Recent Trends

Individual Consumers

While it is difficult to predict where electronic publishing will go within the very short term, there have been some recent trends that will affect the electronic publishing of history books, including large-scale commercial developments. Microsoft Corp., along with such publishing giants as Donnelly Printers and Penguin Books, has recently announced partnerships with book publishers in the United Kingdom, France, and Italy to create and distribute thousands of popular titles on CD-ROM, and eventually online. These e-books will be published using Microsoft Reader and the company's ClearType technology. Microsoft says ClearType improves font resolution on LCD screens, enhancing on-screen reading to a level that "approaches the convenience and quality of paper." At the Fall 1999 Frankfurt Book Fair, Penguin Books said it will roll out 1,000 titles onto CD-ROM from its English-language Penguin Classics, including books by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and William Shakespeare. Each CD-ROM will include more than a dozen - and up to 30 - titles. Using the Italian version of Microsoft Reader, Italian publisher Arnoldo Mondadori Editore SpA will sell e-books and electronic versions of popular magazines on its "eBookstore" Web site. Thousands of Microsoft Reader-compatible French-language titles will be available on CD-ROM - and eventually for Internet download - from the Havas Group publisher and the web site Editions ("zero hour dot com"). The e-books will be sold by software and book retailers.


The company netLibrary ( offers digitized books to its members, which include academic and public libraries, individuals and businesses. The actual number of members is not yet clear, since many libraries have been offered the opportunity to try netLibrary free for a period of from three to six months. Users can search for e-books by author, subject, title, key word, or phrase. An e-book may be checked out, viewed online, or viewed off-line by download to the user's computer. Users are allowed to copy or print single pages of information. There is also a link for purchasing e-book titles.
Books are delivered by netLibrary in a format that resembles the PDF developed by Adobe Acrobat; but pagination and page setup do not follow the format of the original print versions. Books are searchable both within a single title and across the collection purchased.

Libraries generally join by buying at least 500 books. In theory, participating libraries can eliminate overhead and infrastructure costs associated with book storage, maintenance, and replacement. Purchase costs for e-books on netLibrary can be equal to (or lower than) those for regular print books. Libraries also receive usage reports from netLibrary to help in managing collections.

Since e-books at netLibrary are treated as printed books rather than electronic files for sales purposes, there can only be one reader/user per copy at any time, so libraries and other organizations that want to make netLibrary available to their own universe of users might need to buy multiple copies of a single title.

As of December, 2000, netLibrary had access to over 26,000 copyrighted printed books converted into electronic format. Many of these were in business and technology. It also had approximately 2500 public-domain titles. These are offered free of change to members. It has announced plans to add hundreds of books weekly. At present it is working in cooperation with between 150 and 200 publishers, including about 55 university presses. As of February 22, 2000 there were 778 history titles available at netLibrary (56 African, 433 American, 132 Asian, 78 European, 40 Latin American, and 39 World history). It is possible to download a complete list of copyrighted books currently available on netLibrary at


The company Questia ( ) is an online research library where subscribers can view the complete text of anybook in their database. It also provides publishers with an alternate way to generate revenue for backlist and out-of-print titles through page-by-page compensations.

Questia is the first online subscription-based research service that provides undergraduate college students unlimited access to the full text of tens thousands of scholarly liberal arts books and journals. A wide range of tools is available to help students write and research better papers, faster and more efficiently. The research tools allow students to quickly locate the most relevant information on their topics, automatically cite sources and instantly format bibliographies. With its holistic research environment, Questia helps students perform more thorough academic research and write better papers.

Questia in brief: Full text collection searchable by word, phrase or concept Scholarly, high-quality books and journal articles in the liberal arts; Designed for simultaneous access by an unlimited number of users at any given time; Mark up tools to highlight and annotate text; Automatic generation of footnotes and bibliographies; Hyperlinking of footnotes and bibliographies across titles for seamless access to numerous sources; Designed to be accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; Supported by state-of-the-art customer service.

Questia will have tens of thousands of titles digitized at launch in early 2001. It plans to grow its collection to include over 250,000 books and journals within three years, which is larger than 80% of all academic libraries in the United States.

General Indications

The commitment of such major players as Microsoft, Donnelly, Penguin, Mondadori and others points to the continued viability and increased use of the CD-ROM and, soon, of DVD as e-book media. The widespread availability and use of highly portable reading devices and the thousands of electronic titles available from dozens of sources - nonprofit and commercial - that will be creating texts using such industry-wide standards as OEB, points to one of the strengths of the History E-Book Project: the provision that its titles and their electronic files will be easily convertible by DLPS to take advantage of the quickly emerging portable technologies for both eBook readers and downloadable texts.

Whatever the advantages and disadvantages of the individual devices and commercial marketing schemes reviewed here, in the long run the widespread availability and use of such devices will make reading on screen - for all types of material - an accepted, everyday form of communication that historians can play a major role in shaping.