Electronic Book

An electronic book (variously: e-book, eBook, e-Book, ebook, digital book, or even e-edition) is a book-length publication in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, readable on computers or other electronic devices.[1] Although sometimes defined as "an electronic version of a printed book",[2] many e-books exist without any printed equivalent. Commercially produced and sold e-books are usually intended to be read on dedicated e-book readers, however, almost any sophisticated electronic device that features a controllable viewing screen, including computers, many mobile phones, and all smartphones can also be used to read e-books.


The inventor of the first e-book is not widely agreed upon. Some notable candidates include the following:

The first e-book may be the Index Thomisticus, a heavily annotated electronic index to the works of Thomas Aquinas, prepared by Roberto Busa beginning in the late 1940s. However, this is sometimes omitted, perhaps because the digitized text was (at least initially) a means to developing an index and concordance, rather than as a published edition in its own right.[3]

Some years earlier the idea of the e-reader came to Bob Brown after watching his first "talkie" (movies with sound). In 1930, he wrote an entire book on this invention and titled it "The Readies" playing off the idea of the "talkie".[4] In his book, Brown says that movies have out maneuvered the book by creating the "talkies" and as a result reading should find a new medium: A machine that will allow us to keep up with the vast volume of print available today and be optically pleasing (this was a big point for Brown).

Though Brown may have come up with the idea intellectually in the 1930s, early commercial e-readers did not follow his model. Nevertheless, Brown in many ways predicted what e-readers would become and what they would mean to the medium of reading. In an article Jennifer Schuessler writes, "The machine, Brown argued, would allow readers to adjust the type size, avoid paper cuts and save trees, all while hastening the day when words could be 'recorded directly on the palpitating ether.'"[5] However, Brown would likely have found our e-readers today to be much too bookish and not unique enough in their own right. He felt that the e-reader should bring a completely new life to the medium of reading. Schuessler relates it to a DJ spinning bits of old songs to create a beat or an entirely new song as opposed to just a remix of a familiar song.[5]

In 1949 a teacher from Galicia, Spain - Angela Ruiz - patents the first electronic book. Her intention was to decrease the number of books that her pupils carried to the school.

Alternatively, some historians consider electronic books to have started in the early 1960s, with the NLS project headed by Doug Engelbart at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), and the Hypertext Editing System and FRESS projects headed by Andries van Dam at Brown University.[6][7][8] Augment ran on specialized hardware, while FRESS ran on IBM mainframes. FRESS documents were structure-oriented rather than line-oriented, and were formatted dynamically for different users, display hardware, window sizes, and so on, as well as having automated tables of contents, indexes, and so on. All these systems also provided extensive hyperlinking, graphics, and other capabilities. Van Dam is generally thought to have coined the term "electronic book",[9][10] and it was established enough to use in an article title by 1985.[11]

FRESS was used for reading extensive primary texts online, as well as for annotation and online discussions in several courses, including English Poetry and Biochemistry. Brown faculty made extensive use of FRESS; for example the philosopher Roderick Chisholm used it to produce several of his books. Thus in the Preface to Person and Object (1979) he writes "The book would not have been completed without the epoch-making File Retrieval and Editing System ..."[12]

Brown University's leadership in electronic book systems continued for many years, including navy-funded projects for electronic repair-manuals;[13] a large-scale distributed hypermedia system known as InterMedia;[14] a spinoff company Electronic Book Technologies that built DynaText, the first SGML-based book-reader system; and the Scholarly Technology Group's extensive work on the still-prevalent Open eBook standard.

