A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about my preference for e-books over print. In it, I talked about reading my first e-book in 1999. Some of the commenters were amazed to hear that (so young) and author Alina K. Field suggested I write about e-book history. This blog post is a revised version of one I wrote in three years before.
News flash: e-books have been around since at least 1971 when Project Gutenberg started digitizing public domain works. The US Declaration of Independence was the first document chosen.
I started reading e-books in 1999 on my laptop. I’d gone to the Romance Writers of America conference in Chicago and signed up to moderate a panel. By sheer serendipity, I was assigned to moderate the e-book panel presented by Janet Lane Walters and the late great Jane Toombs, two true e-book pioneers. I came away with an interest in e-books and a couple of samples on 3 1/2 inch diskettes. (Remember those?)
Back home, I read the books on my laptop using either Adobe Acrobat or an Internet browser, depending on whether the format was PDF or HTML. I’m a voracious reader and book buyer, and the house was already full of print books. The idea of being able to store book on my computer seemed like a godsend to me. A way to buy and hoard store books without cluttering my already cluttered house. I was hooked!
Commercial e-books were in their infancy, but dozens of small publishers sprang up, most of them no longer in business. Ellora’s Cave was the best known of the early small e-book houses. My publisher, Amber Quill Press, started in 2002 and closed its doors in 2015. Romance readers got hooked early, and small presses deserve credit for reviving the paranormal romance genre, which NY had lost interest in, for feeding the erotic romance craze and for pioneering gay erotic romance.
While e-book readers were a tiny minority at first, the growth became explosive, often 50% in a year, though sadly has slown since. The numbers didn’t start to hit critical mass until Amazon got into the game with the Kindle 1 in late 2006, though Sony gets the credit for having the first available e-ink reader. There were commercial e-readers available before the Sony Reader and the Kindle: the original Rocket e-book reader, its successor the RCA Gemstar 1100, requiring a stylus to make selections. (You had to press a lot harder than on a tablet.) Also, books could be read on the little PDAs, like the Palm Pilot and Pocket PC. I read a lot on my Sony Clie.
My RCA Gemstar gave out shortly before the release of the Kindle1. I briefly considered getting a Sony reader, but decided that Amazon had already shown a commitment to the book business which I didn’t see Sony making, so decided to order the Kindle, despite the $399 price. I loved it from the beginning. There was no touch screen, just a wheel for scrolling up and down plus the keyboard. It seems unwieldy now.
Amazon’s real innovation, the one that made it the leader in the industry, was the one-click purchase followed by wireless delivery directly to your device. No more having to buy from the publisher’s site–with different accounts at each site, were we dedicated ebook readers or what?–download the books to your computer and then side load your e-books using the USB cable. Sadly, one-click ordering tolled the death knell of many small publishers.
One-click buying took e-book reading beyond the limits of the technologically proficient among us. The ability to download a sample before buying was (and still is) another popular feature. I was an early adopter of the Kindle 1 and still have my device, though it’s no longer in use. I’ve moved on to a Kindle Keyboard and the iPad.
Do you read e-books? If so, when did you start and what device(s) do you use?
All of us here at OCC were shocked and saddened by the sudden death of our friend Janet Quinn Cornelow, and I want to dedicate today’s post to her memory.
Janet joined OCC in 1988 and quickly volunteered to take on the newsletter, a board position. Computers weren’t as sophisticated in those days, so the newsletter was still printed at a local print shop and snail mailed to the membership. Janet would collect the information and compose each story or column on her computer and print it out. Then a bunch of us would gather at her house once a month to literally cut and paste the final proof. Afterwards, we’d have lunch at a local coffee shop and talk writing. Later, Janet did other volunteer jobs like Lunch Coordinator, in addition to judging in the Orange Rose, manuscript critiques and hosting Ask-An-Author.
For those who didn’t know Janet as well as I did, here are some additional details about her.
Janet was a native Californian who grew up in the Riverside area. She attended Call State Fullerton and earned a B.A. and a Master’s Degree in Journalism. In addition to her writing career, she taught for many years and worked as office manager to a Sylvan Learning Center. In recent years, she taught online classes for two private universities.
Janet and I joined the chapter the same year, we sold our first books to New York around the same time, 1997-98, and when the 21st century came along, we went on a crazy e-book journey together. Last year she plunged into the Brave New World of self-publishing. No one can ever say Janet was afraid to take a chance or try a new idea. She had just finished another book, and I hope her family will be able to see it published.
The photo above, from a signing at Bearly Used Books, shows Janet as I like to remember: surrounded by books and with a big smile on her face.
Janet Quinn has always been a story teller. She has put her love of stories into her writing. While honing her craft, she earned a B.A. and an M.A. in journalism. Then she took up teaching high school English and writing. She has also taught novel writing classes at the Learning Tree University in California.
Her first novel, Yesteryear’s Love, was published by Berkley/Jove under their Time Passages imprint. It placed in the finals of the Romance Writers of America/Orange County Chapter’s Orange Award Contest for published writers for best historical.
Wild Honey placed in the finals of the Romance Writers of America/Orange County Chapter Orange Rose Contest for unpublished authors. Also, her manuscript, The River’s Treasure, placed in the finals for best historical in the PASIC Book of Your Heart Contest. The Irish Countess, a historical romance, was a finalist in the 2007 EPPIEs.
At her memorial service, Janet’s family handed out cards in her honor that said:
Janet Marie Quinn
August 14, 1949 – October 26, 2012
Janet was the mother to three exceptional boys, Nana to two wonderful grandchildren and an accomplished author.
There are no words to properly sum up such an amazing woman or such a life well lived. She played many roles: mother, teacher, author, friend…
She left far too soon and far too suddenly. There was so much that she still had to give to the world. We will mourn and miss her–but in the same moments that we find ourselves with heartache, we must celebrate her life. We must remember the laughter and humor that she brought and the love and warmth that she always offered.
No writer could have expressed it better. Janet was a good friend and I will miss her, as we all will.
Please feel free to share your memories of Janet in the Comments below.