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eBooks: Our Changing Digital Landscape

With the increasing migration of traditional print to a more digital environment, the relationship between authors, publishers, and companies that provide services to both should be at the forefront of everyone’s interests.

We now live in a world where the eReader, eBook, and various associated e-formats have revolutionized both learning and delivery of content and information in a digital age. Globally, eBooks have now impacted people in every sector of government, academics, and the economy. The global market is becoming more aggressive, and publishers need to engage in converting existing content as well as moving to a completely digital format to reduce contacts and stay more competitive.

How did we get to this point? How is it possible that the world has become so dependent on digital information in every area of our lives? It wasn’t that long ago that people started becoming used to the idea that traditional ways of taking in information were about to change. The advent of the personal computer in the early 1980s slowly led to more and more information becoming available online and in electronic format. Although only in its infancy, the Internet and eventually the World Wide Web would make a lasting impact on the way content was received and formatted.

While at the time, conventional books, journals, and manuals were still by far the most popular way of accessing academic, corporate, and organizational content, that is no longer the case. Today, the modern world is becoming more dependent on the electronic delivery of content in all economic, academic, and government sectors. Before we discuss the current need for eBooks, let us take a look at the history of electronic content.

A Brief History

Moving print on paper to a digital medium is not as recent a change as one might think. In fact, there seems to be a yearning, going back almost a century, to provide content in a non-physical format. In fact, Bob Brown, an author, and show business producer, proposed something akin to a modern-day E-reader called the Readie:

“The written word hasn’t kept up with the age… The movies have outmaneuvered it. We have the Talkies, but as yet no Readies. To continue reading at today’s speed, I must have a machine… A simple reading machine which I can carry or move around, attach to any old electric light plug and read hundred-thousand-word novels in 10 minutes if I want to, and I want to… [The machine would] “allow readers to adjust the type size and avoid paper cuts.”
Bob Brown, The Readies (1930)

As forward-thinking as this was, it would not be until three decades later that something even close to an e-Reader became a reality. In the 1960s, there were initial developments in the electronic content area such as the NLS (oN-Line System) project headed by Doug Engelbart at Stanford Research Institute, and the Hypertext Editing System and FRESS (File Retrieval and Editing System) projects headed by Andries van Dam at Brown University. FRESS documents were run on IBM mainframes and were formatted dynamically depending on who was using the content and allowed how they wanted it displayed. Many of the documents utilized automated tables of content and indexes. Amazingly they even allowed for the ability to hyperlink and use graphics. It was Andries Van Dam that is thought to have coined the term, electronic book.

Most people agree that the modern iteration of the eBook began with The Declaration of Independence in 1971. Michael S. Hart is widely considered the inventor of the e-book due to the operators of the Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the University of Illinois giving Hart an extensive amount of computer time. There he created his first electronic document by typing the United States Declaration of Independence into a computer with the plan to create documents using plain text to make them as easy as possible to download and view on devices. After his adaptation, Project Gutenberg was launched to create electronic copies of more texts, especially books.

In the 1990s, an explosion occurred in the eBook industry with Sony launching the Data Discman in 1992, which was an electronic book reader that could read e-books stored on CDs. One of the electronic publications that could be played on the Data Discman. The range of the subject matter in these eBooks included technical manuals for hardware, manufacturing techniques, and other subjects. Combined with the emerging availability of the Internet, it made transferring electronic files much easier, including eBooks. Paul Baim released a freeware HyperCard stack, called eBook in 1993, that made for the easy importing of any text file to create a pageable version like an electronic paperback book. The title of this stack may have been the first instance of the term “eBook.”

In 1998, there were several important breakthroughs that advanced eBooks as a technology. The first was that the initially dedicated eBook readers launched: Rocket Ebook and Soft book. Eventually, the first ISBN issued to an eBook was obtained. Shortly after, libraries in the United States began providing free eBooks to the public through their websites. Lastly, Google was born, which has forever changed the landscape with regard to deliverable electronic content.

