Demand for Educational Software Drops

Renee Montagne talks with New York Times technology columnist David Pogue about why sales of educational software have dropped recently, and what gadgets and Web sites parents are turning to.


On Mondays, the business report focuses on technology, and let's talk about technology for tots. Millions of toddlers have picked up the alphabet from interactive Dr. Seuss CD-ROMs, or they've learned to read from computer games like "Reader Rabbit." But sales of educational software are only about 30 percent of what they were just five years ago. To find out why, Renee spoke with New Times technology columnist David Pogue.


What's causing the slowdown in educational software sales?

Mr. DAVID POGUE (The New York Times): Well, two things. The big one is a little thing called the Internet. It's crawling with free computer games, not nearly as good as the educational software you would buy on CD for your computer, but it's hard to compete with free. And the other--the second part of this shift is that it's just away from the personal computer. In other words, the drop in sales has to do with sales of CDs, educational CDs, but sales are picking up the slack in things like Game Boy cartridges, and there's an educational console called the LeapPad. I think it's a sign of the times that this magazine that regularly used to review educational programs, called Children's Software Review, wound up having to change its name. It's now called Children's Technology Review. I think that's a big part of it.

MONTAGNE: Some critics of this kind of software, though, say it's a good thing it's not selling, they say, because kids should be outside. They should be playing and they shouldn't be sitting in front of the computer all day long.

Mr. POGUE: This one really strikes home for me, because we recently had this identical conversation with a sort of snooty neighbor. They were, like, `Oh, we can't believe you let your children use those electronic baby sitters,' you know? `You're parking your kid in front of a computer instead of running and playing and jumping outside,' and, you know, to which I say, `You know what? It's better than watching TV,' number one, because it's interactive and it's instructional and there's no ads. And number two, anything in moderation--you know, our kids learned the alphabet from the Dr. Seuss ABC CD. It's hilarious. It's interactive. They're engaged. They repeat after the computer. They're designed to teach and they do a good job of teaching at a self-paced child's level. And we know that our kids entered kindergarten very, very prepared, much more prepared than they would have been had they not been so interested in these CDs.

MONTAGNE: Well, what, then, are some of the good educational Web sites for kids?

Mr. POGUE: Well, the usual suspects--Nickelodeon and Sesame Street and Disney, their Web sites have little games and things. But in terms of educational content, that magazine I mentioned, Children's Technology Review, has a Web site called, which is a compilation of dozens of good, high-quality interactive educational games from all over the Net.

MONTAGNE: You said just now the sort of Web games, the Internet games, they're not as good, but why not?

Mr. POGUE: Well, for example, a good educational CD will do things like tracking a brother's and a sister's progress through the game separately. And not only that, but they'll track your progress over time, so when you return to this game three weeks from now, it will remember how many levels you've completed and pick up from there. Or if you keep having trouble distinguishing the letter E from the letter I, it will reinforce that area by giving you questions along those lines more frequently than the other questions. The Web games are not nearly as sophisticated. I mean, they're largely glorified computer games. So I think it's too bad in some ways that the CD market has crashed, because they were really doing some innovative, thoughtful educational work.

MONTAGNE: And it's over for good?

Mr. POGUE: The shift, I think, will probably continue away from the computer as the central educational platform and toward other kinds of electronic games and the Internet.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. POGUE: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: David Pogue is the technology columnist for The New York Times.

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