The Amazing History of eReaders


With today’s liberty, we can look back to February 10, 2009 and commend on the ingenuity of Amazon’s decision to continue developing the once-already-failed Kindle and striving towards a market previously proven fruitless. The years following exploded with progressive activities as an aftermath of both obscure rights and companies joining the competition. However, this commonly-known story of electronic readers and digital books was preceded by a prolonged, tedious experimental stage filled with uncertainties, controversies and heated debates. The vast contrast between before and after raises the question of why Kindle 2 prevailed where all prior attempts did not.

In actuality, around 1998 emerged a couple of eReaders that were rather advance and akin to modern devices. The Rocket eBook and Softbook Reader were the size of a thick book, with black-and-white LCD screens and web access. They received blossoming attention from book professionals and made some sales to wealthy consumers, schools and libraries. However, these models were not able to meet public expectations as they were expensive, bulky, and difficult to handle with awkwardly placed touch-screen buttons. All in all, from Vannevar Bush’s huge memex device in 1945 up until Amazon’s first generation of Kindle in 2007, the myriad of early eReader prototypes all met a quick, unfortunate demise.

Publishers were also having a hard time assimilating. Lacking experience with the ephemeral online space connected to consumers by the millions, publishers were at a loss as to how to approach this new audience, selling intangible products at a time and place where unlimited amount of information was already offered for free. It required new costly investments for brand new skills and equipment. Law was another issue. No one could establish the relations of eBooks to other electronic medias or standardize precise rules for the new industry. As a result, publishers were cautious and reluctant to enter the new market.

Meanwhile, digital literature was coming along only at a slightly faster pace. Despite their wariness of electronic reading devices, competitive houses like Random House and HarperCollins experimented with producing and selling electronic versions along with the physical copies in 2002. These were the first attempts at unification with in-house digital departments. Of course, production expenses were high and retail prices even higher, therefore sales did not exceed profitable margins, and it remained difficult compiling effective market research from the minimal sales.

Back in 1971, three years before internet came into play, Michael Hart launched Project Gutenberg. Typing each work word by word, one file at a time, was a laborious process, in which it took 18 years to carbonize the first 10 eText literature with the help of a few willing volunteers. However, Hart steadily acquired people-power and results multiplied exponentially. By 2009, his digital library reached 32,500 titles and even stretched into international markets. Most importantly, Michael Hart’s Project Gutenberg, a reservoir of unrestricted old and midlist classics, also propelled Google to create Google Books. While Google’s scanning and uploading whatever available books they could get their hands on infringed upon many publishers’ much feared notion of free eBooks, it also revitalized the market.

Outside, in a society where a television set sits in just about every living room, technology was steadily reaching household commodity status. Mobile phone were evolving from their bulky forms to the more convenient, user-friendly advancements. 1995 saw the Palm PDA and Blackberry wrapt the abilities of a planner and notebook into one handheld phone. 2001 found Apple launching iPod Classic First Generation, and over time, upgrades were even able to play videos in its small screen. A couple of short years later, desktop computers took a further step up the ladder with new improvements on the laptop.

It was on a stage where all these innovations have integrated into society that Kindle 2nd Generation debuted. Whereas in prior years, despite the presence of engineers who were eager to manifest the concept of unifying multiple books under one screen, the general public were simply not ready; 2009 marked the year of turnaround from defeat to victory. Now, exposed and accustomed to the world behind screens, the complexity of touch-screens, keys, and buttons no longer confound the general public. Society was eager for more possibilities at the convenience of a finger’s simple touch. In addition, Amazon’s strategy, selling eBooks at $9.99, generated the mentality that eBooks were economical, convenient, and all the more desirable. Consequently, upon its release, Kindle 2 pushed through all barricades and set ablaze the revolutionizing path leading electronic reading devices to become a the new trend of the millennium.

Copyright © 2015 by Beti Y.



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