Amazon's Kindle Keyboard e-reader displaying a page of an e-book

An electronic book (or e-book or eBook) is a book publication made available in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, readable on the flat-panel display of computers or other electronic devices.[1] Although sometimes defined as "an electronic version of a printed book",[2] some e-books exist without a printed equivalent. E-books can be read on dedicated e-reader devices, but also on any computer device that features a controllable viewing screen, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

In the 2000s, there was a trend of print and e-book sales moving to the Internet[], where readers buy traditional paper books and e-books on websites using e-commerce systems. With print books, readers are increasingly browsing through images of the covers of books on publisher or bookstore websites and selecting and ordering titles online; the paper books are then delivered to the reader by mail or another delivery service. With e-books, users can browse through titles online, and then when they select and order titles, the e-book can be sent to them online or the user can download the e-book.[3] At the start of 2012 in the U.S., more e-books were published online than were distributed in hardcover.[4]

The main reasons for people buying e-books online are possibly lower prices, increased comfort (as they can buy from home or on the go with mobile devices) and a larger selection of titles.[5] With e-books, "[e]lectronic bookmarks make referencing easier, and e-book readers may allow the user to annotate pages." [6] "Although fiction and non-fiction books come in e-book formats, technical material is especially suited for e-book delivery because it can be [electronically] searched" for keywords. In addition, for programming books, code examples can be copied.[6] The amount of e-book reading is increasing in the U.S.; by 2014, 28% of adults had read an e-book, compared to 23% in 2013. This is increasing, because by 2014 50% of American adults had an e-reader or a tablet, compared to 30% owning such devices in 2013.[7]


A woman reading an e-book on an e-reader.

E-books are also referred to as "ebooks", "eBooks", "Ebooks", "e-Books", "e-journals", "e-editions" or as "digital books". The devices that are designed specifically for reading e-books are called "e-readers", "ebook device" or "eReaders".


The Readies (1930)

Some trace the idea of an e-reader that would enable a reader to view books on a screen to a 1930 manifesto by Bob Brown, written after watching his first "talkie" (movie with sound). He titled it The Readies, playing off the idea of the "talkie".[8] 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 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."

Brown's notion, however, was much more focused on reforming orthography and vocabulary, than on medium ("It is time to pull out the stopper" and begin "a bloody revolution of the word."): introducing huge numbers of portmanteau symbols to replace normal words, and punctuation to simulate action or movement; so it is not clear whether this fits in the history of "e-books" or not. Later e-readers never followed a model at all like Brown's. Nevertheless, Brown predicted the miniaturization and portability of e-readers. 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.'"[9] He felt the e-reader (and his notions for changing text itself) should bring a completely new life to 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.[9]


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

Ángela Ruiz Robles (1949)

In 1949, Ángela Ruiz Robles, a teacher from León, Spain, patented the Enciclopedia Mecánica, or the Mechanical Encyclopedia, a mechanical device which operated on compressed air where text and graphics were contained on spools that users would load onto rotating spindles. Her idea was to create a device which would decrease the number of books that her pupils carried to school. The final device would include audio recordings, a magnifying glass, a calculator and an electric light for night reading.[10] Her device was never put into production but one of her prototypes is kept in the National Museum of Science and Technology in La Coruna, Spain.[11]

Roberto Busa (late 1949-1970)

The first e-book may be the Index Thomisticus, a heavily annotated electronic index to the works of Thomas Aquinas, prepared by Roberto Busa, S.J. beginning in 1949 and completed in the 1970s.[12] 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 for studying written texts and developing linguistic concordances, rather than as a published edition in its own right.[13] In 2005, the Index was published online.[14]

Doug Engelbart and Andries van Dam (1960s)

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.[15][16][17] FRESS documents ran on IBM mainframes and were structure-oriented rather than line-oriented; they 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",[18][19] and it was established enough to use in an article title by 1985.[20]

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's 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..."[21] Brown University's work in electronic book systems continued for many years, including US Navy funded projects for electronic repair-manuals;[22] a large-scale distributed hypermedia system known as InterMedia;[23] a spinoff company Electronic Book Technologies that built DynaText, the first SGML-based e-reader system; and the Scholarly Technology Group's extensive work on the Open eBook standard.

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

Michael S. Hart (1971)

Despite the extensive earlier history, several publications report Michael S. Hart as the inventor of the e-book.[24][25][26] 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 in plain text.[27] Hart planned to create documents using plain text to make them as easy as possible to download and view on devices.

Early implementations

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.[27] 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.[28] In 1980 the US 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.[29] A patent application for the PEAM device [30] 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.

