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Amazon's Kindle Keyboard e-reader displaying an e-book

An electronic book (variously: e-book, eBook, e-Book, ebook, digital book or e-edition) is a book-length publication in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, readable on computers or other electronic devices.[1] Although sometimes defined as "an electronic version of a printed book",[2] many e-books exist without any printed equivalent. Commercially produced and sold e-books are usually intended to be read on dedicated e-readers. However, almost any sophisticated electronic device that features a controllable viewing screen, including computers, tablets and smartphones can also be used to read e-books.

E-book reading is increasing in the US; by 2014 28% of adults had read an e-book, compared to 23% in 2013. This is increasing because 50% of American adults by 2014 had a dedicated device, either an e-reader or a tablet, compared to 30% owning such a device by the end of 2013.[3]


The Readies (1930)[edit]

The idea of the e-reader came to Bob Brown after watching his first "talkie" (movie with sound). In 1930, he wrote a book on this idea and titled it The Readies, playing off the idea of the "talkie".[4] In his book, Brown says movies have outmaneuvered the book by creating the "talkies" and, as a result, reading should find a new medium: "A machine that will allow us to keep up with the vast volume of print available today and be optically pleasing".

Though Brown may have come up with the idea intellectually in the 1930s, early commercial e-readers did not follow his model. Nevertheless, Brown in many ways predicted what e-readers would become and what they would mean to the medium of reading. In an article Jennifer Schuessler writes, "The machine, Brown argued, would allow readers to adjust the type size, avoid paper cuts and save trees, all while hastening the day when words could be ‘recorded directly on the palpitating ether.’"[5] He felt the e-reader should bring a completely new life to the medium of reading. Schuessler relates it to a DJ spinning bits of old songs to create a beat or an entirely new song as opposed to just a remix of a familiar song.[5]

Ángela Ruiz Robles with la Enciclopedia Mecánica

Candidates for the first e-book inventor[edit]

The inventor of the first e-book is not widely agreed upon. Some notable candidates include the following:

Roberto Busa (late 1940s)[edit]

The first e-book may be the Index Thomisticus, a heavily annotated electronic index to the works of Thomas Aquinas, prepared by Roberto Busa beginning in 1949 and completed in the 1970s.[6] Although originally stored on a single computer, a distributable CD-ROM version appeared in 1989. However, this work is sometimes omitted; perhaps because the digitized text was a means to studying written texts and developing linguistic concordances, rather than as a published edition in its own right.[7] In 2005, the Index was published online.[8]

Ángela Ruiz Robles (1949)[edit]

In 1949, Ángela Ruiz Robles, a teacher from Galicia, Spain, patented the first electronic book, la Enciclopedia Mecánica, or the Mechanical Encyclopedia. It was powered by compressed air. Her intention was to decrease the number of books that her pupils carried to the school.[9]

Doug Engelbart and Andries van Dam (1960s)[edit]

Alternatively, some historians consider electronic books to have started in the early 1960s, with the NLS project headed by Doug Engelbart at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), and the Hypertext Editing System and FRESS projects headed by Andries van Dam at Brown University.[10][11][12] Augment ran on specialized hardware, while FRESS ran on IBM mainframes. FRESS documents were structure-oriented rather than line-oriented, and were formatted dynamically for different users, display hardware, window sizes, and so on, as well as having automated tables of contents, indexes, and so on. All these systems also provided extensive hyperlinking, graphics, and other capabilities. Van Dam is generally thought to have coined the term "electronic book",[13][14] and it was established enough to use in an article title by 1985.[15]

FRESS was used for reading extensive primary texts online, as well as for annotation and online discussions in several courses, including English Poetry and Biochemistry. Brown faculty made extensive use of FRESS; for example the philosopher Roderick Chisholm used it to produce several of his books. Thus in the Preface to Person and Object (1979) he writes "The book would not have been completed without the epoch-making File Retrieval and Editing System..."[16]

Brown University’s work in electronic book systems continued for many years, including US Navy funded projects for electronic repair-manuals;[17] a large-scale distributed hypermedia system known as InterMedia;[18] a spinoff company Electronic Book Technologies that built DynaText, the first SGML-based book-reader system; and the Scholarly Technology Group's extensive work on the still-prevalent Open eBook standard.

