Ebooks have been around for a long time. Well, long in computing terms but no time at all in publishing terms. The attempts at creating ebooks began in the early 1970s, and by the late 1990s U.S. Libraries were providing free ebooks to the public. Ebook readers with paper-like displays appeared in 2004. With the Sony Reader appearing in 2006 and Amazon’s Kindle appearing in 2007, the market was strong enough for a host of other manufacturers to add their machines to the mix. It was inevitable that the ebook format would grow in both popularity and functionality. With the introduction of tablets, in all shapes and sizes, the ebook’s time had arrived.
The importance of publishing software naturally follows. Software running the ereader platform takes the user’s creative content, offers a way to organize, design and preview the finished product, and outputs the book in a format suitable for the desired platform. An ebook is an augmented text file. There are at least 15 different file formats for ebooks and of course, not all machines read all formats. It is the publishing software that makes sense of the technical side of things, establishing the foundation for the ebook revolution.
The importance of publishing software is therefore inexorably linked to the importance of ebooks. Are ebooks becoming more popular, or does it simply appear that way because more people have the means to read them? The addition of ebook functionality to any new mobile device simply gives more people access to the format, but doesn’t necessarily mean that the format itself is becoming more popular.
According to a 2007 article in wired.com, ‘novel’ was the top search term on China’s biggest search engine, Baidu, and one amateur novelist has received over 6 million views on his latest novel. The Western world, however, hasn’t quiet embraced the idea of curling up with a good pc, but are they happy to relax with a good reader? There are benefits to having a whole library of books in your pocket, and ebooks certainly destroy fewer trees. But humans have been reading books in print form for over 2000 years and in comparison, an ebook is a sterile and lifeless version. Humans have an emotional relationship with physical books that they do not yet have with the electronic version.
To compete with the classic printed book, the electronic version has tried to mimic the look and feel of traditional books, with paper-like screens on the readers and animated page-turning effects. The sophistication of ebook formats will only increase as the medium tries to ease the transition to paperless publishing by giving readers the familiar emotional content that physical books provide. This is an approach that will depend on the quality of both the reading devices and the software used to create the ebooks. Innovative publishing software is vital if the new medium is to make significant advances beyond the new and novel.