The History of eBooks

Check out this history of ebooks timeline (1971–2011), courtesy of (Full image provided below). We don’t often give much thought to ebooks having a history spanning 40 years — but it sure is interesting for a sense of perspective on the evolution of ebook technology. Also useful for trivia purposes — what was the very first ebook ever? That distinction belongs to Project Gutenberg’s digitization of The Declaration of Independence.

And for even more of a history lesson, you’ll want to take a look at “Three Ebook Technologies That Failed, and Hard.” There’s something intriguing to me in general about looking back at things which, at the time, may have seemed like The Next Big Thing, but end up being nothing more than footnotes on a ‘List of Things That Sucked.’ The three ebook technologies in question: Voyager Company’s CD-ROM Expanded Books (1992); the Rocket eBook and SoftBook (1998), and the Sony LIBRIé (2004).

How far has the ebook tech come, from a hardware point of view? The specs on the early ancestors of the Kindle and Nook:

“The $349 Rocket had a liquid crystal display, the green kind you see on a calculator, weighed 1 pound 6 ounces, and boasted a whole 4 MB of disk space — “the equivalent of 10 novels!” Its pricier competitor the SoftBook, which sold for $599.95 (!), had 2 MB, and weighed a whopping 2.9 pounds. But it came with a built-in 33.6 Kbps modem which could “download approximately 100 pages per minute.



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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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