Have Books Jumped the Shark?

Have Books Jumped The Shark?When you think about it, hoping that a 21st century middle or high school student will obsess over reading like they do. . .say. . .Tumblr or their new iPhone. . . is almost laughable. It is as anachronistic as wishing for an age before freeways or toys before plastic.

Indeed, expecting kids to deeply embrace and read books today whether for independent reading or homework is not a whole lot different than asking them to churn their own butter, carry their favorite music around in their backpack as an LP collection, use a telephone that is wired to the wall, or watch their favorite shows on a black and white tv with rabbit ears.

But really – have books jumped the shark?

Given the revolutionary scale of change for all things that make up the trappings of youth in 2013– phones, music, computing, media, and gaming to name the most obvious – it is startling how little has been done to revolutionize the experience of reading a book. Books are (and especially in schools where ebooks are almost completely non-existent) essentially unchanged in their dimension and functionality since the advent of the printing press. Better cover art and greater portability in the form of an e-book for many titles, but otherwise almost entirely the same.

Beyond the kids who are burgeoning bibliophiles by nature, books are understandably a hard sell to young people amidst the noise of much flashier, multidimensional, wildly connected and interconnected forms of entertainment. This is ironic considering the wealth and quality of contemporary literature focused on the teen market. The quality of the art is in many respects enjoying a tremendous renaissance while the medium struggles to resonate and prove its relevance with the next generation upon whose whims it will either flourish or fail.

Getting Students On The Reading Train

speed-readingIf reluctant readers are going to discover and embrace a passion for reading, it will most likely be catalyzed in the classroom. They are, for lack of a better term, a captive audience. Their success as students is inextricably tied to their reading skills. If we want them to discover and embrace the gift of reading, we need to make the medium more relevant. Teachers must have tools that bring dimension and dynamism to the text. In an age when kids are accustomed to response times measured in nanoseconds, it makes no sense to ask students to wait until the next day or perhaps longer to know if they are progressing as readers and understanding the books in front of them.

Still grasping on to your nostalgia for the printed text?

Consider these findings from a (now practically ancient) 2010 study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation focused on media use by kids. The average young person in 2010 spent 7 hours and 38 minutes engaged in the above forms of media EACH DAY! That is 53 hours a week – more than most hard working adults spend at their job. Of that incredible investment of time, energy, and focus, only 25 minutes was spent reading.

It gets worse. Way back in 2010 – 7th–12th graders were already spending nearly 4 times as many minutes each day TEXTING than they were reading!

Our need to revolutionize the reading lives of kids is not novelty it is necessity. Regardless of the level of modernity of the medium reading will always be fundamental. There is no time to waste in making it relevant, engaging, and fun to the next generation of readers. Whether we like it or not, their academic achievement and our prosperity – both cultural and economic – depend on it.


Jason Singer is currently the CEO of Gobstopper, a dynamic new ereading platform for schools, a former founder and principal of two KIPP schools, and a passionate English teacher at his core.


  1. Stacy

    January 22, 2013 at 11:52 am

    I think saying books are “lame” is an exaggeration. I think it’s a matter of differentiation-giving students options to different formats of texts, and balance-having students interact with different formats because students will encounter both print and digital texts for some time and will need to know how to work with both.

    “Way back in 2010 – 7th–12th graders were already spending nearly 4 times as many minutes each day TEXTING than they were reading!” – Not sure this is a reason to go to digital books. When I was in school I was on the phone 4 times more than I was reading. Developmentally, socializing in those grade levels often takes priority, not sure giving them digital texts would curb this much.

    I do think that the purpose of this post was to create awareness that there does need to be more digital texts in schools, but t’s too extreme so I’m not sure that was accomplished.

  2. Jason Singer

    January 22, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments Stacy. The subtitle “Why Books Are Lame” was en editorial flourish on Edudemic’s part and not part of the blog originally submitted. Clearly – we don’t believe books are “lame.” We revere them. We do believe that engaging students in dynamic and much more interactive ebooks at school will catalyze a greater love of reading for young people deeply immersed in a digital life.

    • Jeff Dunn

      January 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      We agree the headline was a bit off. Always happy to adjust. Removed the ‘lame’ part so readers can focus on the thoughtful content of the article. Thanks Jason and Stacy!

    • Stacy

      January 24, 2013 at 11:07 am

      Even though it is inevitable that we talk about books going digital, I think the more important discussion is the features that make books(digital or not) engaging – Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it is engaging. Some engaging digital features of books can be found in print books. My 1 and 3 year old love books where they search for pictures, count, touch different textures, characters pop-up, and you can movable flaps, because they are interacting with the book.

      Also, as students get older, reading strategies can incorporate writing/highlighting the text (as a way to interact with and create meaning) features in digital texts allows this and print texts often do not because they are not owned by the student.

      I think it’s important that parents and educators take note of these kinds of engaging features. Thanks Jason for the though-provoking post, and Edudemic for creating a more fitting subtitle.

  3. Jason Singer

    January 22, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks Jeff! Appreciate your proactive response. One of many reasons we all love edudemic.

    • Jeff Dunn

      January 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      I don’t know if we ALL love it but we try to make it as useful as possible :-) Simple as that. Thanks for the insight in the article, Jason!

  4. albert evans

    January 22, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    I agree with your discussion on “Have Books Jumped the Shark”. Yes, it is time that every effort is directed to changing the reading lives of kids. The findings by the Kaiser Family Foundation (2010) on media use by kids is quite astonishing. It should open the eyes of every educator and move them to do what is so very necessary in supporting what is urgently needed for today’s children — new technologies for reading.

  5. Maurice

    January 22, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    All I can say is wake up and look around you. My middle school daughter is in love with books… all kinds of them. She loves library book sales. She has 2 large bookshelves of her own and frequently borrows from our 7 others. And she is not alone. Many in her middle school love books.

    Perhaps it is time to actually look before your write.

    • Stephen McGrath

      January 24, 2013 at 2:42 am

      Maurice, it would appear you are living in a bubble. You and those to whom you refer are very fortunate to be doing so, but it’s a bubble all the same. The facts on the ground are clear – students generally dislike reading. Of course, demographics play a big hand in this. I can tell you that in Australia, the percentage of engaged, active readers is very low, but a lot higher than it is in Vietnam, for example. Even in the wealthiest set of students here (Saigon), reading is seen as unnecessary, uninteresting, and just plain hard work – reserved only for nerdy types and academic pursuits.
      As a teacher, when I ask a class of 20 if anyone has read a book (not a comic book) in the last 12 months, I generally receive a response of guffaws and groans. “Teacher, we can never tell if you are asking us a serious question or not”, is not an uncommon response, given that I do enjoy throwing hypotheticals at them regularly.


    January 24, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Books (IMHO, unfortunately but inevitably) are on their way out. But that doesn’t mean they’ve “jumped the shark” at all. If publishers suddenly made books glow in the dark or produced them in the shape or fruit to encourage more buyers than that would be jumping the shark.

    No, books have remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years thus applying the term “jump the shark” to them is not appropriate at all.