eBooks (or e-books) are publications in digital format which can contain text, images, or a combination of both, intended for display on electronic devices such as computers, tablets and other reading devices. The ebook can be a digital version of a previously-published conventional book, or can be created wholly in the electronic domain, without a paper equivalent.
An ebook can be created by scanning an existing paper book into files, or by converting typewritten text into an ebook format. eBooks are usually read on portable readers specifically intended for the task, but personal computers, pads/tablets, and some types of mobile phone can also be used to read them.
Between the 1930′s and 197’0s, a number of scattered developments were made in the field, but these were specific to specialist hardware, and were limited to academic groups or specialist audiences. eBooks didn’t reach the wider public until the 1990′s. Sony launched the portable Data Discman in the early 1990′s, which accessed ebooks from CD-style data discs, and over the same period, the internet achieved significant growth. This made the sharing of files, including ebooks, far easier. A number of ebook formats were developed around this time and achieved market success, but broadly speaking, the development of differing systems and formats by different makers led to a fragmented market.
In the late 1990′s the Open eBook format was developed with the intent of standardising the ebook format, but it wasn’t until display technologies advanced to include reflective screens that ebook readers gained full market acceptance. Sony launched a couple of models around these developments, but the pivotal event in the public recognition of ebooks was the launch in 2007 of the Amazon Kindle, a tablet-style portable reader, which sold out within five hours of its launch.
Kindle ebooks are amongst the most popular in the marketplace, largely due to the public recognition of the matching branded reader. Many titles are available as free ebooks, easily downloadable from various websites. As at 2009, it was estimated that over 2 million free ebooks were available worldwide.