They keep trying and failing

I’ll admit it. My brain is filled with edits for the latest WIP (which means yet another rewrite of the opening chapters, but more on that later) as well as still mentally dancing with glee over the ease of conversions using Vellum. Because of that, I had a difficult time figuring out what to blog about today. Unable to figure anything out, I went to one of my favorite places to find ideas — The Passive Voice. It didn’t take long to find a post that had me wanting to beat my head against the desk. One of the stories TPV linked to shows just how far traditional publishing and its supporters will go to twist data and manipulate outcomes in an attempt to stay relevant.

Let’s start with the headline for the article, which TPV recreates for his readers:

Children turn their backs on e-books as ‘screen-fatigue’takes hold and sales of books for youngsters soar.

Now, journalistic training notwithstanding, that headline is wrong on so many different levels. It’s too long. If you go to the original article, you’ll see the headline takes several lines and is then followed by three bullet points. I guess the bullet points are to show how important the information in the headline happens to be. Except there is no real support in the article for anything except the drop in sales for children’s e-books (3%) while printed books increased (16%). Oh, wait, there is no support for those numbers. They cite the sales figures without citing the source, only a secondary source (the Observer) to back it up. It is the same with their contention that “screen-fatigue” is the cause for the change.

But let’s go back to the headline, which basically says everything that’s in the article and with the same amount of primary data. It claims children are turning their backs on e-books. Wow, how do they know? Are they going out and asking children which format they prefer and which ones they buy? No, they aren’t. For one thing, kids don’t take surveys and, for another, most kids aren’t buying their own books. Their parents are.

Then there is the point made in the body of the article that one of the main bookstores/chains in Great Britain is having to put aside more and more shelf space for children’s books. Well, duh. Publishers aren’t completely foolish. They see that children’s books are in demand (Especially when school starts). so they will start publishing more titles in the current “hot” genre. This is nothing new. Does anyone remember the number of Da Vinci Code knock-offs or how about all the Twilight or 50 Shades knockoffs. Heck, When 50 Shades of Grey hit it big, a certain major publisher pulled an entire line in order to “rebrand” the covers so all the books looked like 50 Shades. That went over so well — NOT — that some authors saw their sales tank and their options for other books weren’t picked up. Why? Because all the books looked the same and buyers thought they’d already read the books.

The real problem with articles like this is that they use data without giving the reader access to it. We don’t know where the data came from. We don’t know if they went off of sales figures only and, if so, where those figures came from. We don’t know if they included indie and small press titles in the data (and my bet is they did not). We don’t know if they then polled parents of young readers and, if they did, what questions were asked and what the possible answers to the questions were. Nor do we know who interpreted the data and what their qualifications might be — not to mention their biases regarding publishing.

The Daily Mail, in this instance, is acting as nothing more than a cheerleader for traditional publishing, pushing the trad’s agenda and assuming its readers aren’t smart enough to figure that out.

TPV nails the assertion that “screen-fatigue” is responsible for the quotes sales figures right between the eyes.

PG suggests that screen fatigue is the creation of a marketing manager somewhere, not a psychological or sociological phenomenon. PG doesn’t know if “children are reading more” is a fact, but suspects it may also be the creation of a marketing manager somewhere.

One thing PG does know is that marketing managers don’t really care if screen fatigue or reading children are genuine phenomena, so long as adults continue to purchase children’s books.

As for me, I don’t give a flying flip what format a child reads as long as that child is reading. Isn’t that what we should be worried about?

Now, at the beginning of this post, I noted that I’m about to tear apart the opening of the current WIP again. I’m one of those authors who find writing the opening chapter or two of a book the most difficult part of the process. In Light Magic, I know the basic plot. I know the characters. I’ve had to make a few minor adjustments to keep the book from being too close to something else I’ve written. What I haven’t quite gotten down is how to get the story rolling. Part of that is because my main character is a challenge. She wants to be a “wild child” (she objects to being called a “bad girl”) but she isn’t one, not really. So, in a very real way, she is fighting me. Once the story gets going, we are on the same page. But, day-um, she is giving me headaches on the opening chapters. At least i think I’ve finally figured it out. If not, this book may have to take a back burner for awhile until my subconscious figures it out.

In the meantime, I need to get the new cover for the expanded version of Vengeance from Ashes tweaked just a little and then it will be ready to be sent out to all the major e-book outlets. The print version, sans the cover flat, is ready to upload as well. By the time I finished the rewrite, I added close to 20k words to the original. I’m really happy with the finished product and the beta readers seem to be as well. fingers crossed everyone else is.

Now, because I figure we could all use a laugh, and with a spew warning because I can’t afford to buy everyone new keyboards, I’ll leave you with this:

32 thoughts on “They keep trying and failing

  1. There’s certainly a constituency out there that would -like- for “screen fatigue” to be a thing, and they are certainly rooting for it very hard.

    But given the way kids are glued to their phones, I have my doubts.

    As well, has anyone noticed that real numbers on book sales are very hard to get? Almost as if they didn’t want us to know.

    1. I suspect this is part of it, and the tendency of small children to break delicate electronic devices, and also of parents not wanting the headache of trying to keep kids ONLY in the part of those devices which they are permitted.

      1. There’s also charging. During one long trip with the nephews, charger space was the big argument, especially in the car.

          1. They had to compete with their grandma for the one charger servicing the back of the Expedition. Each nephew and grandma had about two devices each.

              1. The funniest bit was Mum telling the boys to put their tablets away & look at the scenery… and not 5 minutes later she’d be telling us about a funny yootoob video she just watched…

            1. Car makers take notice…

              We acquired a 2002 Ford Windstar. The first thing the daughter noticed and complained about was that she couldn’t plug her iPod into the radio/CD player.

