What Are E-Books?

Put simply, any book publication in digital form is an e-book.

Some books are published in print and digitally. Other volumes exist only in the digital realm.

Today, we’ll have a brief look at what e-books are and where this digital journey started.

The Role of Amazon

Starting in the 1990s, Amazon changed the printed book market forever.

They introduced an interface on their website combined with new logistics to create a method of purchasing paperback and hardcover books in their traditional form.

This system then evolved. Amazon began offering e-books to its now substantial consumer base.

The Kindle and Fire devices for reading e-books and other types of downloaded media came to market in 2007. With that, the publishing world as we knew it changed forever.

By 2012, more titles were published online and through various e-book channels than were printed on paper in the United States.

A Few of The Advantages of e-Books

  • Convenience: E-Books are very easy to buy. You can buy from virtually anywhere with a WiFi signal. You’ll need something to open the file containing the words but these days almost everyone owns a smartphone, laptop, or tablet with Internet capability.
  • Cost: E-books cost significantly less than print alternatives. Beyond this, you’ll be able to use your reading device for many other functions which helps break up the cost of getting into e-books
  • Technical Texts: E-Books can be readily searched for relevant keywords and information. This makes them ideal for referencing technical texts or non-fiction. They are invaluable for students
  • Coding and Programming: If you’re learning to code or program, a coding e-book is much more useful than one printed on paper. You can copy-paste lines of code and other commands directly into your projects

Some Simple Stats

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.

Things then started to accelerate…

In 2015, 50% of American adults owned some sort of e-reader or tablet.

Since the fantasy days of the 1930s when the idea of electronic books was first bandied about, technology has advanced to make this a reality.

How about the very first digital texts and earliest e-readers?

The Earliest Digital Texts and E-Readers

Angela Ruiz Robles patented the first electronic book reader in 1949.

She was a teacher and wanted to decrease the number of books her pupils had to purchase and carry around all day.

In 1949, Roberto Busa wrote an annotated index of the works of Thomas Aquinas that was really the first electronic book. This wasn’t completed until the 1970s, though. It was originally stored on a single computer. This project isn’t well-known, mainly because it was a study guide to a group of already-written texts not a stand-alone work of literature.

In the 1960s, projects began at both Stanford University on the west coast and Brown University over on the east coast. It was here that hyperlinking text kicked off. There were also experiments with changing typefaces and sizes.

The project at Stanford was called NLS for OnLineSystem.

The Brown project was called both the Hypertext Editing System and FRESS (File Retrieving and Editing System).

Academics soon saw the huge benefit of being able to search, rearrange and jump around large texts very rapidly. This led to the development of what are now fairly standard e-book commands and features.

The first actual portable electronic book was created by the United States Department of Defense. Starting in December 1981, the 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, it would aid greatly in repairing complicated military hardware.

The Army also realized 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 by Army technicians repairing tanks and Air Force technicians repairing planes.

The Army studies showed that technicians without much training were better at repairing things than much more seasoned technicians if they had access to this personal electronic aid for maintenance.

The Army loves acronyms so this device was called a JPA (Job Performance Aid).

E-Books Enter The Mainstream

The civilian world began to really expand the idea behind e-books starting in the 1990s.

As the Internet gained traction, more users could read and buy digital texts.

In 1998, many US libraries began to share their books online. These could be searched on their websites by title or author.

Downloading would come much later. Back then, dial-up Internet was the norm rendering downloading awkward.

Adobe began using and popularizing the PDF format in the early 1990s. It was also around then that the EPUB format gained currency.

Starting in the 2000s, many traditional publishing houses began offering famous titles as e-books.

By 2007, Amazon’s Kindle and Fire devices brought e-books to a new audience. Today, their popularity just continues to grow.

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