Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 19 April 2012

eReaders For Kids

I first visited the library when I was six or seven.  It was a largely pre-fabricated building about half a mile from my parents' home, built in the style I now know to be called CLASP - the Consortium of Local Authority Special Projects that was formed in the year I was born to deliver public buildings at low cost.  The buildings had their failings and many have long gone, but that library is still standing and is still within half a mile from where I live. And is still a library - just.

My older brother took me to that library to enrol me, heck he was probably nearly nine so it's not unreasonable he should deal with that administrative act.  Until I left school I rarely missed a week in visiting that building.  I was an early and voracious reader and must have read all the Sci-Fi, thriller, spy genre books they had in there along with a smattering of Roald Dahl and others of his ilk.  It was was where I first read Ray Bradbury and devoured anything they stocked by him.

Then life got in the way - work, beer and girls, then the airforce.  Mind you, once I was settled in the military I started reading again and built up fairly large personal libraries of books everywhere I was posted.

The point is, I became a lifelong reader starting from an early exposure to relatively large amounts of relevant books from genres I still enjoy reading today, thanks to the proximity of a public library.  That opportunity is likely to be less available in the UK going forward as the Government is proposing axing funding for the library services.  Obviously the squeeze on the public purse is the driver for this, however to be fair the library service has probably started to become redundant; obselescent if not obsolete.  I haven't been back to that library since returning to my childhood home town ten years ago - like many readers I buy the majority of the books I choose to read and the discipline of returning books on time against a variable and busy schedule is one I've subconsciously chosen to avoid.

Plus, this is a consumer society.  In the Seventies the amount of disposable income was limited, today; although we're all squeezed by commodity prices and earning a pittance in relative terms to a few short years ago, there is still more disposable income in real terms than back then.  So we all choose to buy stuff we could just borrow from a library, if only for the pleasure of ownership.

So, libraries are an endangered species.  Even if the Govenment reverses its policies and chooses to pump cash into the UK library service, I suspect that our consumer obsession would remain.  Interestingly, despite presiding over a Government hell bent on closing libraries, British Prime Minister David Cameron is also encouraging parents to read to their kids every night.  Commendable, and a function I tried to perform as often as possible when my daughter was a child, but about to get a lot more difficult for those parents who can't afford books.  However, I can't see that many UK parents happlily allowing their offspring aged seven to eleven to wander off to the public library half a mile away.  This is a reflection of the world we live in, so to encourage our children to go to the library we need to make sure we can take them - right?

And the one thing I haven't mentioned is the rise in eBooks, and this is a process we can't afford to ignore.  By the time the infants of today are entering the workplace, eBooks won't be an alternative to print books, they will be the normal form books take.  So it won't be long before the kids start to want to read eBooks themselves.  Anyone who's seen infants picking up their parents' iPad or iPhone and using them intuitively will know that they will assimilate this technology effortlessly. I've also watched a young child reading a Kindle with her father in a doctor's waiting room, and again there was no barrier.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that a company, Ergo, has decided to bring out an eReader optimised for the little ones.  Titled 'Imagine', this colour device is pitched at about £75 in the UK and Ergo are aiming at launching 150 free colour eBooks for children over the next twelve months.

I'm sure they'll also be launching paid-for content, too.  It supports many of the common eBook standards including ePub, PDF and HTML plus others, so there's no shortage of books available.  You have to download onto a computer, then transfer the file manually to the eReader which, given the target audience, is a sensible approach.  Not only does it reduce the costs associated with installing WiFi, it leaves the parents in more control of the content. 

Personally I think this range will enjoy a short life of a few years - I suspect that iPad-like devices will become more everyday consumer items in the next few years and that will filter down to the kids.  Initially I expect early iPads and other tablets will be hand-me-downs as parents upgrade to the iPad 37 or the Kindle Fire 2 - I'm not showing my frustration with Amazon here, am I? - and eventaully even the kids will have their own iPads as a norm.  But until then, the Ergo is probably worth a look at for techy savvy parents who don't mind spending less than £100 on their offspring.


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Digital Life Form is available on in paperback for $8 (or for £5 plus P&P in the UK for UK readers - contact me on for details)

The Last Simple is available on in paperback for $6.

The Journeymen is available for $9

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