Despite the extensive earlier history, several publications report Michael S. Hart as the inventor of the e-book.[15][16][17] In 1971 the operators of the Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the University of Illinois gave Hart extensive computer-time. Seeking a worthy use of this resource, he created his first electronic document by typing the United States Declaration of Independence into a computer. Project Gutenberg was launched afterwards to create electronic copies of more texts - especially books.[18]

One early e-book implementation was the desktop prototype for a proposed notebook computer, the Dynabook, in the 1970s at PARC: a general-purpose portable personal computer capable of displaying books for reading.[19]

In 1992, Sony launched the Data Discman, an electronic book reader that could read e-books that were stored on CDs. One of the electronic publications that could be played on the Data Discman was called The Library of the Future.[20]

Early e-books were generally written for specialty areas and a limited audience, meant to be read only by small and devoted interest groups. The scope of the subject matter of these e-books included technical manuals for hardware, manufacturing techniques and other subjects. In the 1990s, the general availability of the Internet made transferring electronic files much easier, including e-books.

E-book formats

As e-book formats emerged and proliferated, some garnered support from major software companies such as Adobe with its PDF format, and others supported by independent and open-source programmers. Different readers followed different formats, most of them specializing in only one format, and thereby fragmenting the e-book market even more. Due to exclusiveness and limited readerships of e-books, the fractured market of independent publishers and specialty authors lacked consensus regarding a standard for packaging and selling e-books.

However, in the late 1990s a consortium formed to develop the Open eBook format as a way for authors and publishers to provide a single source-document which many book-reading software and hardware platforms could handle. Open eBook defined required subsets of XHTML and CSS; a set of multimedia formats (others could be used, but there must also be a fallback in one of the required formats); and an XML schema for a "manifest", to list the components of a given e-book, identify a table of contents, cover art, and so on. Google Books has converted many public-domain works to this open format.

In 2010 e-books continued to gain in their own underground markets. Many e-book publishers began distributing books that were in the public domain. At the same time, authors with books that were not accepted by publishers offered their works online so they could be seen by others. Unofficial (and occasionally unauthorized) catalogs of books became available on the web, and sites devoted to e-books began disseminating information about e-books to the public.[21]


US Libraries began providing free e-books to the public in 1998 through their web sites and associated services,[22] although the e-books were primarily scholarly, technical or professional in nature, and could not be downloaded. In 2003, libraries began offering free downloadable popular fiction and non-fiction e-books to the public, launching an e-book lending model that worked much more successfully for public libraries.[23] The number of library e-book distributors and lending models continued to increase over the next few years. From 2005 to 2008 libraries experienced 60% growth in e-book collections.[24] In 2010, a Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study[25] found that 66% of public libraries in the US were offering e-books,[26] and a large movement in the library industry began seriously examining the issues related to lending e-books, acknowledging a tipping point of broad e-book usage.[27] However, some publishers and authors have not endorsed the concept of electronic publishing, citing issues with demand, piracy and proprietary devices.[28] Demand-driven acquisition (DDA) has been around for a few years in public libraries, which allows vendors to streamline the acquisition process by offering to match a library's selection profile to the vendor's e-book titles.[29] The library's catalog is then populated with records for all the e-books that match the profile.[29] The decision to purchase the title is left to the patrons, although the library can set purchasing conditions such as a maximum price and purchasing caps so that the dedicated funds are spent according to the library's budget.[29] The 2012 meeting of the Association of American University Presses included a panel on patron-drive acquisition (PDA) of books produced by university presses based on a preliminary report by Joseph Esposito, a digital publishing consultant who has studied the implications of PDA with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.[30]

Dedicated hardware readers and mobile reader software

There have been several generations of dedicated hardware e-book readers. The Rocket eBook[31] and several others were introduced around 1998, but did not gain widespread acceptance. The establishment of the E Ink Corporation in 1997 led to the development of electronic paper, a technology which allows a display screen to reflect light like ordinary paper without the need for a backlight; electronic paper was incorporated first into the Sony Librie (released in 2004) and Sony Reader (2006), followed by the Amazon Kindle, a device which, upon its release in 2007, sold out within five hours.

