The selling of goods online has exploded in recent years and now includes almost all physical products as well as a wide range of services. It could be said that books are an ideal commodity for ecommerce, being both in the form of a tangible object that arrives promptly by post and in an electronic guise that comes instantly on screen. While customers sometimes doubt the quality of goods sold online, and many complain of disappointment, in the case of books, the quality can be accurately assessed before purchase and the buyer can be assured of satisfaction. The book that has existed for thousands of years, in the form of scroll and codex, seems perfectly adapted to the electronic age, but the system works better for books for adult readers rather than those intended for children.
Adults buy books for themselves. Apart from a few purchases made for gifts, most adults seek books to suit their own range of interests and this includes searching online as well as browsing in local bookshops. The purchases are made in the firm expectation of hours of entertainment, and perhaps a degree of instruction or enlightenment. It is a process of self-indulgence that admits few chances of error. What one chooses carefully for oneself one is highly likely to enjoy.
Children buy books on impulse. Their requests for what they see on display and expect to enjoy are supplied by indulgent parents and older relatives. It is risky to choose a book for another person, especially for a child, whose interests can fluctuate rapidly, and so many birthday and Christmas gifts are made in the form of a book token rather than a printed volume. The token is taken to a bookshop and the choice is again made from what is on display. Although, no doubt, there are tokens that can be redeemed online, few children are likely to search online for their book of choice.
Searching for the right book online is a time-consuming process. Only a relatively small number of bestsellers are promoted by the retailers and other books must be reached by links from other websites. Nobody trolls through the bestsellers lists that extend to many millions, and books with excellent reviews can be deeply buried bellow hundreds of thousands of competing titles. Children, especially, cannot be expected to find online the books they most want to read, and adults finding promising reads for children still shy away from the risk of buying on chance or the long process of referral to the intended reader. There is no simple answer, and it seems certain that much potential enjoyment remains hidden where young readers are unlikely to find it.