Michael Hart (left) and Gregory Newby (right) of Project Gutenberg, 2006

Michael S. Hart (1971)[edit]

Despite the extensive earlier history, several publications report Michael S. Hart as the inventor of the e-book.[19][20][21] In 1971, the operators of the Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the University of Illinois gave Hart extensive computer-time. Seeking a worthy use of this resource, he created his first electronic document by typing the United States Declaration of Independence into a computer.[22]

Early e-book implementations[edit]

After Hart first adapted the Declaration of Independence into an electronic document in 1971, Project Gutenberg was launched to create electronic copies of more texts - especially books.[22]

Another early e-book implementation was the desktop prototype for a proposed notebook computer, the Dynabook, in the 1970s at PARC: a general-purpose portable personal computer capable of displaying books for reading.[23]

First portable electronic book

In 1980 the Department of Defense began concept development for a portable electronic delivery device for technical maintenance information called project PEAM, the Portable Electronic Aid for Maintenance. Detailed specifications were completed in FY 82, and prototype development began with Texas Instruments that same year. Four prototypes were produced and delivered for testing in 1986. Tests were completed in 1987. The final summary report was produced by the US Army research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences in 1989 authored by Robert Wisher and J. Peter Kincaid.[24]

A patent application for the PEAM device [25] was submitted by Texas Instruments titled "Apparatus for delivering procedural type instructions" was submitted Dec 4, 1985 listing John K. Harkins and Stephen H. Morriss as inventors.

In 1992, Sony launched the Data Discman, an electronic book reader that could read e-books that were stored on CDs. One of the electronic publications that could be played on the Data Discman was called The Library of the Future.[26]

Early e-books were generally written for specialty areas and a limited audience, meant to be read only by small and devoted interest groups. The scope of the subject matter of these e-books included technical manuals for hardware, manufacturing techniques, and other subjects.[citation needed] In the 1990s, the general availability of the Internet made transferring electronic files much easier, including e-books.[citation needed]

E-book formats[edit]

Reading an e-book on public transit

As e-book formats emerged and proliferated,[citation needed] some garnered support from major software companies, such as Adobe with its PDF format and others supported by independent and open-source programmers.[citation needed] Different e-readers followed different formats, most of them specializing in only one format, thereby fragmenting the e-book market even more. Due to the exclusiveness and limited readerships of e-books, the fractured market of independent publishers and specialty authors lacked consensus regarding a standard for packaging and selling e-books.[citation needed]

However, in the late 1990s, a consortium formed to develop the Open eBook format as a way for authors and publishers to provide a single source-document which many book-reading software and hardware platforms could handle. Open eBook as defined required subsets of XHTML and CSS; a set of multimedia formats (others could be used, but there must also be a fallback in one of the required formats), and an XML schema for a "manifest", to list the components of a given e-book, identify a table of contents, cover art, and so on.[citation needed] This format led to the open format EPUB. Google Books has converted many public domain works to this open format.[27]

In 2010, e-books continued to gain in their own underground markets.[citation needed] Many e-book publishers began distributing books that were in the public domain.[citation needed] At the same time, authors with books that were not accepted by publishers offered their works online so they could be seen by others. Unofficial (and occasionally unauthorized) catalogs of books became available on the web, and sites devoted to e-books began disseminating information about e-books to the public.[28] Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. Consumer e-book publishing market are controlled by the "Big Five". The "Big Five" publishers include: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.[29]


