Self-Publish Your Novel Part 3: A Brief History of E-Books



This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.


When I wrote the original version of this book in 2011, I erred on the side of offering specific, technical advice rather than vague generalities. The result of this was that the much of the information I provided quickly grew out of date. This was expected, but for this edition I’m going to be a little more balanced. My rationale is partly that the publishing industry has stabilized somewhat since 2011, and partly that over the past seven years I’ve learned some principles that have seem to have passed the test of time. The following timeline of the self-publishing industry hints at both of these factors:


  • Project Gutenberg, an effort to digitize important literary works (mostly public domain), is launched.


  • Bibliobytes, a resource of free digital books on the Internet, is launched.
  • Adobe Systems releases Portable Document Format (PDF) to allow sharing documents between different types of computer systems.


  • Amazon starts to sell physical books on the Internet.


  • Project Gutenberg reaches 1,000 titles. The target is 1,000,000.


  • 1stBooks, a print-on-demand company, is founded. (In 2004, 1stBooks is renamed to AuthorHouse.)


  • First e-book readers are released: Rocket ebook and SoftBook, then Cybook.
  • First websites selling e-books in English, like and, are launched.


  • Baen Books opens up the Baen Free Library.
  • Webscriptions starts selling unencrypted eBooks.
  • Blogger blog publishing platform is launched.
  • iUniverse, a print-on-demand company, is founded.


  • Microsoft launches the Microsoft Reader with ClearType technology.
  • Stephen King offers his book Riding the Bullet as digital file; it can only be read electronically.


  • Random House and HarperCollins start to sell digital versions of their titles in English.
  • Lulu, a print-on-demand company, is formed.
  • MySpace is launched.


  • Google purchases Blogger.
  • WordPress blogging format launched.


  • Facebook is launched.
  • Google launches Google Books (previously known as Google Book Search and Google Print), a service that searches the full text of scanned books.


  • Amazon buys (an eBook software company), Booksurge (a print on demand company), and (a print on demand company).
  • Google buys Android Inc., creator of the Android operating system.


  • Sony Reader with e-ink is released.
  • Twitter is launched.
  • MySpace becomes the most popular social networking site.


  • Apple releases the iPhone.
  • Amazon launches Kindle in US.
  • Bookeen launched Cybook Gen3 in Europe.
  • HarperCollins launches Authonomy, a writing community AKA “online slush pile.”
  • Amazon purchases Brilliance Audio, the largest independent publisher of audiobooks in the United States.
  • iUniverse is purchased by Author Solutions, the owner of rival AuthorHouse.
  • EPUB becomes an official standard of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).


  • Adobe and Sony agree to share their technologies (reader and DRM).
  • Sony sells the Sony Reader PRS-505 in UK and France.
  • BooksOnBoard is first to sell ebooks for iPhones.
  • Mark Coker launches Smashwords.
  • Apple launches the App Store.
  • purchases, AbeBooks, and Shelfari.
  • Facebook overtakes MySpace as the leading social networking site.
  • Google launches Android Market for downloading Android-based applications.
  • A settlement is reached between the publishing industry and Google after two years of negotiation. Google agrees to compensate authors and publishers in exchange for the right to make millions of books available to the public.


  • Stephen King releases his novella, Ur, exclusively on the Kindle.
  • Bookeen releases the Cybook Opus in the US and in Europe.
  • Sony releases the Reader Pocket Edition and Reader Touch Edition.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle 2.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle DX in the US.
  • Barnes & Noble releases the Nook in the US.
  • achieves over 10 Million downloads in one year — placing the company as the world’s largest publisher of free eBooks.
  • launches AmazonEncore, a publishing venture dedicated to republishing self-published books that have potential for greater sales.
  • Calibre, a free, open source e-book management tool, is released.
  • Barnes & Noble agrees to distribute e-books published through Smashwords.


  • Amazon temporarily removes MacMillan books from its site in an effort to pressure publishers to lower ebook prices.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle DX International Edition worldwide.
  • Amazon Publishing launches AmazonCrossing imprint for translated books.
  • Facebook traffic surpasses Google’s.
  • Apple releases the iPad with an e-book app called iBooks.
  • Amazon releases Kindle reader apps for PC, Mac, Android, iPhone, and iPad.
  • Kobo, Inc. releases its Kobo eReader to be sold at Indigo/Chapters in Canada and Borders in the United States.
  • Amazon launches 70% royalty option for self-published books priced between $2.99 and $6.99.
  • reported that its e-book sales outnumbered sales of hardcover books for the first time ever during the second quarter of 2010.
  • Amazon releases the third generation kindle, available in 3G+Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi versions
  • Barnes & Noble launches PubIt to simplify self-publishing for the Nook.
  • Barnes & Noble releases NOOKcolor.
  • Amazon begins allowing customers to give Kindle books to anyone with an email address.
  • Google launches Google ebookstore.


  • Amazon allows users to lend Kindle books.
  • Amazon Publishing launches genre-specific imprints focusing on romance, mystery, science fiction and other genres.
  • Barnes & Noble announces that Nook has 25% of the e-book market.
  • Borders Group Inc. declares bankruptcy and announces the closure of 200 stores.
  • Amazon launches the Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch, both devices designed for e-reading.


