What Are eBooks?

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These days you can take books with you on your phone or tablet, or even your laptop. Any sort of book publication that comes in a digital form is an e-book. One interesting thing about e-books is that there are many ‘volumes’ or ‘works’ that exist only in the digital world, without any printed-on-paper equivalent.

Starting in the 1990s and 2000s, the retailer Amazon.com changed the printed book market forever though introducing an interface system on their website that was combined with new ways of using logistics systems and the Post Office to create a new way of purchasing paperback and hardcover traditional books.

This system and website then took the next step of also offering e-books to its now-fairly-large consumer base.

This combined with the company’s introduction of the Kindle and Fire devices for reading e-books and perusing other types of downloaded media changed the publishing world forever. According to Wikipedia, starting in 2012 more titles were published online and through various e-book channels than were printed on paper in the United States.

E-Books are easy to purchase, cost less than traditional books, and can be ‘’shopped for’’ virtually anywhere there is an Internet or WiFi signal. Yes, it’s obvious that with e-book you’ll need something to open the file that has the words inside it, but these days almost everyone owns an internet-capable smartphone, laptop, or tablet.

These devices have many other uses, and while e-books are important uses for those devices, the fact that they have so many other uses helps break up the cost of getting into e-books.

Yet another advantage and market for e-books is for nonfiction and technical manuals. E-Books of course can be easily searched by their owners to find relevant keywords and information rather quickly.

If you’re learning something like coding, a coding e-book is much more useful than one printed on paper, because you can copy-paste lines of code and other commands directly into your projects. Again using data from Wikipedia, E-Book reading has increased in the United States fairly rapidly.

In 2013, 23% of adults had read an e-book. By 2014, 28% of all adults had read an e-book, indicating a 5% increase in only a year. In 2014 50% of all American adults owned some sort of e-reader or tablet, which was a large number compared to even 3 or 4 years previously.

E-Books have been almost fantasy devices for many years, with people in the 1930s coming up with films and writing down ideas that basically sketched out the idea behind electronic books, even before the necessary technology even existed or was put into wide use.

A lady named Angela Ruiz Robles patented the first electronic book reader in 1949. She was a teacher and wanted to decrease the amount of books that her pupils had to purchase and carry around all day. Another person, a man named Roberto Busa, wrote an annotated index of the works of Thomas Aquinas in 1949 that was basically the first electronic book.

It wasn’t completed until the 1970s, and was originally stored on a single computer. This project isn’t well-known, mainly because it was sort of a study guide and manual to a group of already-written texts, instead of being its own story or work of literature.

In the 1960s, projects begun at both Stanford University on the west coast of the United States and Brown University over on the east coast that were forerunners of e-books. It was these projects that began the use of hyperlinking and could do things like modern electronic books, such as changing the typefaces and sizes of the words on the screen.

It was also with these projects that academics began to see the very positive benefits of being able to search and rearrange and ‘’jump around’’ a large and voluminous text very quickly through the use of what are now fairly standard e-book ‘commands’ and features.

The project at Stanford was called NLS for OnLineSystem, and the Brown project was called both the Hypertext Editing System and FRESS, for File Retrieving and Editing System.

The first actual portable electronic book was created by the United States Department of Defense of all people. Starting in December 1981, the US Army and their Army Research Institute recognized the value of being able to search and find information in an electronic book-like form.

They assumed correctly that if their repair technicians had such a device that it would aid greatly in repairing complicated military hardware. The Army also realized that they had many different types of technicians working on many different types of machines; if they could invent some sort of e-reader, it could be used, say, by Army technicians repairing tanks and Air Force technicians repairing planes, and so on.

Almost even more importantly, the Army studies realized that technicians who didn’t have a large amount of training were equal or better at repairing things than much more seasoned technicians if the unskilled workers had access to some sort of what was then called the ‘’personal electronic aid for maintenance.’’

The Army loves acronyms, so this device was called a JPA, aka a Job Performance Aid.

The civilian world began to really expand the idea and power behind e-books starting in the 1990s as the Internet began to be used by more and more average people. It was in 1998 when many US libraries began to share their books online, usually by going to their websites and finding the specific title or name of the work.

(Downloading would come later, but remember at this time everyone basically had dial-up internet, so downloading wasn’t really an option back then.)  Adobe began using and popularizing their PDF format in the early and mid-1990s, and it was also around then when the EPUB format grew as the accepted free and open format for e-publishing.

Starting in the 2000s, many traditional publishing houses began to understand the new power of this medium, and began offering many famous titles as e-books. Amazon’s Kindle and Fire devices brought e-books to new people, and today they are a fairly popular medium.

Hope this article has helped you understand more about e-books!

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