US Libraries began providing free e-books to the public in 1998 through their web sites and associated services,[30] although the e-books were primarily scholarly, technical or professional in nature, and could not be downloaded. In 2003, libraries began offering free downloadable popular fiction and non-fiction e-books to the public, launching an e-book lending model that worked much more successfully for public libraries.[31] The number of library e-book distributors and lending models continued to increase over the next few years. From 2005 to 2008 libraries experienced 60% growth in e-book collections.[32] In 2010, a Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study[33] found that 66% of public libraries in the US were offering e-books,[34] and a large movement in the library industry began seriously examining the issues related to lending e-books, acknowledging a tipping point of broad e-book usage.[35] However, some publishers and authors have not endorsed the concept of electronic publishing, citing issues with demand, piracy and proprietary devices.[36] In a survey of interlibrary loan librarians it was found that 92% of libraries held ebooks in their collections and that 27% of those libraries had negotiated interlibrary loan rights for some of their ebooks. This survey found significant barriers to conducting interlibrary loan for e-books.[37] Demand-driven acquisition (DDA) has been around for a few years in public libraries, which allows vendors to streamline the acquisition process by offering to match a library's selection profile to the vendor's e-book titles.[38] The library's catalog is then populated with records for all the e-books that match the profile.[38] The decision to purchase the title is left to the patrons, although the library can set purchasing conditions such as a maximum price and purchasing caps so that the dedicated funds are spent according to the library's budget.[38] The 2012 meeting of the Association of American University Presses included a panel on patron-drive acquisition (PDA) of books produced by university presses based on a preliminary report by Joseph Esposito, a digital publishing consultant who has studied the implications of PDA with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.[39]


Although the demand for e-book services in libraries has grown, and so the number of people with e-readers, some difficulties still keep libraries from being able to provide the popular technology. Just recently have most big publishers agreed to sell e-books to libraries for public use. It has taken many years but publishers of electronic books now realize that libraries providing an e-book to patrons can be a huge opportunity for advertising and usually results in patrons becoming customers.[40] Also, even though publishers will sell e-books to libraries now, they can only have the limited license to the book in most cases. This means the library does not own the electronic text but that they can circulate it for either a certain period of time or a certain amount of check outs, or both... then it’s gone. When the facility does make the decision to purchase the e-book license, the cost is three times what it would be for a personal consumer.[40]

Archival storage[edit]

The Internet Archive and Open Library offers over 6,000,000 fully accessible public domain e-books.

Dedicated hardware readers and mobile reader software[edit]

Main article: E-reader
The BEBook e-reader

An e-reader, also called an e-book reader or e-book device, is a mobile electronic device that is designed primarily for the purpose of reading e-books and digital periodicals. An e-reader is similar in form, but more limited in purpose than a tablet. In comparison to tablets, many e-readers are better than tablets for reading because they are more portable, have better readability in sunlight and have longer battery life.[41]

There have been several generations of dedicated hardware e-readers. The Rocket eBook[42] and several others were introduced around 1998, but did not gain widespread acceptance. The establishment of the E Ink Corporation in 1997 led to the development of electronic paper, a technology which allows a display screen to reflect light like ordinary paper without the need for a backlight; electronic paper was incorporated first into the Sony Librie (released in 2004) and Sony Reader (2006), followed by the Amazon Kindle, a device which, upon its release in 2007, sold out within five hours.

As of 2009, new marketing models for e-books were being developed and a new generation of reading hardware was produced. E-books (as opposed to e-readers) have yet to achieve global distribution. In the United States, as of September 2009, the Amazon Kindle model and Sony's PRS-500 were the dominant e-reading devices.[43] By March 2010, some reported that the Barnes & Noble Nook may be selling more units than the Kindle in the US.[44]

On January 27, 2010 Apple Inc. launched a multi-function device called the iPad[45] and announced agreements with five of the six largest publishers[citation needed] that would allow Apple to distribute e-books.[46] The iPad includes a built-in app for e-books called iBooks and the iBookstore. The iPad, the first commercially profitable tablet computer, was followed in 2011 by the release of the first Android-based tablets as well as LCD versions of the Nook and Kindle; unlike previous dedicated e-readers, tablet computers are multi-function, utilize LCD displays (and usually touchscreens), and (like iOS and Android) be more agnostic to e-book vendor applications, allowing for installation of other e-book vendors. The growth in general-purpose tablet computer use allowed for further growth in popularity of e-books in the 2010s.

