With so many U.S. kids in poverty, a national digital library and hardware program could be a godsend for children’s e-book publishers

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imageLibraryCity has posted a number of items mentioning e-books and family literacy—for example, The nuts and bolts of using tablet computers, e-libraries, and family literacy initiatives to encourage young children to read.

Now comes a gem of a post from Jeremy Greenfield: When Growth in Children’s E-Books Hits the Poverty Line.

Greenfield didn’t mention a national digital library system, which I’ve been advocating for the past two decades, most recently in the Baltimore Sun. But as I see it, this is a great Exhibit A. Here are some statistics that Greenfield picked up for Digital Book World, of which he’s editorial director:

–“According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, as of 2010, some 44% of children live in low-income families. That number has increased from 40% in 2005.”

–Between five and seven percent of the revenue of children’s book publishers appears to be from E, compared to 15 to 20 percent of the revenue of adult trade publishers. And while there are issues such as the inability of e-books to offer old-fashioned pop-up pages and the like, as well as distribution factors, economic considerations are right up there.

And now comes the kicker. In the “nuts and bolts” piece, I suggested that the Reading Is Fundamental should experiment with e-books for young children. Greenfield writes: “RIF had plans in place to experiment with providing e-readers to some of the children it serves, but those plans were put on hold when the organization lost some of its funding.”

The idea, as I see it, isn’t to substitute e-books for all paper books for new readers. But E can be an economical way for them to explore their special interests and passions.

Publishers, look at it this way. E is the future. And wouldn’t it simply be good business to encourage policymakers to work with libraries and others to promote e-reading among the young? As Greenfield writes: “If device ownership has anything to do with it, children’s books may lag behind trade publishers for quite a while.”

Shouldn’t at least some poor people—especially those extremely committed to the welfare of their kids, as indicated by conscientious use of well-baby clinics, for example—have a crack at the hardware?

LibraryCity has even explained how we could cost-justify this through multiuse, in line with a traditional precept of information technology. Remember, the time for the book business to win lifelong customers is when they’re young. The current stats are more than a little ominous for publishers. In homeland security parlance, I’d say “Code Read” (pun deliberate).

Rather than seeing the Digital Public Library of America and the rest as a threat, publishers should swoop in on the opportunity here. After all, to extrapolate from Greenfield’s stats and do a little hunching, it isn’t as if low-income families are the biggest customers of the book business right now.

(Spotted via The Digital Reader. Thanks, Nate.)

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