In the 2000s, the growing acceptance of eBooks allowed Steven King to release a novella, and Random House and HarperCollins started to sell digital versions of their publications. Then in 2004, Sony released its Sony Librie e-reader and then the Sony Reader in 2006. But it was really in 2007 when Amazon launched the Kindle eBook reader in the U.S. and the launch of the iPhone by Apple, that things began to change. In 2009, Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook, and Sony linked with libraries via the Overdrive digital network to enable library patrons to borrow eBooks from their local library. Soon after in 2010, Apple released the iPad along with iBooks and its iBookstore on iTunes. Google followed suit with its eBookstore. eBook sales began outnumbering hardcover book sales on many platforms (

The rest they say is history.

The Current Drive for eBooks

Publishers are increasingly faced with an ever-growing demand for content in all areas that might need to get information to people in an interactive format. Most people assume that this is mainly for the educational market, but that is not the case. Entities such as professional associations, vocational schools, human resources in organizations, as well as medical and training manuals – to name a few – are all areas where eBooks are now considered essential. What makes them so important is that they can be easily accessed at any time convenient to the reader on any platform or device. eBooks have exponentially increased the amount of knowledge and training available to a growing mass worldwide audience.

The cost of traditional physical books, manuals, and other content is usually priced higher than its electronic counterparts – especially in higher education. Not only that, but the cost to produce such content is increasing dramatically because of the current pandemic and market conditions. Distribution is also revolutionized with the use of eBooks as it no longer requires shipping, stocking, and physically entering a location to purchase the content. Thus, the flexibility that eBooks provide is far superior to conventional physical books and manuals all while being produced, delivered, and purchased at a lower cost to the producer and consumer.

The overwhelming benefits to both the publisher and consumer of e-content are immeasurable. Let us take a look at a few of them:

  • Cost Reduction: While at the production end of copyediting, design and layout remain the same for the most part, it is in the printing, binding, and shipping that the reduced costs of eBooks manifest themselves. Because the content in many electronic formats can be converted to eBooks, the costly step of printing on paper and binding disappears – not to mention shipping physical products around the world.

  • Access and Convenience: Gone are the days of the student carrying a fifty-pound backpack full of books from their overflowing locker, or the legal clerk dropping a stack of books on the courthouse steps. The only thing that one needs to carry now is the device used to access the eBook. Given the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices and laptops – delivering and accessing large amounts of content is no longer an issue. Combined with the ability to download and store content in case there is no internet available, all make this ideal for content delivery and retrieval.

  • Interactivity, Accessibility, and Assessment: Flipping a page in a physical book is no longer enough, content consumers of the digital era expect more from the subject matter they are consuming. Not only is there interactivity that allows for searching for topics and keywords, but also bookmarking a page, highlighting text, or making annotations. Accessibility is more than a buzzword; it means that there are many consumers that have physical and mental disabilities and can be aided by formattable images and text as well as audio capabilities. This means that accessibility can be built-in natively to the eBook instead of converting after the fact. This allows publishers and readers to take full advantage of a wide range of accessibility applications. Lastly, part of the interactivity afforded by eBooks is the ease at which assessments can be created if needed. While this is certainly true for educational content, it is also necessary for organizational and professional training as well as evaluations. Not only can eBooks be used to test knowledge in the traditional way, but also they can evaluate comprehension as well as provide feedback to the consumer.

  • Automatic Content Updates: Depending on the organization or institution that is providing the content, the subject matter will constantly need to be updated, be it in education, government, professional associations, technical manuals, or human resources. Producing new editions can be costly and lead to a publisher or an organization lagging in getting the most current information out. eBooks eliminate this problem because they allow for updates to content at whatever interval the publisher or content provider wishes.

Final Thoughts

Because ePub formats are increasingly gaining support from publishers, eBook retailers, and developers in academic and non-academic publishing, converting content is especially important. The utility of this format is that it can be read on a wide range of software and platforms including tablets, mobile phones, standalone eBook readers, and the Web. S4Carlisle offers eBook formatting services at a low cost while maintaining professional quality. Most formats including PDF, Microsoft Word, InDesign, or printed texts can be converted into the eBook format.

At S4Carlisle, we design process automation, integrate data systems, automate eBook conversions, and provide platforms for data storage and information sharing. The eBook services cover fixed-layout ePub, fixed-layout KF8, interactive ePub 3.0 and KF8, ONIX metadata tagging services, content porting, Smart PDFs, LINK PDFs, Universal PDF creation, and proofreading.


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