In July 2010, online bookseller Amazon.com reported sales of e-books for its proprietary Kindle outnumbered sales of hardcover books for the first time ever during the second quarter of 2010, saying it sold 140 e-books for every 100 hardcover books, including hardcovers for which there was no digital edition.[47] By January 2011, e-book sales at Amazon had surpassed its paperback sales.[48] In the overall US market, paperback book sales are still much larger than either hardcover or e-book; the American Publishing Association estimated e-books represented 8.5% of sales as of mid-2010, up from 3% a year before.[49] At the end of the first quarter of 2012, e-book sales in the United States surpassed hardcover book sales for the first time.[50]

In Canada, The Sentimentalists won the prestigious national Giller Prize. Owing to the small scale of the novel's independent publisher, the book was initially not widely available in printed form, but the e-book edition became the top-selling title for Kobo devices in 2010.[51]

Until late 2013, use of an e-reader was not allowed on airplanes during takeoff and landing.[52] In November 2013, the FAA allowed use of e-readers on airplanes at all times if it is in Airplane Mode, which means all radios turned off, and Europe followed this guidance the next month.[53] In 2014, the New York Times predicted that by 2018 e-books will make up over 50% of total consumer publishing revenue in the United States and Great Britain.[54]

E-reader applications[edit]

Some of the major book retailers and multiple third-party developers offer free (and in some third-party cases, premium paid) e-reader applications for the Mac and PC computers as well as for Android, Blackberry, iPad, iPhone, Windows Phone and Palm OS devices to allow the reading of e-books and other documents independently of dedicated e-book devices. Examples are apps for the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo eReader, and Sony Reader.


Until 1979[edit]

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series launches (first novel published in 1979), featuring an electronic reference book containing all knowledge in the Galaxy (plus much more). Unlike real electronic books, this vast amount of data could be fit into something the size of a large paperback book, with updates received over the "Sub-Etha" (possibly a play on ethernet,[citation needed] which in turn is a play on the concept of the aether.[citation needed])


  • Eastgate Systems publishes the first hypertext fiction, "Afternoon, a story", by Michael Joyce, available on floppy disk.
  • Electronic Book Technologies releases DynaText, the first SGML-based system for delivering large-scale books such as aircraft technical manuals. It was later tested on a US aircraft carrier as replacement for paper manuals, allowing the ship to rest 6" higher in the water.
The DD8 Data Discman
  • F. Crugnola and I. Rigamonti design and create the first e-reader, called Incipit, as a thesis project at the Politecnico di Milano.[56]
Bookeen's Cybook Gen1


  • Todoebook.com, the first website selling ebooks in Spanish.[citation needed]
The larger Kindle DX with a Kindle 2 for size comparison
  • Bookeen releases the Cybook Opus in the US and in Europe.
  • Sony releases the Reader Pocket Edition and Reader Touch Edition.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle 2.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle DX in the US.
  • Barnes & Noble releases the Nook in the US.


  • The idea of the next-generation digital book called 'interactive e-book' was proposed.[69]
  • Amazon.com announces in May that its e-book sales in the US now exceed all of its printed book sales.[70]
  • Barnes & Noble releases the Nook Simple Touch eReader and Nook Tablet.[71]
  • Bookeen launches its own e-books store, BookeenStore.com, and starts to sell digital versions of titles in French.[72]
  • Nature Publishing publishes Principles of Biology, a customizable, modular textbook, with no corresponding paper edition.
  • The e-reader market grows in Spain, and companies like Telefónica, Fnac, and Casa del Libro launches their e-readers with the Spanish brand "bq readers".
  • Amazon launches the Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch.
  • On April 27, 2013, Barnes & Noble posts losses of $475 million on its Nook business for the prior fiscal year and in June 2013 announces its intention to discontinue manufacturing Nook tablets, although it plans to continue making and designing black-and-white e-readers like the Nook Simple Touch, which "are more geared to serious readers, who are its customers, than to tablets".[83]
  • The Association of American Publishers announces that ebooks now account for about 20% of book sales. Barnes & Noble estimates it has a 27% share of the U.S. e-books market.[83]
  • Apple executive Keith Moerer testifies in the ongoing e-book price fixing trial that the iBookstore held approximately 20% of the ebook market share in the United States within the months after launch - a figure that Publishers Weekly reports is roughly double many of the previous estimates made by third parties. Moerer further testified that iBookstore acquired about an additional 20% by adding Random House in 2011.[84]
  • Five major US e-book publishers, as part of their settlement of a price-fixing suit, were ordered to refund about $3 for every electronic copy of a New York Times best-seller that they sold from April 2010 to May 2012.[82] This could equal $160 million in settlement charges.
  • US District Court Judge Denise Cote finds Apple guilty of conspiring to raise the retail price of e-books and schedules a trial in 2014 to determine damages.[85]
  • Barnes & Noble releases the Nook Glowlight, which has a 6-inch touchscreen with E Ink Pearl’s Regal wave.
  • Scribd launched the first public unlimited access subscription service for e-books.[86]
  • Oyster launches its unlimited access e-book subscription service.[87]
  • Mofibo launched the first Scandinavian unlimited access e-book subscription service.[88]
  • US District Court Judge Cote grants class action certification to plaintiffs in a lawsuit over Apple’s alleged e-book price conspiracy; the plaintiffs are seeking $840 million in damages.[89] Apple appeals the decision.
  • Apple settles ebook antitrust case that alleged Apple conspired to e-book price-fixing out of court; however if Judge Cote’s ruling is overturned in appeal the settlement would be reversed.[90]
  • Amazon launches Kindle Unlimited as an unlimited-access e-book and audiobook subscription service.[91]
  • Amazon releases the Kindle Voyage that has a 6-inch, 300 ppi E-Ink Carta HD display, which was the highest resolution and contrast available in e-readers as of 2014.[92] It also features an adaptive LED light and page turn buttons on the sides of the device.
  • Kobo released the Aura HD with a 6.8-inch screen.
  • By a 2-1 vote, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals concurs with Judge Cote that Apple conspired to e-book price fixing and violated federal antitrust law.[93] Apple appealed the decision.
  • Kobo released the Aura H₂0, the first waterproof reader.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle Paperwhite (3rd generation) that has a 6-inch, 300 ppi E Ink Carta HD display and is the first e-reader to feature bookerly, a font exclusively designed for e-readers.[94]
  • In September, it was announced that Oyster's unlimited access e-book subscription service was scheduled to be shut down in early 2016.[95]


