that who are raising these conversations in the library space.
FRUCHTERMANAnd I think it's really important to point out the downside of e-books that Jeremy and Lisa are talking about is more control over what you can do. And this control is problematic not only when it comes to lending. There are many publishers that refuse to sell e-books to libraries. So even if the librarian is up to the technology, this New York Times bestseller, the publisher refuses to allow the library to buy that and lend it to people like they would a print book.
FRUCHTERMANOr -- and this is the thing that frustrates the blind community like crazy -- these concerns about piracy or whether they've sold the audio rights means that many books on a place like Amazon have the text-to-speech turned off or have the lending feature turned off. And so, if you're a blind person, you buy one of these books, sorry, you can't listen to it. Someone's decided that you don't have that right.
NNAMDIIndeed, Jim, you helped develop some of the earliest accessible reading technology. It's one thing to make text accessible. That's been done for quite a while now. But images are more of a challenge. Can you talk about what's happening in that area?
FRUCHTERMANWell, with the increase of richer content and what e-books makes possible, more and more of the information that you want to get out of a book is embedded in graphical materials. For us, the giant challenge -- take a math book. Even if we get all the words in the math book accessible, what if every math equation -- every graphic is a picture.
FRUCHTERMANWe actually need human beings to scribe what it is that you're supposed to learn from this, you know, parabola diagram or this triangle, whatever it might be. And so we're working pretty hard 'cause that's expensive. It takes a lot of human time, and we're trying to convince publishers that adding sort of this additional layer to the image -- something that you can do in e-books -- that actually describes, let's say for a textbook, what you're supposed to learn from this picture and as well as a detailed description of that. That's going to be handy for a lot more people than just the blind student.
NNAMDIBack to the telephone, on to Bonnie in Centerville, Va. Bonnie, your turn.
BONNIEHi. Thanks for taking my call. I was wondering if perhaps the e-books versus print is making a wider literacy gap between our children. Because when you have an e-book, not only do you have to buy the e-book, but you have to subscribe to a server. And while a child can get a book from the library or from school, the parents who aren't literarily inclined might want to spend their money more on Xboxes. And so do you understand what I'm saying, that that can make a big gap between people who are more literate and people who aren't?
GUERNSEYThere -- this is something schools are trying to address, actually, that they are trying to ensure that there are subscription services available to all of the students and all the parents of students in their schools to e-book subscription services. BookFlix is one of them. TumbleBooks is another. These are cases where if a child has the ability to go on a computer anywhere in their lives, library, at home, certainly at school, they can gain access to more and more books through these services.
GUERNSEYSo I do think schools are trying to fill that gap a little bit. There's another point, though, that I think that you're raising which is that these days a lot of parents of means will just assume that let's just go buy the next book instead of -- so that they can, you know, just basically hit download. Press that button that says buy. And so that's easy for parents who have the money to do that. That can quickly add up for parents who don't. And it's not so easy. That's why I think libraries really have to get kind of back into the picture here.
NNAMDIBonnie, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Zoya in Alexandria, Va. Zoya, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ZOYAThanks for taking my call. I have a 13-year-old girl who was an avid reader from the beginning. She would read 1,000 pages a day easily when she was in first or second grade, so she developed a good habit. But -- so we gave her a Nook, which was a good idea at the time. And then that developed into the iPad. And, unfortunately, it's turned into an addiction. It's to a point where she stays up late, and then she's late for school. And it's not really working for her. Fortunately, she came to me the other day and said, mom, I'm addicted to this thing. Take it away from me. And...
NNAMDIAnd what, pray tell, has your daughter been reading?
ZOYAShe reads mostly fantasy science fiction.
NNAMDIAnd how has it been affecting her schoolwork?
ZOYAWell, it's not really helping a lot because she's only interested in science fiction and fantasy. She won't read anything else. And historically they've told us, just let her read what she wants. Don't force her. But the thing with the iPad is that she does other things now with it. And it keeps her awake.
NNAMDIShe's developed, as she said, Lisa Guernsey, an addiction. How does one curb or cure that addiction?
