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Oh, the pages that glow!

In snaring young readers, will e-books succeed? Seems 98 3/4 percent guaranteed

Sam Levy, 12, and his twin brother became e-reader users this summer after seeing how much their sister Emma enjoyed hers. Sam Levy, 12, and his twin brother became e-reader users this summer after seeing how much their sister Emma enjoyed hers. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
By Kathleen Pierce
Globe Correspondent / July 30, 2011

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In her pink bedroom in Wayland, Emma Levy keeps shelves full of books. But when the 9-year-old began her summer reading this month, she didn’t crack open a single one. Instead, she turned on her hot pink Kindle and downloaded “Ramona Quimby, Age 8’’ for $1.99.

“It’s easy,’’ she said. “If you want a book, you don’t have to wait to go to the store.’’

Her 12-year-old twin brothers, Will and Sam, recently got Kindles after seeing their sister glued to hers. They, too, have been riveted to their e-books, “The Firm’’ and “The Greatest Game Ever Played.’’

“I think it’s great,’’ said their mother, Karen Levy, of her children’s renewed interest in the written word. “I just hope it isn’t a novelty.’’

And so do retailers. As the back-to-school shopping season begins, e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook are the must-have item for stores that are betting these devices will boost their bottom lines. Retailers from Best Buy to Target are promoting e-readers heavily as a new crop of digital natives comes of age.

The Levys represent an emergent class of tech consumers that is being closely watched by the industry.

“This is a generation of kids that have learned to communicate, search and purchase on very small devices, like mobile phones,’’ said James McQuivey, Forrester Research media analyst. “This year is a guinea pig year, next year the move will be en masse.’’

The trends are already striking. Forrester Research projects that 15.5 million e-readers will be sold this year, a 50 percent increase over last year. While the firm does not break out sales by age, children are a growing customer base. When Barnes & Noble launched a digital library for children last October, it had 120 picture book titles; today it has 570, including classics such as Curious George and Corduroy. Similarly, publisher HarperCollins reports that young adult e-books have surged 125 percent year over year.

Popular teen fiction, such as “Pretty Little Liars,’’ “I Am Number Four,’’ and “Beastly,’’ will continue to expand, said HarperCollins Children’s Books spokeswoman Sandee Roston, “as more and more devices are given as gifts, purchased by teens, or handed down from parents.’’

This back-to-school season, there are more e-readers to choose from, and thanks to a price war they are getting cheaper. At the Best Buy store in Burlington, the Amazon Kindle 3G was priced at $139.99,about $50 less than seven months ago.

The number of e-reader models here has also doubled to 10 from a year ago, said Best Buy store manager John Garrasi. Brands like Kobo, which sells for $99.99, Pandigital, priced at $149.99, and Velocity Micro, for $199.99, have all entered the market within the last year or so. Meanwhile, a Nook can be nabbed here for $139.99, and the entry level Kindle is $114.99.

These are attractive price points for families, Garrasi said. While there is an upfront cost for the e-reader, there are huge savings from buying digital books. For example, the popular young adult book “The Hunger Games’’ is $4.69 as an e-book but $10.24 in hardcover.

Convenience is also a factor. The ease of downloading books on a digital reader appeals to families where both parents are working. Parents can keep credit card numbers on file with their children’s e-reader accounts, allowing them to buy books any time.

“At your fingertips, you can get that next book. It’s the convenience that parents need for their kids, the variety parents can get for their kids, and it’s modern and useful,’’ said Wendy Bronfin, senior director of children’s digital content at Barnes and Noble, which launched the Nook e-reader in 2009.

Bronfin has helped develop Nook Kids, a collection of digital picture books that children can download for around $7 to $12 per book. It includes features that read to them and help them count and learn to draw.

While it may sound strange to see a 3-year-old pinching and zooming on the Nook’s touchscreen, “we have research that shows that kids are expected to be reading digitally now,’’ said Bronfin. “It’s not so much how they read, it’s that they read.’’

The Nook is paying off for the company, which sells three e-books for every physical book on its website. “The adult readers far outweigh the kids, but if you look at the trends of early adaptors, it’s like digital music, it was lead by adults, and then the kids take over,’’ said Bronfin.

E-readers are also making their way into classrooms - with the hope that they will improve the education process. Boston public schools have about 10 to 15 e-readers to allow students to sample the technology, said spokeswoman Melissa Dodd. “There is tremendous potential in this realm,’’ she added.

Despite the popularity of e-readers, not everyone is ready to declare the death of traditional books. At The Park School in Brookline, where Kindles are available to faculty and students in prekindergarten through ninth grade, administrators remain “very committed to books,’’ said school spokeswoman Kate LaPine. “We have 60,000 books and nine Kindles,’’

For now, the rise of e-readers among children will depend on how tech-savvy their parents are and whether they can afford the latest gadgets.

Jill Boudreau of Wellesley upgraded to an iPad 2, so her four children, aged 9 to 14, share an iPad, a Nook, and two Kindles.

On their back-to-school wish list is the Nook Color, an updated model that includes video for $249.99. Although it costs almost twice as much as their current version, she is considering it.

“We think it’s a great electronic,’’ device, she said. “What parent doesn’t love to see their child read for pleasure?’’

Related

A rundown of e-readers

A rundown of e-readers
Which should you go for? Check out reviews on e-readers in stores.
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