The particularity of eBooks is that they come as a file that can be read either on screen, on a braille display1 , or in audio format. They can be read on a computer, tablet, or a smartphone, not to mention readers : devices designed specifically for reading eBooks. Strangely, the history of eBooks predates the Internet, with Michael Hart’s Gutenberg project in 1971, whose aim was to computerize works in the public domain and distribute them in digital format. In 1990, with the rise of the web and the emergence of mainstream Internet access, eBooks gradually created space for new reading habits.
The eBook ecosystem concerns both the companies that scan books, like Google, and those that make devices used to read them, like Amazon’s Kindle. Digital libraries provide access to them and may be run for profit, like Eden, Cyberlibris, and Google Books, or work to spread free access to knowledge, like the French National Library, The World Public Library founded in 1996, and Europeana, the European digital library launched in 2008 by the European Commission.
Because the particularity of eBooks consists in separating content from container, they carry within them the universal aim of being spread far more widely than printed versions. But this democratization of access to knowledge will not destroy an age-old industry.
According to a study by Nielsen, the market share of eBooks was 24% of total book sales in the USA in 2015, 16% in the UK, 10% in Spain, 8.2% in Germany, and 6.5% in France. The two first countries in the list alone, the USA and the UK, account for 24.5% of the e-book market, according to the 2016 Global eBook report. But while the market has grown considerably in the USA since 2010, it would seem that we have reached the first plateau, apart from among independent authors and smaller publishers. With regard to piracy, eBooks are currently the least pirated cultural product. In England, for example, only 6% of users would copy an eBook2, most frequently because the book is unavailable through legal channels.
THE MARKET SHARE OF EBOOKS IN THE USA IN 2015 REPRESENTS 24%
At the time of writing, the international eBook market is still a long way from spelling the end for printed books, and people like using both : they prefer eBooks due to easy storage, transport, and mobility, while preferring printed books for their ability to be given as a gift or shared, and especially for the reading pleasure and comfort that comes with a paper book.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, 1859 edition
The American by Henry James, 1877 edition
1 An electro-mechanical device for displaying braille characters, usually by means of round-tipped pins raised through holes in a flat surface.
2 Online Copyright Infringement Tracker Wave 5 (Covering period Mar 15 – May 15 2015) Overview and key findings : https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/549486/OCI-Tracker-2015.pdf#page=7