The first portable electronic book, the US Department of Defense's "Personal Electronic Aid to Maintenance".

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.[31] 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.[] In the 1990s, the general availability of the Internet made transferring electronic files much easier, including e-books.[]

E-book formats

Reading an e-book on public transit

As e-book formats emerged and proliferated,[] some garnered support from major software companies, such as Adobe with its PDF format that was introduced in 1993.[32] Unlike most other formats, PDF documents are generally tied to a particular dimension and layout, rather than adjusting dynamically to the current page, window, or other size. Different e-reader devices followed different formats, most of them accepting books in only one or a few formats, 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.[]

Meanwhile, scholars formed the Text Encoding Initiative, which developed consensus guidelines for encoding books and other materials of scholarly interest for a variety of analytic uses as well as reading, and countless literary and other works have been developed using the TEI approach. 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. Several scholars from the TEI were closely involved in the early development of Open eBook [1]. Focused on portability, 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.[] This format led to the open format EPUB. Google Books has converted many public domain works to this open format.[33]

In 2010, e-books continued to gain in their own specialist and underground markets.[] Many e-book publishers began distributing books that were in the public domain.[] 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.[34] 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.[35]


US Libraries began providing free e-books to the public in 1998 through their websites and associated services,[36] 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.[37] 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.[38] In 2010, a Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study[39] found that 66% of public libraries in the US were offering e-books,[40] and a large movement in the library industry began seriously examining the issues related to lending e-books, acknowledging a tipping point[clarification needed] of broad e-book usage.[41]

The US National Library of Medicine has for many years provided PubMed, a nearly-exhaustive bibliography of medical literature. In early 2000, NLM started PubMed Central, which provides full-text e-book versions of many medical journal articles and books, through cooperation with scholars and publishers in the field. Pubmed Central now provides archiving and access to over 4.1 million articles, maintained in a standard XML format known as the Journal Article Tag Suite (or "JATS").

However, some publishers and authors have not endorsed the concept of electronic publishing, citing issues with user demand, copyright piracy and challenges with proprietary devices and systems.[42] In a survey of interlibrary loan librarians it was found that 92% of libraries held e-books in their collections and that 27% of those libraries had negotiated interlibrary loan rights for some of their e-books. This survey found significant barriers to conducting interlibrary loan for e-books.[43] 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.[44] The library's catalog is then populated with records for all the e-books that match the profile.[44] 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.[44] 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.[45]


Although the demand for e-book services in libraries has grown in the decades of the 2000s and 2010s, difficulties keep libraries from providing some e-books to clients.[46] Publishers will sell e-books to libraries, but they only give libraries a limited license to the title in most cases. This means the library does not own the electronic text but that they can circulate it either for a certain period of time or for a certain number of check outs, or both. When a library purchases an e-book license, the cost is at least three times what it would be for a personal consumer.[46] E-book licenses are more expensive than paper-format editions because publishers are concerned that an e-book that is sold could theoretically be read and/or checked out by a huge number of users, which could adversely affect sales. However, some studies have found the opposite effect (for example, Hilton and Wikey 2010)[47]

Archival storage

The Internet Archive and Open Library offer more than six million fully accessible public domain e-books. Project Gutenberg has over 52,000 freely available public domain e-books.

Dedicated hardware readers and mobile software

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.[48] 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.[49] By January 2011, e-book sales at Amazon had surpassed its paperback sales.[50] 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.[51] At the end of the first quarter of 2012, e-book sales in the United States surpassed hardcover book sales for the first time.[4]

Until late 2013, use of an e-reader was not allowed on airplanes during takeoff and landing by the FAA.[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]


Reading applications on different devices

Some of the major book retailers and multiple third-party developers offer free (and in some third-party cases, premium paid) e-reader software applications (apps) 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, iBooks, Kobo eReader and Sony Reader.


Until 1979

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series launches (novel published in 1979), featuring an electronic reference book containing all knowledge in the Galaxy. This vast amount of data could be fit into something the size of a large paperback book, with updates received over the "Sub-Etha".[55]


