E-books are a phenomenon. With over a billion dollars in sales revenues, many books have found new life and a new audience with this very convenient type of book. Designed to be read on an app or an e-reading device such as a Kindle or Nook, the e-book needs very little space and can be easily bought online and shared. Sure, the e-book is an electronic version of a printed book, but today, many books are published on this format exclusively. Cheaper than a real book and much lighter, it’s no wonder that more and more people are opting for the e-book. Although most would assume that the e-book is a recent thing what with the digital age being quite recent, it is not a commonly known fact, but e-books (or at least the idea of them) have existed for longer than previously thought.
More than eighty years ago in the 1930s, a man named Bob Brown watched his first movie with sound called a “talkie.” Inspired by this, Brown wrote a book titled The Readies with the idea that books should find a new medium using a machine that is nice to look at and is able to keep up with the amount of books printed at the time. Something that would let readers change the format and fonts, save trees, and bring new life to reading. Essentially, Bob Brown predicted e-books.
The invention of the e-book itself, however, is credited to several inventors at least two decades after Mr. Brown’s prediction. There was Angela Robles in 1949 who patented the Mechanical Encyclopedia to save students from carrying too many books. Roberto Busa who started his invention in 1949 but completed it in the 1970s created the Index Thomisticus to index different works. His invention was stored on a single computer with a CD-ROM that came about in 1989 that was distributable. Some historians say that Doug Engelbart and Andries van Dam invented e-books with their FRESS (File Retrieval and Editing System) in the 1960s with Dam coining the word “electronic book.” Michael Hart, however, is considered by most to be the inventor of the e-book when he created the first electronic document in 1971 when he typed the United States Declaration of Independence in plain text and enabled ot to be easy to downloaded and viewed on devices.
Hart’s electronic document was adapted and then Project Gutenberg was launched with the aim of creating electronic copies of all texts especially books. Today, Project Gutenberg has fifty-two thousand public domain e-books available while the Internet Archive and Open Library have over six million public domain e-books that is accessible to the public.
The e-book has truly come a long way from being invented to today’s easy click downloads. Truly a great innovation, hopefully it will inspire many to read for years to come.