A History of E-Books


The last few years have seen exponential growth in the popularity of e-Books. The characteristics of this product have attractive features both to the purchaser and seller. The purchaser is able to access large numbers of titles worldwide which can be immediately downloaded at any time from a variety of devices which have internet access. The seller is able on-line to market his product worldwide and benefits from a global audience which can purchase products 24/7, and which compared to traditional methods of retailing books has minimal overhead costs.


In 1971 Michael Hart at the University of Illinois created what was effectively the first e-Book. After typing the United States Declaration of Independence into a computer, he was told it was unacceptable to distribute it to numerous people via email as this would crash the system. Accordingly he made it available for people to download and the first e-Book was created. In the same year he launched a volunteer scheme called Project Gutenberg to create electronic copies of cultural texts which were to be placed in an archive.

In 1985 the Voyager Company was established which published books on CD-ROM’s and progressed to “expanded books”. Digital Book Inc. in 1993 started selling floppy disks with 50 e-Books in a Digital Book Format (.dbf). Generally speaking earlier e-Books were produced for limited audiences in technical or niche subjects.

E-Books go Mainstream

Towards the end of the 1990’s there was an increase in the speed of developments. In 1998 the first dedicated e-Book readers were released, including SoftBook, Rocket e-Book and Cybook. The year also saw the first libraries in the US start providing free e-Books to the public via their websites, although at that time they could not be downloaded and usually related to professional, scholarly or technical subjects. These services expanded in 2003 when libraries started offering free downloadable fiction and non-fiction e-Books to the public.

Microsoft in 2000 released the e-Book reading software, Microsoft Reader. It utilised ClearType technology to enable the type to be viewed on smaller devices and was suitable for Windows computers and PocketPCs. In the same year Stephen King released his book ‘Riding the Bullet’in digital format only, and which could only be read on a computer. During the initial 24 hours in excess of 400,000 copies were downloaded. The beginning of the decade saw the major publishing houses begin to take an interest, and in 2002 Harper Collins and Random House began offering some of their titles as digital products.

In 2005 Bookboon.com was started, enabling the download of free textbooks and travel guide e-Books. The same year Amazon expanded its interest with the purchase of software company Mobipocket, which provided e-Book reading software for portable devices. Amazon in 2007 launched a dedicated e-Book reader called Kindle, which could download e-Books and other digital media over Wi-Fi or the mobile network from the Amazon website. Over 90,000 e-Books were available, including over 100 New York Times bestsellers. BooksOnBoard.com in 2008 became the first to sell e-Books for iPhones.

April 2010 saw Apple launch the iPad, which included e-Book reading software iBooks. It also launchediBookstore, a virtual bookstore selling e-Book downloads. During the second quarter of 2010 Amazon announced that its e-Book sales surpassed those of hardcover titles, and also in 2010 Google eBookstore opened with 3 million titles. In May 2011 Amazon announced its e-Book sales now exceed all of its printed book sales.

e-Books have arrived.

Steven Bolton is the founder and owner of ebookroadshow.com, a site that provides ebooks related to improving knowledge and skills. To review the site please visit:



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