As of 2009, new marketing models for e-books were being developed and a new generation of reading hardware was produced. E-books (as opposed to e-book readers) have yet to achieve global distribution. In the United States, as of September 2009, the Amazon Kindle model and Sony's PRS-500 were the dominant e-reading devices.[32] By March 2010, some reported that the Barnes & Noble Nook may be selling more units than the Kindle in the US.[33]

On January 27, 2010 Apple Inc. launched a multi-function device called the iPad[34] and announced agreements with five of the six largest publishers that would allow Apple to distribute e-books.[35] The iPad includes a built-in app for e-books called iBooks and the iBookstore. The iPad, the first commercially-profitable tablet computer, was followed in 2011 by the release of the first Android-based tablets as well as LCD versions of the Nook and Kindle; unlike previous dedicated e-readers, tablet computers are multi-function, utilize LCD displays (and usually touchscreens), and (like iOS and Android) be more agnostic to e-book vendor applications, allowing for installation of other e-book vendors. The growth in general-purpose tablet computer use allowed for further growth in popularity of e-books in the 2010s.

In July 2010, online bookseller Amazon.com reported sales of e-books for its proprietary Kindle outnumbered sales of hardcover books for the first time ever during the second quarter of 2010, saying it sold 140 e-books for every 100 hardcover books, including hardcovers for which there was no digital edition.[36] By January 2011, e-book sales at Amazon had surpassed its paperback sales.[37] In the overall US market, paperback book sales are still much larger than either hardcover or e-book; the American Publishing Association estimated e-books represented 8.5% of sales as of mid-2010, up from 3% a year before.[38] At the end of the first quarter of 2012, e-book sales in the United States surpassed hardcover book sales for the first time.[39]

In Canada, The Sentimentalists won the prestigious national Giller Prize. Owing to the small scale of the novel's independent publisher, the book was initially not widely available in printed form, but the e-book edition became the top-selling title for Kobo devices in 2010.[40]

Use of an e-book reader is disallowed on commercial airliners during takeoff and landing.[41]

A comparison of available e-book readers can be found at comparison of e-book readers.


Until 1979

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series launches (first novel published in 1979), featuring an electronic reference book containing all knowledge in the Galaxy (plus much more). Unlike real electronic books, this vast amount of data could be fit into something the size of a large paperback book, with updates received over the "Sub-Etha" (possibly a play on ethernet, which in turn is a play on the concept of the aether.)


  • Eastgate Systems publishes the first hypertext fiction, "Afternoon, a story", by Michael Joyce, available on floppy disk.
  • Electronic Book Technologies releases DynaText, the first SGML-based system for delivering large-scale books such as aircraft technical manuals. It was later tested on a US aircraft carrier as replacement for paper manuals, allowing the ship to rest 6" higher in the water.
  • F. Crugnola and I. Rigamonti design and create the first e-book reader, called Incipit, as a thesis project at the Politecnico di Milano.[43]
  • Digital Book, Inc. offers digital books on floppy disk in Digital Book Format(DBF).
  • Hugo Award for Best Novel nominee texts published on CD-ROM by Brad Templeton.
  • Bibliobytes, a project of free digital books online in Internet, launches.
  • Amazon starts to sell physical books on the Internet.[44]
  • Online poet Alexis Kirke discusses the need for wireless internet electronic paper readers in his article "The Emuse".[45]
  • Kim Blagg obtained the first ISBN issued to an ebook[dubious ][46] and began marketing multimedia-enhanced ebooks on CDs through retailers including amazon.com, bn.com and borders.com. Shortly thereafter, through her company Books OnScreen, she introduced the ebooks at the Book Expo America in Chicago, IL to an impressed, but unconvinced bookseller audience.
  • The first ebook readers - Rocket ebook and SoftBook - were introduced.
  • The Cybook / Cybook Gen1 was sold and manufactured at first by Cytale (1998–2003) then by Bookeen.
  • Websites began selling ebooks in English, such as eReader.com and eReads.com.