  • Judy Malloy wrote and programmed Uncle Roger, the first online hypertext fiction with links that took the narrative in different directions depending on the reader's choice.[57]
  • Project Gutenberg releases its 10th e-book to its website.
  • Franklin Computer released an electronic edition of the Bible that was read on a stand-alone device.[58]
The DD-8 Data Discman
  • E Ink Corporation is co-founded in 1997 by MIT undergraduates J.D. Albert, Barrett Comiskey, MIT professor Joseph Jacobson, as well as Jeremy Rubin and Russ Wilcox to create an electronic printing technology.[71] This technology is later used to on the displays of the Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Amazon Kindle.
Bookeen's Cybook Gen1
  • NuvoMedia released the first handheld e-reader, the Rocket eBook.[72]
  • SoftBook launched its SoftBook reader. This e-reader, with expandable storage, could store up to 100,000 pages of content, including text, graphics and pictures.[73]
  • The Cybook was sold and manufactured at first by Cytale (1998-2003) and later by Bookeen.
  • The NIST released the Open eBook format based on XML to the public domain, most future e-book formats derive from Open eBook.[74] and on XML.
  • Publisher Simon & Schuster created a new imprint called ibooks and became the first trade publisher to simultaneously to publish some of their titles in e-book and print format.
  • Oxford University Press offered a selection of its books available as e-books through netLibrary.
  • Publisher Baen Books opens up the Baen Free Library to make available Baen titles as free e-books.[75]
  • Kim Blagg, via her company Books OnScreen, began selling multimedia-enhanced e-books on CDs through retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders Books.[76]


  • Joseph Jacobson, Barrett O. Comiskey and Jonathan D. Albert are granted US patents related to displaying electronic books, these patents are later used in the displays for most e-readers.[77]
  • Stephen King releases his novella Riding the Bullet exclusively online and it became the first mass-market e-book, selling 500,000 copies in 48 hours.[78] In Spanish, Corín Tellado releases his novella Milagro en el camino also only online.[79]
  • Microsoft releases the Microsoft Reader with ClearType for increased readability on PCs and handheld devices.[80]
  • Microsoft and Amazon worked together to sell e-books that could be purchased on Amazon and using Microsoft software downloaded to PCs and handhelds.
  • A digitized version of the Gutenberg Bible was made available online at the British Library.[81]
  • Adobe releases Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0 allowing users to underline, take notes and bookmark.
  • Palm, Inc and OverDrive, Inc make Palm Reader e-books available worldwide and offered over 5,000 e-books in several languages; these could be read on Palm PDAs or using a computer application.[82]
  • Random House and HarperCollins start to sell digital versions of their titles in English.[]
  • Sony Librie, first e-reader using an E Ink display was released; it had a six-inch screen.[83]
  • Google announces plans to digitize the holdings of several major libraries,[84] as part of what would later be called the Google Books Library Project.
  • Sony Reader PRS-500 with an E Ink screen and two weeks of battery life was released.[87]
  • LibreDigital launched BookBrowse as an online reader for publisher content.[]
The larger Kindle DX with a Kindle 2 for size comparison
  • Adobe and Sony agree to share their technologies (Adobe Reader and DRM) with each other.[]
  • Sony sells the Sony Reader PRS-505 in UK and France.
  • BooksOnBoard becomes first retailer to sell e-books for iPhones.[]
  • 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 that included a text-to-speech feature.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle DX that had a 9.7-inch screen in the US.
  • Barnes & Noble releases the Nook e-reader in the US.
  • Amazon released the Kindle for PC application in late 2009, making the Kindle Store library available for the first time outside Kindle hardware.[91]