Writers and publishers have many formats to choose from when publishing ebooks. Each format has advantages and disadvantages. The most popular e-readers[96][97] and their natively supported formats are shown below.

Reader Native e-book formats
Amazon Kindles and Kindle Fire tablets[98] AZW, AZW3, PDF, TXT, non-DRM MOBI, PRC
Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch and Nook Tablet[99] EPUB, PDF
Apple iPad[100] EPUB, IBA (Multitouch books made via iBooks Author), PDF
Sony Reader PRS-350, PRS-650, and PRS-950[98] EPUB, PDF, TXT, RTF, DOC, BBeB
Kobo eReader, Kobo Touch, and Kobo Arc[101][102] EPUB, PDF, TXT, RTF, HTML, CBR (comic), CBZ (comic)
PocketBook Reader and PocketBook Touch[103][104] EPUB DRM, EPUB, PDF DRM, PDF, FB2, FB2.ZIP, TXT, DJVU, HTM, HTML, DOC, DOCX, RTF, CHM, TCR, PRC (MOBI)

Comparison to printed books[edit]


iLiad e-book reader equipped with an e-paper display visible in sunlight

Space and weight savings[edit]

In the space that a comparably sized print book takes up, an e-reader can contain thousands of e-books, limited only by its memory capacity but theoretically unlimited with cloud access. The benefits in terms of weight that does not have to be carried along, specially while doing research and reading several books in parallel, can be substantial. Mobile availability of e-books may be provided for users with an internet connection, so these e-books may not need to be stored on the device.

Multimedia benefits[edit]

E-book websites can include the ability to translate books into many different languages, making the works available to speakers of languages not covered by printed translations. However, the quality of the machine translation will vary depending on the language.

Depending on the device, an e-book may be readable in low light or even total darkness. Many e-readers have a built-in light source, can enlarge or change fonts, use Text-to-speech software to read the text aloud for visually impaired, partially sighted, elderly or dyslectic people or just for convenience.[105] Additionally, e-books allow for readers to look up words or find more information about the topic immediately. Material can be organized however the author prefers and is not limited to a linear path through the book as hyper-text can allow a number of paths through the material.[106]

Depending upon the software support and used formats, non-textual multimedia can also be embedded into e-book pages as widgets, including images (and image galleries), videos, audio files and interactive (still or animated) models; this is similar to HTML elements which allow for presentation of multimedia content through embedding of the content inside web pages. This results in the ability of e-books to offer richer reading experiences than is possible through traditional, physical books.