  • Todoebook.com, the first website selling ebooks in Spanish.
  • Sony Reader with e-ink.
  • LibreDigital launched BookBrowse as an online reader for publisher content.
  • BooksOnBoard, one of the largest independent ebookstores, opens and sells ebooks and audiobooks in six different formats.
  • Adobe and Sony agree to share their technologies (Adobe Reader and DRM).
  • Sony sells the Sony Reader PRS-505 in UK and France.
  • BooksOnBoard is first to sell ebooks for iPhones.
  • Bookeen releases the Cybook Opus in the US and in Europe.
  • Sony releases the Reader Pocket Edition and Reader Touch Edition.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle 2.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle DX in the US.
  • Barnes & Noble releases the NOOK in the US.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle DX International Edition worldwide.
  • Bookeen reveals the Cybook Orizon at CES.[49]
  • TurboSquid Magazine announces first magazine publication using Apple's iTunes LP format, however, this project was cancelled before it reached the market.
  • Apple releases the iPad with an e-book app called iBooks. Between its release in April 2010, to October, Apple had sold 7 million iPads.
  • Kobo Inc. releases its Kobo eReader to be sold at Indigo/Chapters in Canada and Borders in the United States.
  • Amazon reports that its ebook sales outnumbered sales of hardcover books for the first time ever during the second quarter of 2010.[36]
  • Amazon releases the third generation Kindle, available in 3G+Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi versions.
  • BeBook releases the BeBook Neo, first e-reader in Europe with Wi-FI.
  • Kobo Inc. releases an updated Kobo eReader, which now includes Wi-Fi.
  • Barnes & Noble releases the new NOOK Color.
  • Sony releases its second generation Daily Edition PRS-950.
  • Google launches Google eBooks
  • PocketBook expands its line with an Android ereader.[50]
  • Amazon.com announces in May that its e-book sales in the US now exceed all of its printed book sales.[51]
  • Barnes & Noble releases the NOOK Simple Touch ereader[52] and NOOK Tablet
  • Bookeen launches its own e-books store, BookeenStore.com, and starts to sell digital versions of titles in French.[53]
  • Nature Publishing publishes Principles of Biology, a customizable, modular textbook, with no corresponding paper edition.
  • The e-reader market grows in Spain, and companies like Telefónica, Fnac, and Casa del Libro (the most important Spanish bookshop) launches their e-readers with the Spanish brand bq readers.
  • Amazon launches the Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch.
  • Barnes & Noble releases the 7 and 8.9 inch NOOK HD. On April 27, 2013, the company posts losses of $475 million on its NOOK business for the prior fiscal year and in June 2013 announces its intention to discontinue manufacturing NOOK tablets (although Barnes & Noble stated it plans to continue making and designing black-and-white e-readers like the Nook Simple Touch, which "are more geared to serious readers, who are its customers, than to tablets".[64]
  • The Association of American Publishers announces that ebooks now account for about 20% of book sales. Barnes & Noble estimates it has a 27% share of the U.S. e-books market.[64]
  • Apple executive Keith Moerer testifies in the ongoing e-book price fixing trial that the iBookstore held approximately 20% of the ebook market share in the United States within the months after launch - a figure that Publishers Weekly reports is roughly double many of the previous estimates made by third parties. Moerer further testified that iBookstore acquired about an additional 20% by adding Random House in 2011.[65]
  • Five major US e-book publishers, as part of their settlement of a price-fixing suit, will have to refund about $3 for every electronic copy of a New York Times best-seller that they sold from April 2010 to May 2012.[63]


Writers and publishers have many formats to choose from when publishing ebooks. Each format has advantages and disadvantages. The most popular ebook readers[66][67] and their natively supported formats are shown below.

