Take a look at the picture at left. It’s a common teen scene: Kid on couch, completely engrossed in whatever is on her tablet.
But what is on her tablet? Based on the image most marketers have of teens today, you’d probably guess it’s a gaming app or a YouTube video. Actually, there’s a good chance it’s a book. The vast majority of 16- to 17-year-olds (86%) have read books in the past year, and 51% have borrowed books from a library, according to Pew Research. While some of their reading is certainly for school, they’re also reading for pleasure. Smarty Pants’ research finds that 63% of teens aged 13-14 say it’s important to keep up with the latest books, which might partly be because the most popular young adult (YA) novels become next year’s blockbuster movies.
Reading, that old-fashioned pastime, is popular with digital natives, particularly teen girls. This week marks the 16th anniversary of Teen Read Week, and teen reading has undergone a complete makeover in that time. A number of trends are at work in the transformation. The rise of e-readers and tablets means e-books are more popular than ever. Transmedia storytelling has taken off. And the YA sections of libraries have undergone dramatic renovations to meet the expectations of tech-immersed teens.
Digital reading has probably had the greatest effect on teens’ rediscovered love of the habit. Many titles in the YA genre are about growing up and discovering who you are. With e-books, no one knows what you’re reading (there’s no book cover for others to see), so it’s easy for teens to explore difficult topics they’re dealing with that they may not want others to know about. From bullying to obesity to death and suicide -- there are YA titles on every topic to help teens get through the rough patches.
Aiding in the e-book takeover are new apps aiming to be the Netflix of the book world (and we all know how popular Netflix has become in the youth market). Oyster and Scribd are two such all-you-can-read services for under $10 a month. We can hardly imagine a parent saying no when their teen asks for a subscription.
Technology is also changing the way stories are told. These days, YA books often come with trailers, MP3 playlists, Twitter feeds from key characters, and gaming elements, not to mention online forums where readers can talk about plot twists and cliff hangers and post their own fan fiction. Unlike past generations of fans, teens also have the chance to connect with the authors themselves, who are actively engaging with young fans on social media and through their websites as they promote their books. These features change the experience of reading, making it more immersive and social.
Don’t underestimate the importance of video in teens’ lives, either. Some authors have taken their stories to the second screen by creating video diaries of characters. The impact of such literary videos can be seen in the web series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” (based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice), which has pulled in more than 4 million views on YouTube. Following its success, the producers are now launching “Emma Approved,” based on Austen’s Emma.
And then there are the changes at the local library. Most have dramatically expanded YA sections that also include high-tech offerings. Another factor influencing teens’ library use is the change in librarians. There’s an influx of young Millennial librarians bringing their own brand of cool to the reading room. Teens are starting to think of libraries as spaces where they can study and even hang out.
No teen wanted to be left out when Hunger Games fever swept the country, and there’s now a whole new crop of books they’ll be eager to read. The latest dystopian trilogy to catch teens’ attention is Divergent from Veronica Roth. A movie based on the first novel in the series is already in the works, and the final book is set to hit stores next week.
We also recommend keeping an eye on Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle trilogy, a fresh take on the paranormal saga, and the emotional teen love story in Just One Day and sequel Just One Year from. Gayle Forman, We’re also hearing a lot of buzz around the Teardrop trilogy from Lauren Kate -- and the first book doesn’t even come out until next week.