21st February 2018
The UK’s biggest children's specialist publisher has today, 21st February 2018, raised the alarm after annual research revealed that the number of pre-school children being read to daily has dropped from seven out of ten (69%) to just over half (51%) over the past five years.
Egmont co-funds Nielsen Book Research’s annual Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer survey into the reading habits of UK children which found that 58% of parents of 3-4-year-olds were stopped from reading to their children by a number of obstacles, the greatest being the struggle to find energy at the end of the day (19%), as well as the child’s preference to do other things (16%). This correlates with an uptake in toddlers watching online video content daily (up by almost one fifth between 2013-2017).
Whilst daily reading for pleasure among 0-17s was up by 4%) year-on-year, with three in ten 0-17-year-olds doing so, Egmont stressed that this steep decline in pre-schoolers reading and being read to signalled a significant threat to child development, with potential long-term social impact.
The data, which was presented by Egmont to industry peers at a conference today, also revealed that one in five (21%)) parents of children in the 3-4 age group don’t feel comfortable in bookshops, and nearly half (46%) are overwhelmed by the choice of children’s books, acting as further barriers to raising children who enjoy reading. Further research by Egmont also revealed that parents often felt anxious about taking disruptive toddlers into a bookshop or library.
Alison David, Consumer Insight Director, Egmont Publishing, said: 'It’s no surprise that parents of toddlers are exhausted – the pressure on families is enormous, especially as parents struggle to balance returning to work and meaningful time at home. However, at such a crucial time in a child’s development, it’s essential that parents understand the enormous benefits that reading for pleasure will bring both them and their child, both in terms of attainment and enjoyment. As an industry, we have a responsibility to help parents: if a parent is a reluctant reader themselves and isn’t enjoying reading to their children or visiting bookshops and libraries, it’s very difficult to nurture a love of reading in the child.'
The survey also showed that three in five (61%) parents with children in this age group worry about the amount of time their children spend in front of a screen, which may explain why pre-school titles make up the largest portion of the children’s magazine market (38%) by value. 69% of magazines are bought on impulse, which David thinks may be down to parents hoping to distract their children from TVs and tablets.
'We know that parents are increasingly concerned about screen time, especially the popularity of YouTube amongst young children. Our research tells us we need to give children a real range of print alternatives to choose from: whether that’s a magazine, a graphic novel, a comic or a picture book. A sense of agency, and being given the freedom to pick their own reading material, is far more effective in creating life-long readers than a strict reading list.'
Egmont has been working with retailers on a number of projects to explore how to increase the numbers of children being read to and reading for themselves, and how to reach those families who buy the smallest proportion of books a year: 70% of the UK population who buy children’s books – around 11.2 million people – only buy between 1-5 children’s books a year.
Egmont’s latest piece of independent research, the Reading Magic Project, also released today showed how important it was to empower parents. In autumn 2017, Egmont partnered with WHSmith to see whether weekly in-store sessions with a professional storyteller would inspire reading and book buying in parents. Tools as simple as learning how to read to a child in the style of a storyteller had a transformative effect on the family’s reading experience at home. Over a six-week period, parents recorded a marked improvement in their own reading skills, along with a reassessment of reading as an enjoyable shared experience instead of a chore.
Egmont also partnered with independent retailer Foyles on Print Matters More, a piece of research into developing a reading culture amongst primary school children. A blueprint of Print Matters More is currently being developed in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire and recreated in an area of deprivation it in the North East.
Simon Heafield, Head of Marketing & Brand at Foyles, commented: 'Those of us who work in books take for granted the fact that reading enriches lives, but it's been immensely powerful to witness that process in action and to see on an individual level how creating a regular reading habit is so beneficial in so many ways for children and parents alike. The research has already influenced our activity in a variety of ways, from how we lay out our shops, to the marketing materials we create, to how we train our booksellers to sell children's books. It would be fantastic to see the wider book trade embrace these findings and work to amplify the powerful message they embody to the millions of would-be avid readers out there.'
David – also the author of Help Your Children Love Reading – called for the book world to rally together to help create a healthy reading culture in the UK.
Based on the research, she offered four starter tips for parents of 3-4-year-olds struggling with reading at home:
- Choice is vital: children should be exposed to all kinds of reading material, from magazines to picture books. Having physical books and magazines around the home allows children to pick them up and engage with reading, as does giving them the choice to select their own reading material in bookshops and libraries. Children who experience freedom and agency at a young age are more likely to become enthusiastic bibliophiles.
- Reading to your child is the single most important factor in their becoming a reader: Research shows that children respond best – even up to the age of 16 – to reading as a shared activity with their parents.
- Storytelling events are key to confident parents: learning how to read books to young children from a professional storyteller will transform the reading culture within a family, especially where the parent is a reluctant reader themselves.
- Bookshops and libraries welcome toddlers: parents shouldn’t be put off by an idea of bookshops and libraries as quiet spaces that are off-limits to children; they have a right to be there as much as the regular book buyers.
The research papers from Egmont Publishing’s conference today, including the findings of Reading Magic and Print Matters More, can be found here.