Privacy from the public[edit]

E-readers allows users to read material such as the BDSM novel Fifty Shades of Grey with little fear of embarrassment, because it is hard to tell what someone is reading on an e-reader and fewer users would have purchased that novel if other people could easily tell what was being read.[107]

Environmental savings[edit]

Printed books use three times more raw materials and 78 times more water to produce when compared to e-books.[108] However, the manufacture and distribution of e-book hardware (both the readers and the servers where e-books are downloaded) consume materials and energy; the disposal of e-readers create electronic waste; and the storage, distribution, and reading of e-books consume energy.

Distributive and access benefits[edit]

An on demand book printer at the Internet Archive headquarters in San Francisco, California. Two large printers print the pages (left) and the cover (right) and feed them into the rest of the machine for collating and binding. Depending on the number of pages in a given book, it might take from 5 to 20 minutes to print

While an e-reader costs more than most individual books, ebooks usually have a lower cost than paper books.[109] Moreover, numerous e-books are available online free of charge.[110] For example, all books printed before 1923 is in the public domain.[111] In the case of United States, current law extends copyright for 70 years after the date of the author’s death, and corporate "works-for-hire" are copyrighted for 95 years after publication. Prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years – an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years.[112] Due to this lower entry barriers, it is easier for authors to self-publish e-books. Also, the dispersal of a free e-book copy can stimulate the sales of the printed version.[113]

Libraries lend both current and older e-book titles for limited times,[114] and free samples are available of many publications. E-books may be printed for less than the price of traditional books using on-demand book printers.[115]

An e-book can be purchased, borrowed, downloaded and used immediately, whereas when one buys or borrows a tangible book, one must go to a bookshop or library during limited hours, or wait for a delivery.

Automatic back-up[edit]

Depending on possible digital rights management, e-books (unlike physical books) can be backed up and recovered in the case of loss or damage to the device on which they are stored, and it may be possible to recover a new copy without incurring an additional cost from the distributor, as well as to synchronize the text, highlights and bookmarks across several devices.[116]

Highlighting and annotation[edit]

An e-book allows for highlighting and annotation which, unlike printed books, can be displayed in a single screen and that can be deleted after use.


E-books normally include dictionaries, and additional language dictionaries may be added. This allows the user to get the meaning of words while reading. This is particularly valuable while reading a text in other than the user's native tongue.


E-books allow words, key terms or phrases to be searched within the whole text. This capability can potentially save a significant amount of time, especially while doing research.


Restrictions in use and lack of privacy[edit]

Digital rights management techniques may be used to restrict what the user may do with an e-book. For instance, it may not be possible to transfer ownership of an e-book to another person, though such a transaction is common with physical books. E-readers can phone home to track readers and their reading habits, or restrict printing. This includes restricting the copying and distribution of works in the public domain through the use of "clickwrap" licensing, effectively limiting the rights of the public to freely distribute, sell or use texts in the public domain.

There may be a lack of privacy for the user's e-book reading activities; for example, Amazon.com knows the user's identity, what the user is reading, whether the user has finished the book, what page the user is on, how long the user has spent on each page, and which passages the user may have highlighted.[107]

Need of a power source[edit]

An e-book reader demands power supply to recharge the battery. That can become a problem in certain situations, such as long trips or while in the outdoors. Even in day to day situations, such as daily commuting, the battery can run out, making impossible to carry on reading until a power supply is reached.

Autographs and dedications[edit]

An e-book does not allow autographs from the author, neither dedications from third parties. The latter are common when a book is given as a gift.

Symbolic and aesthetic value of the printed book[edit]

The spine of the printed book is an important aspect in book design and of its beauty as an object

The main obstacle to the e-book is that a large portion of people value the printed book as an object itself, including aspects such as the texture, smell, weight and appearance on the shelf.[117] Print books are also considered valuable cultural items, and symbols of liberal education and the Humanities.[118]

As Joe Queenan has written:

Electronic books are ideal for people who value the information contained in them, or who have vision problems, or who like to read on the subway, or who do not want other people to see how they are amusing themselves, or who have storage and clutter issues, but they are useless for people who are engaged in an intense, lifelong love affair with books. Books that we can touch; books that we can smell; books that we can depend on.[119]

Browsing, serendipity and privacy[edit]

E-books favour linear reading, making non-linear access to content hard.[118] It is harder with e-books to see what books friends and colleagues are reading. Unlike books on a bookshelf, it is harder to browse friends' book collections and learn about new books to read by serendipity.


