A Brief History of E-Publishing, Part 3: The Era of Optimisim

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I’ve lectured on e-publishing at least once a year since 2000 and I’ve never given the same talk twice. That’s because the history of electronic publishing has been nothing less than a wild roller coaster ride. As with any good coaster, the ride began with a climb. But in the  case of e-publishing, it wasn’t a long, slow climb.

Electronic publishing took off like a rocket.

When Hard Shell Word Factory published my Young Adult novel, Friendly Revenge, in 1999, there were only a handful of royalty-paying e-publishers. But within a year, that changed drastically. Soon, e-publishers were springing up like dandelions. In a brief time, the number of e-publishers ballooned from a handful into the hundreds.

E-publishing had entered what I call The Era of Optimism.

Most of us who were involved in the infancy of e-publishing felt that we were on the cutting edge of a major revolution in publishing. Many were convinced that in a few short years e-books would replace print books. Of course, not many people were reading e-books yet, but we weren’t worried.

We knew things were looking up when none other than Stephen King jumped on the e-publishing bandwagon.

In 2000, Stephen King wrote Riding the Bullet, a novella released exclusively as an e-book (although it eventually came out in print). He followed up that same year with an “experiment” in e-publishing. King released The Plant chapter by chapter, as a serial e-book, with downloads costing one dollar each. Results for both were mixed, but there can be no doubt that Mr. King’s entry into the e-publishing arena was significant.

With Stephen King as an advocate, how could we not be successful?

E-authors also had their own organization. EPIC (The Electronically Published Internet Connection)* was formed in 1998 to encourage e-published authors to network with one another. EPIC even created the “Eppie” awards for the best e-books.

Another encouraging sign on the horizon was when major publishers, e.g. Simon and Schuster, began releasing some of their “name” authors’ books in electronic format.

We were doing well—until we hit the first logjam.

As the popularity of e-publishing ballooned, so did the number of submissions. It seemed as if every writer who had five or ten unpublished manuscripts gathering dust decided to submit them to the new e-publishers.

The flood of new submissions overwhelmed most of the fledgling e-publishers, and many of them had to close down to submissions.

That was only the beginning.

As the adage says, “What goes up must come down.” The e-publishing industry ascended like a rocket, but now was headed for its first crash.

*EPIC still exists, but has changed its name and purpose to include the entire e-publishing industry. It is now the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition.

(For the next part of the story, check back on September 14th.)

8 Replies to “A Brief History of E-Publishing, Part 3: The Era of Optimisim”

  1. Enjoying this series on the history of e-publishing. Nice to hear the perspective of someone who has been a aprt of that industry from the start.

  2. I bought my first ebook in 1999 when Baen started their webscriptions program, but I honestly never expected ebooks to catch on because every I talked with about them said that if they were going to read, they’d do it curled up in a chair, not sitting at a desk. It wasn’t until tablets started coming out that anyone I knew started taking ebooks seriously.

    It’s interesting to hear a different view from someone who was inside the industry at the time.

    1. Hi Jessica,

      Thanks for commenting.

      I still hear the “I’d rather have a ‘real’ book in my hands” objection from people, but as the tablets, iPads, Kindles and so on become more and more affordable, people are finding that there are a lot of advantages to reading e-books. 🙂

  3. Very interesting!! Thank so much for this history. As an avid reader of ebooks and a novelist whose first 7 books were published before anybody ever really heard of ebooks, I find your history enlightening.

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