Reader Native E-Book Formats
Amazon Kindle, Kindle Fire (color), Kindle Touch, Kindle Touch 3G[68] AZW, PDF, TXT, non-DRM MOBI, PRC
Nook Simple Touch,[69] Nook Tablet EPUB, PDF
Apple iPad[70] EPUB, IBA (Multitouch books made via iBooks Author), PDF
Sony Reader PRS-350, PRS-650, PRS-950[68] EPUB, PDF, TXT, RTF, DOC, BBeB
Kobo eReader, Kobo Touch, Kobo Arc[71][72] EPUB, PDF, TXT, RTF, HTML, CBR (comic), CBZ (comic)
PocketBook Reader, PocketBook Touch[73][74] EPUB DRM, EPUB, PDF DRM, PDF, FB2, FB2.ZIP, TXT, DJVU, HTM, HTML, DOC, DOCX, RTF, CHM, TCR, PRC (MOBI)

Comparison to printed books


Spatial benefits

Over 2 million free e-books were available between July 4 and August 4 in 2009.[75] Mobile availability of e-books may be provided for users with a mobile data connection, so that these e-books need not be stored on the device. An e-book can be offered indefinitely, without ever going "out of print". In the space that a comparably sized print book takes up, an e-reader can potentially contain thousands of e-books, limited only by its memory capacity. If space is at a premium, such as in a backpack or at home, it can be an advantage that an e-book collection takes up little room and weight.

Mechanical and multimedia benefits

E-book websites can include the ability to translate books into many different languages, making the works available to speakers of languages not covered by printed translations.

Depending on the device, an e-book may be readable in low light or even total darkness. Many newer readers have the ability to display motion, enlarge or change fonts,[76] use Text-to-speech software to read the text aloud for visually impaired, partially sighted, elderly or dyslectic people or just for convenience, search for key terms, find definitions, or allow highlighting bookmarking and annotation. Additionally, e-books allow for readers to look up words or find more information about the topic immediately. Material can be organized however the author prefers and is not limited to a linear path through the book as hyper-text can allow a number of paths through the material.[77]

Printed books use 3 times more raw materials and 78 times more water to produce.[78] than e-books. However, the manufacture and distribution of e-book hardware (both the readers and the servers from which books are downloaded) consume materials and energy; the disposal of e-book hardware creates electronic waste; and the storage, distribution, and reading of e-books consume energy.

Depending upon the software support and used formats, non-textual multimedia can also be embedded into e-book pages as widgets, including images (and image galleries), videos, audio files and interactive (still or animated) models; this is similar to HTML elements which allow for presentation of multimedia content through embedding of the content inside web pages. This results in e-books offering richer reading experiences than is possible through traditional, physical books.

E-books, while often presented as "flipping" between "pages" (in a skeumorphic nod to traditional book design), are not necessarily limited to such presentation, and entries can be presented through downward scrolling; further, more novel widgets interactive widgets for revealing additional textual information can be added to an e-book.

Distributive and access benefits

While an e-book reader costs much more than one book, the electronic texts are at times cheaper. Moreover, a great share of e-books are available online for free, minus the minimal costs of the electronics required. For example, all fiction from before the year 1900 is in the public domain. Also, libraries lend more current e-book titles for limited times, free samples are available of many publications, and there are other lending models being piloted as well. E-books can be printed for less than the price of traditional new books using new on-demand book printers.

An e-book can be purchased/borrowed, downloaded, and used immediately, whereas when one buys or borrows a book, one must go to a bookshop, a home library, or public library during limited hours, or wait for a delivery.

Depending on possible digital rights management, e-books can be backed up to recover them in the case of loss or damage and it may be possible to recover a new copy without cost from the distributor. Compared to printed publishing, it is cheaper and easier for authors to self-publish e-books. Also, the dispersal of a free e-book copy can stimulate the sales of the printed version.[79]

Digital rights management

Anti-circumvention techniques may be used to restrict what the user may do with an e-book. For instance, it may not be possible to transfer ownership of an e-book to another person, though such a transaction is common with physical books. Some devices can phone home to track readers and reading habits, restrict printing, or arbitrarily modify reading material. This includes restricting the copying and distribution of works in the public domain through the use of "click-wrap" licensing, effectively limiting the rights of the public to distribute, sell or use texts in the public domain freely.

