Children's reading is being squeezed - there is no denying this. Having time to read seems to be an increasingly rare commodity - hectic family life, after school activities, homework, and the lure of screens all conspire to push reading down the priority list for many parents and children. In particular the gaming world seems to hold a magnetic attraction for boys - and to the expense of reading, as various studies have shown.
Yet perhaps all is not what it seems. Boys get passionate about gaming brands and are incredibly keen to engage with them in any way they can. When children love a character or a brand they want total immersion in the world. It was ever thus - love Thomas the Tank Engine, want the toys, books, magazines, duvet cover and pyjamas. Minecraft is a great example of this passion. A phenomenal success, boys interact with it through gaming, You Tube walk-throughs and films, Lego models, t-shirts, hoodies and toys - and through reading books. Our Minecraft annual has only been on sale a short while. In 2 months it has sold 80,000 copies and is already the top selling winter annual. The guide books to the game are selling like hot cakes. Sales for books that have originated as a digital property (e.g. Angry Birds, Moshi Monsters, Skylanders, Minecraft) this year represent 14.5% value share of the character market, up from just 2.6% in 2010. These properties have the power to motivate reading.
Our boys tween magazine, Toxic, has been growing steadily in sales and reaches an average of over 50,000 boys every issue. A vibrant mix of gaming, film, You Tube, TV, toys, humour and comic strips, it offers boys a regular dose of curated popular culture in a dip in and out format that they love. So it's with great optimism that we will launch Disney Infinity magazine in February next year - a monthly based on the new interactive video game - and hope to bring more boys to reading. We know boys have a huge appetite for gaming brands and we expect this one will hook them too.
Although magazines have long been a key part of children's leisure and reading, they have commonly been viewed as 'not proper reading' by many parents and by the education system. This is changing though. We have worked with the UK Literacy Association to bring magazines to schools; they recognise that magazines are a key part of a child's reading repertoire, yet they are often scarce in the classroom. All children need to be exposed to a wide variety of reading material so that they can find out what they like - and when children read and enjoy what they read, they will read more. Reading is, after all, just a habit. It's nothing more mysterious than that. To embed the habit we have to begin somewhere.
There will always be some things that cut through and capture boys' imaginations. Boys (just like all of us!) will read when something is interesting enough for them. For instance we only need to look at the sales of Wimpy Kid, Tom Gates, and Barry Loser to see how comic style books can click with boys. I think there is a growing realisation that all reading is good reading. While parents might long for their sons to read the classics, they have to start somewhere and books based on digital properties, magazines and comic style books are as good a place as any. I was recently talking to a mum who built on her son's interest in Wimpy Kid by looking out for graphic novels. She told me she found a Hunt Emerson comic book version of 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' which her son loved, and she followed this up with a poetry anthology which he happily dips in and out of now.
We have cause for optimism - if parents want their sons to read, give them things to interest them and build on these foundations.
Alison David is the Consumer Insight Director at Egmont Publishing. Egmont has recently announced the launch of the Disney Infinity magazine.