  • Amazon.com announces in May that its e-book sales in the US now exceed all of its printed book sales.[98]
  • Barnes & Noble releases the Nook Simple Touch e-reader and Nook Tablet.[99]
  • Bookeen launches its own e-books store, BookeenStore.com, and starts to sell digital versions of titles in French.[100]
  • 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; both devices were designed for e-reading.
  • In April 2013, Barnes & Noble posts losses of $475 million on its Nook business for the prior fiscal year and in June announces its intention to discontinue manufacturing Nook tablets, although it plans to continue making and designing black-and-white e-readers such as the Nook Simple Touch, which "are more geared to serious readers, who are its customers, than to tablets".[111]
  • The Association of American Publishers announces that e-books now account for about 20% of book sales. Barnes & Noble estimates it has a 27% share of the U.S. e-book market.[111]
  • In June, Apple executive Keith Moerer testifies in the e-book price fixing trial that the iBookstore held approximately 20% of the e-book 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.[112]
A Kobo Aura's settings menu
  • 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.[101] This could equal $160 million in settlement charges.
  • Barnes & Noble releases the Nook Glowlight, which has a 6-inch touchscreen using E Ink Pearl and Regal, with built-in front LED lights.
  • In April, Kobo released the Kobo Aura HD with a 6.8-inch screen, which is larger than the current models produced by its US competitors.[113]
  • In May, Mofibo launched the first Scandinavian unlimited access e-book subscription service.[114]
  • In July, 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.[115]
  • In August, Kobo released the Kobo Aura, a baseline touchscreen six-inch e-reader.
  • In September, Oyster launches its unlimited access e-book subscription service.[116]
  • In November, US District Judge Chin sides with Google in Authors Guild v. Google, citing fair use.[117] The authors said they would appeal.[118]
  • In December, Scribd launched the first public unlimited access subscription service for e-books.[119]
  • In early 2014, Amazon launches Kindle Unlimited as an unlimited-access e-book and audiobook subscription service.[120]
  • In April, Kobo released the Aura H?0, the world's first waterproof commercially produced e-reader.[121]
  • In June, 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.[122] Apple appeals the decision.
  • In June, Apple settles the e-book antitrust case that alleged Apple conspired to e-book price fixing out of court with the States; however if Judge Cote's ruling is overturned in appeal the settlement would be reversed.[123]
  • In June 2015, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals with a 2-1 vote concurs with Judge Cote that Apple conspired to e-book price fixing and violated federal antitrust law.[124] Apple appealed the decision.
  • In June, Amazon released the Kindle Paperwhite (3rd generation) that is the first e-reader to feature Bookerly, a font exclusively designed for e-readers.[125]
  • In September, Oyster announced its unlimited access e-book subscription service would be shut down in early 2016 and that it would be acquired by Google.[126]
  • In September, Malaysian e-book company, e-Sentral, introduced for the first time geo-location distribution technology for e-books via bluetooth beacon. It was first demonstrated in a large scale at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.[127]
  • In October, 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.[128] It also features adaptive LED lights and page turn sensors on the sides of the device.
  • In October, B&N released the Glowlight Plus, its first waterproof e-reader.[129]
  • In October, the US appeals court sided with Google instead of the Authors' Guild, declaring that Google did not violate copyright law in its book scanning project.[130]
  • In December, Playster launched an unlimited-access subscription service including e-books and audiobooks.[131]
  • By the end of 2015, Google Books scanned more than 25 million books.[9]
  • By 2015, over 70 million e-readers had been shipped worldwide.[9]
  • In March 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear Apple's appeal that it conspired to e-book price fixing therefore the previous court decision stands, which means Apple must pay $450 million.[132]
  • In April, the Supreme Court declined to hear the Authors Guild's appeal of its book scanning case that means the lower court's decision stands; this result means Google is allowed to scan library books and display snippets in search results without violating US copyright law.[133]
  • In April, Amazon released the Kindle Oasis, its first e-reader in five years to have physical page turn buttons and as a premium product includes a leather case with a battery inside; the Oasis without including the case is the lightest e-reader on the market.[134]
  • In August, Kobo released the Aura One, the first commercial e-reader with a 7.8-inch E Ink Carta HD display.[135]
  • In September 2016, Perlego released an online platform that provides e-books to students under a monthly subscription fee in Europe.[136]
  • By the end of 2016, smartphones and tablets both individually overtook e-readers for ways to read an e-book, and paperbook books sales were higher than e-book sales.[137]
  • In February 2017, the Association of American Publishers released data that shows the U.S. adult e-book market declined 16.9% in the first nine months of 2016 over the same time in 2015 and Nielsen Book determined that in 2016 the e-book market had an overall total decline of 16% in 2016 over 2015, including all age groups.[138] This decline is partly due to widespread e-book price increases by major publishers, which brought the average e-book price from $6 to nearly $10.[139]
  • In March, The Guardian reported that sales of physical books outperform digital titles in the UK, since it can be cheaper to buy the physical version of a book when compared to the digital version due to Amazon's deal with publishers that allows agency pricing.[137]
  • In April, it was reported that the 2016 sales of hardcover books were higher than e-books for the first time in five years.[139]


Writers and publishers have many formats to choose from when publishing e-books. Each format has advantages and disadvantages. The most popular e-readers[140] and their natively supported formats are shown below:

Reader Native e-book formats
Amazon Kindle and Fire tablets[141] AZW, AZW3, KF8, non-DRM MOBI, PDF, PRC, TXT
Barnes & Noble Nook and Nook Tablet[142] EPUB, PDF
Apple iPad[143] EPUB, IBA (Multitouch books made via iBooks Author), PDF
Sony Reader[141] EPUB, PDF, TXT, RTF, DOC, BBeB
Kobo eReader and Kobo Arc[144][145] EPUB, PDF, TXT, RTF, HTML, CBR (comic), CBZ (comic)
PocketBook Reader and PocketBook Touch[146][147] EPUB DRM, EPUB, PDF DRM, PDF, FB2, FB2.ZIP, TXT, DJVU, HTM, HTML, DOC, DOCX, RTF, CHM, TCR, PRC (MOBI)