Most e-book publishers do not warn their customers about the possible implications of the digital rights management tied to their products. Generally they claim that digital rights management is meant to prevent copying of the e-book. However in many cases it is also possible that digital rights management will result in the complete denial of access by the purchaser to the e-book.[80] With some formats of DRM, the e-book is tied to a specific computer or device. In these cases the DRM will usually let the purchaser move the book a limited number of times after which they cannot use it on any additional devices. If the purchaser upgrades or replaces their devices eventually they may lose access to their purchase. Some forms of digital rights management depend on the existence of online services to authenticate the purchasers. When the company that provides the service goes out of business or decides to stop providing the service, the purchaser will no longer be able to access the e-book.

As with digital rights management in other media, e-books are more like rental or leasing than purchase. The restricted book comes with a number of restrictions, and eventually access to the purchase can be removed by a number of different parties involved. These include the publisher of the book, the provider of the DRM scheme, and the publisher of the reader software.

The e-books sold by most major publishers and electronic retailers, including notably Amazon.com and Apple Inc., are DRM-protected and tied to the publisher's e-reader software or hardware. The first major publisher to omit DRM was Tor Books, one of the largest publishers of science fiction and fantasy, in 2012. Smaller e-book publishers such as O'Reilly Media, Carina Press and Baen Books had already forgone DRM previously.[81]

In recent years, some websites including library.nu, BookFinder and Library Genesis have emerged which allow downloading ebooks by violating copyright.[82]


Some e-books are produced simultaneously with the production of a printed format, as described in electronic publishing, though in many instances they may not be put on sale until later. Often, e-books are produced from pre-existing hard-copy books, generally by document scanning, sometimes with the use of robotic book scanners, having the technology to quickly scan books without damaging the original print edition. Scanning a book produces a set of image files, which may additionally be converted into text format by an OCR program.[83] Occasionally, as in some e-text projects, a book may be produced by re-entering the text from a keyboard.

As a newer development, sometimes only the electronic version of a book is produced by the publisher.[examples needed] It is even possible to release an e-book chapter by chapter as each chapter is written.[examples needed] This is useful in fields such as information technology where topics can change quickly in the months that it takes to write a typical book. It is also possible to convert an electronic book to a printed book by print on demand. However these are exceptions as tradition dictates that a book be launched in the print format and later if the author wishes an electronic version is produced.

As of 2010, there is no industry-wide e-book bestseller list, but various e-book vendors compile bestseller lists, such as those by Amazon Kindle Bestsellers[84] and Fictionwise.[85]


Main article: e-book reader

e-book reader, also called an e-book device or e-reader, is a mobile electronic device that is designed primarily for the purpose of reading e-books and digital periodicals. An e-book reader is similar in form to a limited purpose tablet computer.

e-Reader applications

Additionally, some of the major book retailers and multiple third-party developers offer free (and in some third-party cases, premium paid) e-Reader applications for the Mac and PC desktops as well as for Android, Blackberry, iPad, iPhone and Palm OS devices to allow the reading of eBooks and other documents independently of dedicated e-book devices (such as the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo eReader, and Sony Reader).

Market shares

Quantity market shares of e-book sales in US by Goldman Sachs at 2010
Sellers Percent
Barnes & Noble
Market share of e-readers in Canada by Ipsos Reid at January 2012
Sellers Percent

See also


External links

  • Doctorow, Cory (February 12, 2004). Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books, O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference
  • James, Bradley (November 20, 2002). The Electronic Book: Looking Beyond the Physical Codex, SciNet
  • Lynch, Clifford (May 28, 2001). The Battle to Define the Future of the Book in the Digital World, First Monday – Peer reviewed journal on the Internet
  • Project Gutenberg
  • About the Google Book Settlement (GBS) and online books (rights)
  • E-Books Spark Battle Inside Publishing Industry (Washington Post, 27 Dec 2009)
  • DMOZ