Reading incentive programs can encourage better reading habits improve literacy and comprehension skills, and entice reluctant readers to read more often. However, the true benefits of any educational incentive program depend on the program, its rewards and the criteria required to earn the incentives.
Summer reading programs are sponsored by many public libraries and school districts, and often feature small incentives, such as pencils, themed trinkets and coupons from local businesses. Children who actively participate in these programs are usually less likely to suffer from summer reading decline and decreased test scores in the fall.
Incentive programs sponsored by businesses, such as Pizza Hut's Book It program, encourage children who dislike reading to make it a regular part of their days, which holds an assortment of benefits. School and classroom incentive programs with large or attractive prizes have similar advantages. However, the long-term benefits of programs like these are debatable.
When students are offered rewards for reading, the quantity of books read typically increases dramatically. However, the quality of level-appropriate reading may diminish if the program does not define and enforce strict criteria. The style of reading and comprehension abilities may also change, depending on the program's guidelines for assessment.
According to a 2008 publication by Barbara A. Marinak and Linda B. Gambrell, a student who reads to earn an incentive, other than books, is less motivated to read than a child who is not rewarded for reading. According to this research, programs that offer books as incentives instill a love of reading and encourage children to be lifelong readers, while other incentive programs are typically less beneficial.