  • Apple releases iBooks Author, software for creating iPad e-books to be directly published in its iBooks bookstore or to be shared as PDF files.
  • BookBub book promotion service launches.
  • US Department of Justice prepares anti-trust lawsuit against Apple, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group, Macmillan, and HarperCollins, alleging collusion to increase the price of books sold on Amazon.
  • E-books sold in the US market collect over three billion in revenue.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle Paperwhite.
  • In April, Barnes & Noble posts losses of $475 million on its Nook business for the prior fiscal year and in June announces its intention to discontinue manufacturing Nook tablets, although it plans to continue making and designing black-and-white e-readers such as the Nook Simple Touch, which “are more geared to serious readers, who are its customers, than to tablets.”
  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press replaces PubIt.
  • The Association of American Publishers announces that ebooks now account for about 20% of book sales. Barnes & Noble estimates it has a 27% share of the U.S. e-books market.
  • Amazon purchases Goodreads.
  • Apple executive Keith Moerer testifies in the ongoing e-book price fixing trial that the iBookstore held approximately 20% of the ebook market share in the United States within the months after launch.
  • Five major US e-book publishers, as part of their settlement of a price-fixing suit, are ordered to refund about $3 for every electronic copy of a New York Times best-seller that they sold from April 2010 to May 2012.
  • In July, US District Court Judge Denise Cote finds Apple guilty of conspiring to raise the retail price of e-books and schedules a trial in 2014 to determine damages.
  • Oyster launches its unlimited access e-book subscription service.
  • In November, US District Judge Chin sides with Google in Authors Guild v. Google, citing fair use. The authors said they would appeal.
  • Penguin and Random House merge: the Big Six are now the Big Five.
  • Scribd launched the first public unlimited access subscription service for e-books.
  • Amazon launches Kindle Unlimited as an unlimited-access e-book and audiobook subscription service.
  • Amazon releases the Kindle Voyage.
  • Kobo released the Aura H₂0, the world’s first waterproof commercially produced e-reader.
  • The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals concludes that Apple conspired to fix e-book prices and violated federal antitrust law. Apple appeals the decision.
  • In June, Amazon announces a new pay-per-page-read system to replace pay-per-book system used by Kindle Online Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited.
  • In September, Oyster announces its unlimited access e-book subscription service would be shut down in early 2016 and that it would be acquired by Google.
  • In October, B&N releases the Glowlight Plus, its first waterproof e-reader.
  • In October, the US appeals court sides with Google over the Authors’ Guild, declaring that Google did not violate copyright law in its book scanning project.
  • In December, Playster launches an unlimited-access subscription service including e-books and audiobooks.
  • Google Books has scanned more than 25 million books by the end of 2015.
  • In March, the Supreme Court of the United States declines to hear Apple’s appeal that it conspired to fix e-book prices. Apple must pay $450 million.
  • In April, Amazon releases the Kindle Oasis, its first e-reader in five years to have physical page turn buttons.
  • In April, the US Supreme Court declines to hear the Authors Guild’s appeal of its book scanning case that means the lower court’s decision stands; this result means Google is allowed to scan library books and display snippets in search results without violating US copyright law.

Besides giving you a crash course in the history of self-publishing, I have two reasons for including this chronology:

First, if you are basing your writing career on advice that was written more than two years ago – or on the opinions of someone whose first success in publishing occurred more than two years ago – you should carefully consider just how much has changed in that time before taking action.

Second, this chronology doesn’t stop at 2016. Things are going to continue to change, and part of your job as a writer in the twenty-first century is going to be to keep up with these developments. Gone are the days when a writer can simply focus on writing and hope to be successful as a result of his or her own talent (if those days ever existed). It’s true that if you’re extremely talented and extremely lucky, you may be able to make a career of writing while remaining blissfully ignorant of the latest changes in technology and the publishing industry. The odds are, however, that you’re going to get taken advantage of. Think of that author who thought she had hit the jackpot by signing with Gigantic Publishing, Inc. in 2006. She had never heard of e-books. MySpace was still the dominant social network. didn’t publish books, let alone produce TV shows or movies. Self-publishing was synonymous in most people’s minds with vanity publishing.

How confident are you that the decisions you make in 2016 will look wise when you look back on them from 2026? I don’t say this to paralyze you with indecision, but to impress upon you the importance of keeping up with what’s going on in the industry. You can’t possibly know what’s going to happen ten years from now, but you can at least make rational decisions based on the best information available in 2026.

Now some of you are thinking, “Real writers have agents to keep up with all that industry mumbo-jumbo. My time is better spent writing.” To you I say: how do you know your agent is doing his job? How do you know your agent’s interests don’t conflict with yours? How do you know you even need an agent? The fundamental dynamics of the publishing industry are changing, and that means that the author/agent relationship is changing as well. If your agent is forced to decide between your best interests and his own, are you sure he’s going to decide in your favor? If you’re ignorant of the industry, then your agent is just one more person who can take advantage of you.

The good news, as I mentioned, is that (1) the industry seems to have stabilized somewhat; and (2) there are some principles that remain valid despite all these changes. I’ll take a look at some of these principles in the next post in this series.


This post is part of a series of posts about self-publishing. I’m revising my book Self Publish Your Novel and posting the chapters as I finish them. If you’d like to be alerted when the new version of Self Publish Your Novel is available, please click here.

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