              I resisted the “in my day” comment. An AM radio was a pricey option way back then… (Mom’s Travelall didn’t have one – which undoubtedly encouraged my reading habit on the four hour round trips to Phoenix and back. Or the eight hour one way trips to Roswell.)

              1. Our “new” (to us) car has several USB ports for charging and connection AND a regular house plug. But screen devices are banned for the kids in the car (partly because I’m obnoxious that way, but also because carsickness runs in the family and that’s a headache I don’t want.) We do the drive to Grandma’s a couple of times a year—500 miles, one day—and they’re honestly used to it.

                However, I have recently discovered the joy of library audiobooks. The last trip we took had one Roald Dahl book each direction, for just about half the day, and that was marvelous. And may I recommend Kate Winslet as an audiobook narrator. She has a great time doing appropriate voices.

                1. “When I was your age, I had to drive myself to school. In the snow. Uphill, both ways. In a stick shift!”

                  Me berating my grand-kids 40 years from now…

                2. USB ports and a house plug? I was all sorts of impressed with the two cigarette lighter power ports in mine. For the next road trip I was thinking of getting these things you stick to the car window to charge USB devices with for the kids.

                  Sadly, because of the bits of road safety things it’s actually rather hard to carry on a conversation with the kiddlets in the back seats. Driving looooooooooooong hooooooooooooooooours here in Australia has had them put these little rubberized bumps on the edge of the road and if you drift too far to either side you hear this loud, almost musical hum. They’re designed to wake up the driver. If I play music, only my hubby can hear it – for some reason while we are driving, it’s too noisy for the sound to travel very far.

                  1. We have what are called “rumble strips” that do the same thing—little channels cut at right angles to the direction of travel. They’re pretty loud and cut through the music well.

                3. Oh yeah. We found out my son is very prone to motion sickness. Traveling on train – all he wants to do is fall over. When we’re in the car, he can’t read, or bad things happen. Watching movies though, that’s fine because they’re also in motion, as opposed to the thing you want your eyes to focus on being constantly in motion…

    2. For the very young, the tablet has the advantage that the pictures can move and talk. That advantage goes away as the child get a little older.

  2. It isn’t screen fatigue.
    It’s parents knowing darned well that a child on a tablet or e-reader will not be doing what they’re supposed to. No matter how well you think you’ve got the thing locked down.

    1. We haven’t yet tried to get an ebook reader for the kids; largely because they do enjoy books, which they get as rewards and treats.

      I recently got my son (who’s 10) World of Warcraft: Arthas as a reward and it was gratifying to see him scream in delight, hug Mum in thanks, and run off to the living room to plonk himself down to read. Then “MUM! THEY HAVE PAINTINGS OF ARTHAS THIS IS AWESOME!!”

    2. Erm. When does the typical child not do what they are not supposed to?

      When we moved into this house, I thought the idea of doing two of the bedrooms in the special (and pricier) washable paint was a good idea. Where do you think I found several of the latest artistic creations?

      I remember getting into the Playboys when I was very young. I’m positive that Mom knew this, but made nothing of it. Boooring…. (Now, if they’d had Omni or Heavy Metal way back then, I might have read something “age inappropriate” – but no such luck.)

  3. E-books can not only have pictures, they could include animation. The advantage over dead tree media isn’t nearly as well exploited as current tech could allow.
    Several manufacturers make (factory set up) devices with limited access to the web, parental filtering, and decent security. Most parents, OTOH, don’t know how to select the right one, administer the account, or tell if the security was compromised.
    They don’t do any good if they’re not used properly.
    Most new tablets and phones have a restricted user setting for kids or guests too, so you can let them play reasonably securely. Once again, getting it set up right isn’t in most user’s scope.
    My personal solution was locking down our home network with filtering that limited anything using it to its individual access profile. The service was free and worked well enough to keep my boys out of the worst of the internet till they got old enough to make reasonably intelligent choices.

    1. Art is a mix of freedoms and restrictions. Not including animation allows artistic choices that are impossible with it. For instance, animation more or less has to play out in real time. Still pictures can speed up or slow down time virtually without limit.

      1. Yep. I have to approve the MAC for anything attaching to ours (well, that is more of a guard against external hacks). But I also still have to approve access to any domain. Maybe not necessary now, with the youngest being 23 this month – but they’re used to it. (Besides, to be honest, the wife is not all that security literate.)

  4. “We don’t know where the data came from. We don’t know if they went off of sales figures only and, if so, where those figures came from. We don’t know if they included indie and small press titles in the data (and my bet is they did not).”

    Yes, we do. The sales stats cited in that piece come from the UK Publishers Association’s annual report.

    As I have pointed out a couple times now, the ebook sales data only covers about 62% of the market, so you can’t really claim that the stats say anything about the UK market.

    My problem with this piece is that it misunderstands who buys kids books. They’re mainly bought by adults, not kids, so you can’t really say sales reflect kids preferences. And given that 75% of parents in a recent poll said that they thought their kid had too much screen time, it is entirely possible that the parents are driving the increase, not kids.

  5. Once upon a time, someone tried an experiment with readers for lower-graders, say 1st-3rd. They took the books,and deleted the pictures and the color, leaving the monochrome text in exactly the same locations as before. Tests of reading ability showed that the pictures were hindering the child’s ability to learn to read. Needless to say, this study was ill-received by the publishers.

    1. Hmm. I think that depends on the quality of the picture / text relationships. I know for a fact that I learned my earliest reading (around age three or so) from the Dr. Seuss books, then “graduated” to the Oz books.

      Of course, the Seuss books were deliberately aimed at teaching children to read – not primarily to entertaining them.

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