Barnes and Noble has introduced a $149 Wi-Fi version of its Nook eReader. This has now reached a price point where I think parents may consider purchasing one for their children. Having recently moved, I know where my budget for book purchases has gone recently: kids books. This ranges from learning to read books all the way up to the several-hundred-page series books like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. While there’s no easy way to get all of these existing books onto an eReader (I think demand would shoot into the stratosphere if there was), there’s certainly no shortage of new book purchases in the future, either. So what would make a great kids eReader?
First, I think existing eReaders like the Nook or Kindle are probably fine for the Harry Potter/Percy Jackson age group, say 9 and up. They should have no problem using the device, it’s more a question of taking care of the device. For the under 6 age group, I don’t think current eInk screens are going to provide the right amount of visual stimulation, so at best, it’s probably a device best used while your child is in your lap and you’re reading to them. They’ll pick up the interface of the device, and be ready to go when they reach the chapter book stage of reading. The 7-8 age group is the trickier one. It’s going to get thrown into a school backpack, have who knows what smeared all of it from their hands, etc., so you get the point. The device needs to be of equivalent durability to a Nintendo DS. Most 7-8 year olds I know have one of these.
In terms of features, I think Barnes and Noble has it right with the WiFi only. The kids aren’t going to be purchasing books in airports- it’s a reading device. I’d even be okay with a device that only allows USB sync, but since I wouldn’t expect the removal of WiFi to change the price point, I’d rather have it than not. If you can give me a $100 price point with sync only capabilities, like an iPod Nano or Shuffle, even better. Purchasing from the device would need to be disabled at the discretion of the parent, especially with the one-click purchase approach of the Kindle. As a parent, I would prefer to go to a website, make the purchase, and then choose to deliver to my kids’ devices when they connect. Add in date-based delivery options, and friends and family could purchase presents that automatically show up on the kids’ birthdays, or we could even have link in to the North Pole and allow Santa to deliver them to the device on Christmas morning. eInk-based screens are a must, because the kids will forget to charge the device, so battery life is critical. Finally, we must be able to share books across multiple devices. I don’t want to have to buy separate copies of the latest book by Rick Riordan for each device, as my kids share the books now.
The real question is whether a dedicated device makes sense for your children. I think we’re looking at an age group of 7-11. From 12 and up, there’s a good chance your child will have an iPad/Netbook/Tablet/Laptop of their own with a screen space suitable for reading. Does the independent eReader get put on the shelf at that point? I know I have stopped using my Kindle now that I have the Kindle app on my iPad. Personally, I think the answer to the question is still yes, even if only used for 5 years from ages 7 to 11. 5 years for any electronic device is a pretty good life span. We spend $150 on a NintendoDS for probably 5 years of use, why wouldn’t we do the same for an eReader with more educational value? As long as there’s a software version of the reader for the multi-purpose device, all their books can go with them.
The final piece of the puzzle would be to have Scholastic tie their school book programs into this. Parents should be able to purchase for any eReader from their website and have it tie into the classroom or school fund raising programs that they offer. While the vertically-integrated device and store models of Amazon and Barnes and Noble probably won’t allow purchases for other devices, a publisher-owned store should.