There was a time in history when if you wanted to read a book you had to buy a hardcopy, and that was not too long ago. These days, instead of books many people are now reading their literature from eReaders and as technology has progressed eBooks have risen in popularity. Do eBooks change the experience of reading or simply just the medium of how we consume literature? In 2019, eBooks accounted for 18% for the total sales on the market. While this encapsulates nearly a fifth of individuals who consume literature this statistic shows most readers still prefer to buy a hardcopy book, showing print is alive and well. I will be looking at the history of the eBook, from its early beginnings to the entity it has become today.
In the timeline of history, eBooks as a phenomenon are part of the late 1990s age of technology. The first two eReaders appeared on the market in 1998. The Rocket eBook, produced by NuvoMedia, was the first product to make it to the market and offered networking capabilities by being able to connect to a PC through a cable. The user was then able to purchase electronic content on the internet and download it to their device so they could safely and securely read it. The SoftBook Reader was released by Gemstar a few months later and with it the company launched the SoftBook Network. This was a built-in internet connection, so users did not have to physically connect their device to a PC to download a book on it. While the memory on these devices would be considered small in today’s terms, the production of these devices offered potential towards the digitization of literature in the future.
However, this progress did not happen overnight. During the early 2000s some companies who established themselves in the eBook market closed their doors permanently within a matter of years. A major consulting firm conducted a study on the eBook market in 2000 and they predicted by 2005, eBooks would account for 10% of the print sales figure. In 2006, just after the time of the market prediction, Google entered the market and launched Google Books. This opened a world of possibilities to users as they could now search for any book through the Google search engine. This was only the start of the eBook movement as it began to gain momentum in the public eye. A year later Amazon launched their first version of the Kindle. This device was a step forward in literary technology as it was able to hold up to two-hundred books at a time, this was a first for this type of technology. Users could also subscribe to other media outlets such as newspapers or magazines and access them from their Kindle. Unlike other touchscreen technologies of the time the Kindle’s screen had no backlight. This emulated the experience of looking at words on a page rather than on a screen. The inclusion of this feature illustrated the difference between reading from a normal device compared to a device that was dedicated to storing books. It would be included in some eReaders that entered the market in later years.
As people began to consume more literature electronically, many predicted there would be a surge in the eBook market in the 2010s due to the growth in the market in the late 2000s. More literary technologies made their debut onto the world stage such as iBookstore on the iPad which was launched at the beginning of the decade. There were new additions to the market from Barnes & Noble, PocketBook and Onyx Inc. This gave consumers more choice in the eBook market. In the UK, eBook sales did rise during the early 2000s and that figure stayed climbing until 2015. However, by 2016 their sales decreased by 4% while hardcopy books enjoyed a boost in their sales of 2%. When the Association of American Publishers released their sales figures in January 2019, they had fallen by 3% in comparison to the same time in 2018.
Despite the fall in numbers in recent years, the fact that nearly a fifth of readers consume literature in electronic format shows that there is still an active marketplace for eBooks. The adaptations featured on eReaders throughout years of production -example: the unlit screen- enhance the reading experience, as opposed to reading text from a normal touchscreen. We have stepped into the second decade of the 21st century and with that change comes more options in the way we can consume literature.