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The Bookblog / 6 July 2022

Cover image

The history of eBooks
A battle for commercial dominance, not quality reader experience



1949

Spanish schoolteacher Angela Ruis Robles patents a “mechanical encyclopedia” to help her students, the precursor to the digital book.


1971

Michael S. Hart creates digital copy of The American Declaration of Independence, and launches non-profit Project Gutenberg to ‘encourage the creation and distribution of electronic books’.


1976

Apple Computer founded.


1987

Michael Joyce creates the world’s first interactive fiction story ‘afternoon’, using hypertext, published on floppy disk.


1990

.html, HyperText Markup Language, is specified by Tim Berners-Lee as the markup language for content on the Internet.


1992

.pdf, Portable Document Format, is developed by Adobe as a file format for replicating print documents in digital form, subsequently adopted by Apple.


1993

Bibliobytes website sells ‘eBooks’ over the Internet.


1994

Amazon founded, starts with book selling.


1996

Project Gutenberg hosts 1,000 free eBooks, in .txt and .html file formats.

Abe Books launched, an online bookstore.


1997

Audible launches MobilePlayer, focuses on audiobooks.

.html updated to HTML3, and later in the same year, HTML4, bringing many new features. As HTML becomes more complex, ‘browser compatibility’ becomes problematic.


1998

First eBook readers on PDAs, etc.

eBooks gain ISBN numbers for commercial identification.

Google founded.


1999

National Institute of Standards and Technology holds world’s first eBook conference.

Several book publishers launch ‘iBook’ and ‘eBook’ divisions.

Microsoft says eBooks are “the future of reading” and predicts 90% of all books sold will be eBooks by 2018.

eBooks are not expected to affect the ‘gift book market’, 40% of total print book market. (They still don’t.)

.oeb, Open eBook file format created.


2000

Stephen King publishes new novella Riding The Bullet in digital-only form.

.mobi eBook file format created by Mobipocket, as a wrapper for HTML.

.lit eBook file format created by Microsoft.


2004

Sony Librie e-reader launched with e-Ink.

.md Markdown file format created by John Gruber, for text-only creation of short articles. Soon becomes standard for blogging, etc.


2005

Amazon acquires Mobipocket, starts working with .mobi file format.


2007

Apple iPhone launched.

Amazon Kindle e-reader and eBook store launched (using proprietary .azw file format, based on .mobi).

Goodreads book review website launched.

.epub file format created, as a flexible single file package for web content, using HTML.


2008

Amazon acquires Abe Books.

Amazon acquires Audible.

.html updated to HTML5, bringing improved semantic markup, cleaner separation between content and styling, and better media support.


2009

Stephen King’s new novella Ur launched exclusively on Amazon Kindle Store.

Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader launched.


2010

Rakuten Kobo e-reader launched.

Google Play Books store launched (accepting wide variety of file formats, including .epub, .pdf, .doc, .html).

Apple Books (iBooks) launched (primarily focused on .epub, .pdf).

Amazon Kindle app for iPhone & Android launched.


2011

Amazon launches Kindle 4 - lightweight, pocket-size & extremely cheap at $79.

.epub v.3.0.1 file format released, to allow more precise book formatting.


2012

B&N partners with Microsoft to mitigate against Amazon domination.

Pottermore exclusively sells Harry Potter eBooks ($1.6m in first 3 days), develops ‘transmedia’ storytelling.

Apple iPad launched, paving the way for tablet devices ideal for casual reading.

Amazon introduces Whispersync, linking Audible audiobooks with Kindle books.


2013

Amazon acquires Goodreads book review website, integrates into Kindle.

Oyster subscription service for books launched in USA.


2014

B&N partners with Samsung to bring Nook software to Galaxy devices.

Amazon launches Kindle Unlimited subscription service.


2015

Google acquires Oyster, integrates into Play Store.

Project Gutenberg hosts 50,000 free eBooks.


2016

Amazon bundles eBook subscription into Amazon Prime.


2017

Amazon reportedly controls 90% of eBook market.

eBook sales stall for first time in 5 years.

Michael Tamblyn, Kobo CEO, comments “For all of us now the fight is around attention and our ability to bring it back to reading.”


2019

.epub v.3.2 file format released, with even looser spec for greater flexibility.


2020

Global pandemic: book sales up, eBook sales proportionally down.


2022

eBooks estimated to account for around 15% of worldwide publishing industry sales, selling around 200 million units, generating around $17bn revenue. (sources: statista.com, publishers.org and others)


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