GUERNSEYI've often wondered if we might get to a place where we really do need to kind of separate out our technology a little bit so that the simple e-readers that don't necessarily have connections to YouTube and chat within them can still be kind of taken into the bedroom to read at night, at least for those kids that are still trying to self-regulate on this. And, actually, I think a lot of parents are still trying to self-regulate and know when to stop on this.
GUERNSEYIn our own family, this was an issue as well with the Kindle Fire with my older daughter. And she was reading a lot on it, but she was also doing a lot of other things. And we took it out of her room. At nine o'clock at night, it is no longer part of her -- it's no longer in her bedroom, and that's time when she goes back to reading in print and falling asleep.
NNAMDIZoya, I'm glad your daughter came to you herself because that's what parenting is all about. Sometimes you have to cut back on the privileges. But, Jeremy, we didn't get a chance to discuss this other issue -- discoverability. We've talked about this with music. But in this brave new world of e-books, how do you find, for example, a new author?
GREENFIELDIt's very difficult. It used to be that people would walk into bookstores to buy the latest bestseller or because they would just stop in now and again, and something would catch their eye. And they would investigate it. Now that kind of discovery in bookstores is less common as more people are buying e-books, as more people are buying books online.
GREENFIELDThere have been a whole host of technologies that have tried to step in to help people discover new books. But the truth is is that discovery and discoverability is much more a problem for publishers than it is for readers. About three-quarters of Americans last -- read a book in the past year. And the median number of books they read was six or seven. And as you can tell from the way that bestsellers work, they're mostly coming off of the bestseller list.
GREENFIELDThose people don't have trouble finding the next book that they want to read. And, in fact, Amazon and Twitter and the online sort of echo chamber of book discovery is telling them more and more that they need to pick up "Gone Girl" or "Hunger Games" or "Fifty Shades of Grey." So this is a problem for publishers. It is a problem for new authors. But it is being addressed by technology and also by libraries.
GREENFIELDAnd I just want to go back, if I could, to something that both Jim and Lisa said. It's not accurate to say that there are now major publishers that are not selling e-books to libraries. All major publishers, as of the past few weeks -- most recently Macmillan came online -- are selling e-books to libraries. And libraries claim that they're sort of that last bastion of, where can I find that new author?
GREENFIELDBecause, if you go into your local library and say, hey, this is what I like, what should I read next, they'll give you a lot of options. And, you know, just to make sure that it's understood, I'm not aware of a single publisher now that doesn't work with libraries on e-books.
NNAMDIThe issue of discoverability, Jim, it's my understanding there's a similar issue wading through educational materials.
FRUCHTERMANOh, yes. I mean, you want to not only know what grade level this book is aimed at, which language it's in, but also what kind of formats are accessible, if it's, you know, a visual sort of thing. Does it have text accompanying it? If you're a deaf student, do any videos have captions? And so there's a lot of effort around what's -- people talk about metadata, this information about the books so that it makes it more likely that you'll find the book that will actually work for you or, as we've talked about, this module, this level below the book, that might work for you.
NNAMDIRunning out of time, Lisa, but an issue for teachers is that a lot of these educational materials are now subscription-based. How does that work?
GUERNSEYYeah. So school districts may, you know, get a subscription for everybody or all teachers to use across the school. But if there are things that children need or that they're demanding that are not part of that subscription, this can be really tricky for teachers. I think they'll need to be working actually more with libraries and with other kinds of publishers to make sure that they can get as much access as possible.
NNAMDILisa Guernsey is director of New American Foundation's Early Education Initiative. She's the author of "Screen Time: How Electronic Media - From Baby Videos to Educational Software - Affects Your Young Child." Lisa, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIJeremy Greenfield is the editorial director of Digital Book World. That's a website dedicated to covering the world of e-books and digital publishing. Jeremy, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Jim Fruchterman is president and CEO of Benetech. Benetech is a nonprofit that develops technology addressing social issues. He's also the founder and CEO of Bookshare. Jim Fruchterman, thank you for joining us.
FRUCHTERMANDelighted to be part of the conversation.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening to this Tech Tuesday conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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