Arnaud Pellé / Emerald Group Publishing / Research Information / October / November 2009 / takes a look at the history of e-books and what their future holds
What is an e-book? [snip] > To date, Vasileiou, et al. ... are among the latest researchers to have attempted stringing together a comprehensive definition of the medium. [snip]
> An e-book is a digital object with textual and/or other content, which arises as a result of integrating the familiar concept of a book with features that can be provided in an electronic environment; and
> E-books typically have in-use features such as search and cross reference functions, hypertext links, bookmarks, annotations, highlights, multimedia objects and interactive tools.
The Origins of e-Books
E-books are regarded as arguably the most significant development to affect the literary world since the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in 1450. The notion of the e-book itself has existed ever since computers first appeared.
In the 1960s, Alan Kay, an American computer scientist, introduced the idea of the Dynabook, close in essence to that of the e-book and the laptop. E-books became a somewhat mainstream reality in the 1970s, when Project Gutenberg ... , founded by ,,, Michael Hart, first made digitised versions of books fallen into the public domain widely available for free. [snip]
In the UK, Lou Burnard founded the Oxford Text Archive in 1976 for the scholarly community ... . Today, it provides more than 2,500 resources in more than 25 different languages.
For several decades, however, electronic text remained a very niche area accessed mainly by savvy scientists and academics.
The first conference on e-books was held in 1998, paving the way for the Open Book Forum initiative, to address the issues surrounding the future development of this then emerging technology. The Open Book Forum is known today as the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) ... .
NetLibrary ... was the first commercial e-book aggregator in the USA in 1998, ... .
Forecasts for the future of e-books were encouraging: studies conducted in 2000 suggested that, by 2005, there would be 1.9 million users of e-books and the revenue from digitised book publishing would reach US$7.8 billion ... . In spite of all this hype and optimism, however, e-book revenues for 2005 reached only US$12 million worldwide ... , a far cry from the billion-dollar market it was anticipated to become.
Demand for e-books failed to take off for a number of reasons. Analysts agreed that, initially, the lack of appropriate content was a significant deterrent. There were accessibility issues as well.
The general proprietary nature of e-book readers and Digital Rights Management (DRM) also constitute major sore points of the e-book industry. [snip]
In the past few years, however, the popularity of e-books has grown significantly again. Vasilieou et al. ... ] underline that ‘developments in technology and the internet have changed the nature of digital content and its accessibility and have opened up new opportunities for the publishing industry.’ [snip]
Factors such as EPUB standards, enabling e-books to be read on a variety of reading devices, and XML code, allowing for keyword searches within the content of e-books, are helping the trend for e-books.
Nevertheless, despite this increase in popularity, e-books only constitute only one to three per cent of total book sales ... .
What transpires is that the rise of e-books is restricted largely to the academic sector. E-books have become a tool of choice for researchers and students, particularly those belonging to the so-called digital generation, who can access and browse content at any moment from their laptops.
Findings from the first user survey, analysing 20,000 responses from 127 higher education institutions in the UK, show that ‘more than 60 per cent of the academic population are already using e-books, – nearly all in connection with their scholarly work’ ... .
The e-book market does not seem to have reached maturity yet. For the larger public, at least, even though the electronic version of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was the best-selling e-book worldwide in 2006 , e-books have still a long way to go before they can claim to dent the “p-book” market.
E-book readers, such as Kindle 2 and the latest Sony Reader, have scored favourable reviews and enjoyed widespread visibility lately, despite the consensus still being on the side of poor value and clunky functionality.
Industry-wide standards need to be adopted and more research has to be conducted regarding the technology involved in e-book readers in order to gain mass appeal. [snip]
Academic publishers have certainly embraced the increasing demand for e-books. At Emerald, two e-book series collections are now available, one focusing on social sciences, the other on business, management and economics. [snip]
I currently have primary responsibilities for Collection Development, Instruction, and Reference and Research Services in Chemical and Biological Engineering; Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering; Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering; and Mechanical Engineering; Alternative Energy; Environment Sciences with the Library of Iowa State University, where I have been employed since April 1987.
Prior to joining ISU, I served as the Museum Librarian at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, and as an Assistant Librarian with the Library of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, my hometown.
I received my Master of Science degree in Library Science from the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign in 1975, and my undergraduate degree in Anthropology from Lehman College of the City University of New York, The Bronx.