Digital rights management

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 illegal 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.[148] 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.[149]


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.[150] Occasionally, as in some projects, an e-book may be produced by re-entering the text from a keyboard. Sometimes only the electronic version of a book is produced by the publisher.[example needed] It is possible to release an e-book chapter by chapter as each chapter is written.[example 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[151] and non-fiction.[152]

Reading data

All of the e-readers and reading apps are capable of tracking e-book reading data, and the data could contain which e-books users open, how long the users spend reading each e-book and how much of each e-book is finished.[153] In December 2014, Kobo released e-book reading data collected from over 21 million of its users worldwide. Some of the results were that only 44.4% of UK readers finished the bestselling e-book The Goldfinch and the 2014 top selling e-book in the UK, "One Cold Night", was finished by 69% of readers; this is evidence that while popular e-books are being completely read, some e-books are only sampled.[154]

Comparison to printed books


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

In the space that a comparably sized physical book takes up, an e-reader can contain thousands of e-books, limited only by its memory capacity. 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, elderly or dyslexic people or just for convenience.[155] Additionally, e-readers allow readers to look up words or find more information about the topic immediately using an online dictionary.[156][157][158] Amazon reports that 85% of its e-book readers look up a word while reading.[159]

Printed books use three times more raw materials and 78 times more water to produce when compared to e-books.[160] While an e-reader costs more than most individual books, e-books may have a lower cost than paper books.[161] E-books may be printed for less than the price of traditional books using on-demand book printers.[162] Moreover, numerous e-books are available online free of charge on sites such as Project Gutenberg.[163] For example, all books printed before 1923 are in the public domain in the United States, which enables websites to host ebook versions of such titles for free.[164]

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, a new copy can be downloaded without incurring an additional cost from the distributor, as well as being able to synchronize the reading location, highlights and bookmarks across several devices.[165]


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

There may be a lack of privacy for the user's e-book reading activities; for example, Amazon 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.[166] One obstacle to wide adoption of 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.[167] Print books are also considered valuable cultural items, and symbols of liberal education and the humanities.[168]Kobo found that 60% of e-books that are purchased from their e-book store are never opened and found that the more expensive the book is, the more likely the reader would at least open the e-book.[169]

Joe Queenan has written about the pros and cons of e-books:

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.[170]

While a paper book is vulnerable to various threats, including water damage, mold and theft, e-books files may be corrupted, deleted or otherwise lost as well as pirated. Where the ownership of a paper book is fairly straightforward (albeit subject to restrictions on renting or copying pages, depending on the book), the purchaser of an e-book's digital file has conditional access with the possible loss of access to the e-book due to digital rights management provisions, copyright issues, the provider's business failing or possibly if user's credit card expired.[171]

Market share

United States

U.S. Adult Fiction & Non fiction book sales in 2014[172]
Sellers Percent
Adult non-fiction print
Adult fiction print
Adult fiction ebook
Adult fiction ebook (no ISBN)
Adult non-fiction ebook
Adult non-fiction ebook (no ISBN)

In 2015, the Author Earnings Report estimated that Amazon held a 74% market share of the e-books sold in the U.S.[173] By the end of 2016, that year's Report estimated that Amazon held 80% of the e-book market share in the U.S.[139]


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


In 2013, Carrenho estimates that e-books would have a 15% market share in Spain in 2015.[175]


According to Nielsen Book Research, e-book share went from 20% to 33% between 2012 and 2014, but down to 29% in the first quarter of 2015. Amazon-published and self-published titles accounted for 17 million of those books - worth £58m - in 2014, representing 5% of the overall book market and 15% of the digital market. The volume and value sales are similar to 2013 but up 70% since 2012.[176]


The Wischenbart Report 2015 estimates the e-book market share to be 4.3%.[177]


The Brazilian e-book market is only emerging. Brazilians are technology savvy, and that attitude is shared by the government.[177] In 2013, around 2.5% of all trade titles sold were in digital format. This was a 400% growth over 2012 when only 0.5% of trade titles were digital. In 2014, the growth was slower, Brazil had 3.5% of its trade titles being sold as e-books.[177]


The Wischenbart Report 2015 estimates the e-book market share to be around 1%.[177]

Public domain books

Public domain books are those whose copyrights have expired, meaning they can be copied, edited, and sold freely without restrictions.[178] Many of them can be downloaded for free from websites like the Internet Archive in formats many E-readers support, like PDF, TXT, and EPUB. Books in other formats may be converted to an e-reader compatible format using for instance Calibre.

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