It is easier to "pirate" e-books than physical books—that is, produce a copy of the book without paying the copyright holder. This is a disadvantage of e-books from the point of view of copyright holders, and may be a disadvantage to readers as well if it leads to fewer books being written or a decline in the average quality of books.[citation needed]

Digital rights management[edit]

Anti-circumvention techniques may be used to restrict what the user may do with an e-book. For instance, it may not be possible to transfer ownership of an e-book to another person, though such a transaction is common with physical books. Some devices can phone home to track readers and reading habits, restrict printing, or arbitrarily modify reading material. This includes restricting the copying and distribution of works in the public domain through the use of "click-wrap" licensing, effectively limiting the rights of the public to distribute, sell or use texts in the public domain freely.

Most e-book publishers do not warn their customers about the possible implications of the digital rights management tied to their products. Generally they claim that digital rights management is meant to prevent copying of the e-book. However, in many cases it is also possible that digital rights management will result in the complete denial of access by the purchaser to the e-book.[120] With some formats of DRM, the e-book is tied to a specific computer or device. In these cases the DRM will usually let the purchaser move the book a limited number of times after which they cannot use it on any additional devices. If the purchaser upgrades or replaces their devices eventually they may lose access to their purchase. Some forms of digital rights management depend on the existence of online services to authenticate the purchasers. When the company that provides the service goes out of business or decides to stop providing the service, the purchaser will no longer be able to access the e-book.

As with digital rights management in other media, e-books are more like rental or leasing than purchase. The restricted book comes with a number of restrictions, and eventually access to the purchase can be removed by a number of different parties involved. These include the publisher of the book, the provider of the DRM scheme, and the publisher of the reader software.

The e-books sold by most major publishers and electronic retailers, which are Amazon.com, Google, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Inc. and Apple Inc., are DRM-protected and tied to the publisher's e-reader software or hardware. The first major publisher to omit DRM was Tor Books, one of the largest publishers of science fiction and fantasy, in 2012. Smaller e-book publishers such as O'Reilly Media, Carina Press and Baen Books had already forgone DRM previously.[121]

In the 2000s, some websites such as library.nu allowed downloading e-books, which violated copyright law; the website was shut down by court order in 2012.[122]


See also: Book scanning

Some e-books are produced simultaneously with the production of a printed format, as described in electronic publishing, though in many instances they may not be put on sale until later. Often, e-books are produced from pre-existing hard-copy books, generally by document scanning, sometimes with the use of robotic book scanners, having the technology to quickly scan books without damaging the original print edition. Scanning a book produces a set of image files, which may additionally be converted into text format by an OCR program.[123] Occasionally, as in some e-text projects, a book may be produced by re-entering the text from a keyboard.

As a newer development, sometimes only the electronic version of a book is produced by the publisher.[examples needed] It is even possible to release an e-book chapter by chapter as each chapter is written.[examples needed] This is useful in fields such as information technology where topics can change quickly in the months that it takes to write a typical book. It is also possible to convert an electronic book to a printed book by print on demand. However these are exceptions as tradition dictates that a book be launched in the print format and later if the author wishes an electronic version is produced.

The New York Times keeps a list of best-selling e-books, for both fiction[124] and non-fiction.[125]

E-book reading data[edit]

Kobo Inc. released e-book reading data collected from over 21 million readers worldwide in 2014. Some of the data said that only 45% of UK readers finished the bestselling e-book The Goldfinch; this is evidence that while popular e-books are being completely read, many are only sampled.[126]

Market share of digital books[edit]

United States (2014)[edit]

US Adult Fiction & Non fiction book sales 2014[127]
Sellers Percent
Adult non fiction print
Adult fiction print (ISBN)
Adult fiction ebook (ISBN)
Adult fiction ebook (no ISBN)
Adult non-fiction ebook (ISBN)
Adult non-fiction ebook (no ISBN)

Canada (2012)[edit]

Market share of e-readers in Canada by Ipsos Reid as of January 2012
Sellers Percent

Spain (estimation 2015)[edit]

Carrenho estimates a 15% market share for e-books in Spain in 2015.[128]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]