Friday, April 13, 2018

Once we didn’t have ebooks: a little history by Jan Scarbrough

In June of 1998, I appeared in a feature called “Books of the Future” in Today’s Woman, a magazine distributed free to metropolitan Louisville, Kentucky, and southern Indiana. My book Tangled Memories had been a finalist in the 1994 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Contest, but I’d never sold it to a traditional publisher. Back in the day, that is all you could do with your manuscript.

Enter epublishing. I signed a contract with a small press to publish Tangled Memories. (A quick Google search finds the small press no longer has a website.) Of course, I made no money or sold any books. The technology was primitive, to say the least. Here’s how the Today’s Woman article described ebooks at the time:

You will be able to download the book with Adobe Acrobat Reader (free from and print it on your printer or read it on your computer. You also have the option of receiving a CD version via snail mail (for $5 versus $4 for downloading), but you still have to load it into your computer to read or print.”

ARGH! The dark ages!

Here was my take on ebooks from the article (notice we called them ‘e-books’ then):

“E-books aren’t for everyone,” said Scarbrough. “However, some readers are tired of the same topics and are looking for a change. E-publishers are in a position to provide the change because they aren’t restricted to what a market department dictates. Also, e-book readers are being developed, and I bet our children or grandchildren will be using them in school someday. However, I won’t buy one until they come down to about $50!”

Fast forward to 1998, and four important events happened: 1) the first dedicated eBook readers were launched: Rocket Ebook and Softbook; 2) the first ISBN issued to an eBook was obtained; 3) US Libraries began providing free eBooks to the public through their web sites and associated services; and 4) Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

BTW, a Rocket eBook cost $499 at the time.

I got my rights back and signed a contract with another small press that published Tangled Memories as a paperback.

But the publishing world kept changing. Here’s what “The History of eBooks” said happened nine years later:

2007 changed the world of reading forever with Amazon’s launch of the Kindle eBook reader in the U.S. and the launch of the iPhone by Apple. In 2009, Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook, and Sony linked with libraries via the Overdrive digital network to enable library patrons to borrow eBooks from their local library.

Soon after that, self-publishing became viable, and the book publishing scene was changed forever.

Today I self-publish Tangled Memories. It is available as a paperback from Amazon. This link will take you to a page listing twelve digital stores where you can purchase a copy of the book.

What about you? Do you read ebooks or do you still like your paperbacks?


  1. I still like a book. I can't even imagine what the next 10 years might bring us.

  2. I read both. Like Kathleen, I still like a book, but I'm more likely to download if I'm buying for myself. If it's a gift or something I want to pass on to a friend or the library, it's a book.


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