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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Reading, Books, Ebooks, and Us

Nancy Feresten — head of children’s books at National Geographic as well as general coordinator for all things digital and child centered at the company — came to my nonfiction class yesterday, and shared a survey you should all read: the Pew Trust’s very recent survey of ebook reading by poele 16 and older, There are quite a few take away points here: 1) as a nation we are all reading a lot; 2) reading more is reading more — that is, people who use ereaders also use print 3) as expected, those who read most as older, female, better educated, and wealtheir 4) people are using friends and the net for recommendations more than the library — real opportunity for libraries there 5) when people read for pleasure, their main desire is to relax, but their second largest drive is to gather information 6) the kind of reading people are least likely to do on an e-device is shared reading with a child. Nancy added in a few other notes — the one genre where readers now prefer e over print is romance; and there has been significant increase in ereading in children’s and YA — though I wonder how much of that bulge is specifically The Hunger Games, or, more generally, YA novels.

Take aways: unlike the deeply flawed NEA surveys that got so much press a few years ago, we are not in a reading crisis, and unlike predictions of death of print, we are not in a print crisis. Print is healthy and ereading is increasing reading overall, not eclipsing print — except in specfic genres. Why romance? Nancy and my students thought it was the brown paper bag effect — you no longer have to worry about someone noticing that your reading features Fabio and not Flaubert. We all also agreed that romance is a genre where more is better — having many at hand is a plus. And I suspect that romance readers know their genre, they can predict what they will like, while in fiction each book is different, and thus more of a risk. But of course from a NF point of view, the survey reminded us of what we know: for adults who can select their reading, finding things out is a pleasure, just as it is for the those elementary and middle school kids who flock to books of records and weird facts. The middle-high school focus on fiction as pleasure reading is then the aberration not the norm. Now maybe this survey is skewed by retirees reading travel guides, which is so different from K-12 that we can’t compare them. But there is a “have courage” effect from this, like all the many surveys I’ve seen, which reminds us that people enjoy reading NF once it is separated from the required textbook. Ebooks are not great for illustrated NF yet — but as they change it will be interesting to learn what kinds of NF which readers read on their devices.

Notice anything else interesting in the survey?


  1. “Ebooks are not great for illustrated NF yet” – I totally agree with this statement – that is until I recently bought “Our Choice” by Al Gore for the iPad. If NF can look like this, and be even more “linked”, I can get excited…

  2. Nancy Feresten says:

    Thanks, Marc, for the shout out. It was wonderful to visit your class and see the wonderful range of perspectives and opinions represented by future librarians. I do feel compelled to correct a your highly complementary overstatement of my job, though. I run Children’s Books at NG and work on the development of our organization-wide kids strategy, but though very interested in all things digital, it’s only a part of my job as it pertains to kids books and kids strategy. We have a wonderful Chief Digital Officer, John Caldwell, who has far more expertise in the digital space than I do, as well as a fantastic Kids Digital team, led by Michelle Sullivan.