History of Ebooks


What is eBook

An eBook is a book in digital format that can be accessed via computers and mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablet PCs and devices specially designed for reading books or long texts in digital, called eReaders.

The history of the eBook originates around the end of the nineties, following the affirmation of commercial sites for the sale of paper books online, which began to offer their customers, in addition to the paper version, also a digitized transposition of the books coming out.

The Gutenberg Project

An important step forward in the history of the eBook is represented by the Gutenberg project, an initiative started by the computer scientist Michael Hart in 1971 with the aim of establishing a library of electronic versions of printed books in order to disseminate, exploiting the possibilities offered by digital technology, the cultural heritage of humanity to as many people as possible. Hart began typing the text of the United States Declaration of Independence manually on his terminal: Project Gutenberg began.

In 1992 Sony introduced the Sony Data Discman to the market, an innovative audio CD and CD-ROM player equipped with a screen that combined the reading capabilities of audio and video compact discs with that of CDs containing texts. An important feature was the possibility of carrying out searches within the entire range of books contained in the cd. The success of this innovative product was not great and its diffusion remained limited to the Japanese market.

The First eBook Reader

The first dedicated eBook reader was the Rocket eBook produced by Nuvomedia, a company founded in 1998. The Rocket eBook just snatched the palm of the first portable eBook reader device from another device, the Softbook, produced by Softbook Press. The Softbook has similar characteristics to the Rocket reader except for the presence of an internal modem that allowed the electronic books to be downloaded directly from the Internet for the device.

The introduction on the market of the Rocket eBook and the Softbook aroused great interest from many subjects from the world of traditional books and IT environments. The new reality of the eBook that came to the fore at the end of the nineties sparked hopes and expectations both in the technological, editorial and cultural environments for the birth of a new thriving market and for the affirmation of new ways of writing and fruition some texts. The interest of the media and the academic world was also focused around the eBook, there was a flourishing of essays, journalistic reports, dossiers dedicated to the new nascent reality, in some cases the dawn of a new era for reading.


Stephen King’s Experiment

An important event was the release by Stephen King of the short novel “Riding the Bullett” on March 14, 2000. The master of horror made the novel available exclusively on the web, selling it for two and a half dollars and entrusting its distribution to the main online book sellers, including Amazon, SimonSays and NetLibrary. “Riding the Bullett” represented a real editorial case: in the first forty-eight hours after its release, the book was purchased and downloaded by five hundred thousand people. King’s experiment could be considered a successful experiment as well as a success, however after just two weeks the book began to circulate on the net and be illegally duplicated among fans for free.

At the end of 2000 and especially during 2001 the enthusiasm was irreparably destined to fade. The market did not turn out to be ripe for the new digital object, the public interest was not at the levels expected and the weakness of the copyright protection solutions was evident. In 2002 and again in 2003, the announcements of closures and bankruptcies for companies active in the eBook sector followed one another in a chain. All these events would seem to mark the end of the eBook “dream”; on the other hand, numerous signs are emerging on the horizon that give hope for the emergence of a “reality” of the electronic book that can be parallel and complementary to the traditional book. There is a positive market trend that gives hope for future growth in the sector.