B&N, Microsoft to Offer Free SF eBook Downloads – 12 Years Ago
The new partnership between Microsoft and Barnes & Noble is hot news right now,but it’s not the first time these 2 companies worked together. I just found a link on a Facebook group which led to an from the very first time that B&N offered ebooks.
I thought it would be interesting to take a historical look at what came of that partnership. While lots of tech bloggers are talking about the glorious future these companies have before them, I think it useful to look at where they were.
Back in the year 2k, Microsoft was just releasing its new ebook format, MSReader. This format, which is scheduled to be killed off this year, was the most sophisticated ebook format on the market. It had fairly high hardware requirements for the time and when this partnership was announced MSReader could only be read on a few PDAs running Windows Mobile.
B&N comes in because they were selling the ebooks. This was their first ebookstore, and at the time the only format they sold was MSReader. To be fair, there weren’t many other formats in commercial use; eReader was just getting started and Mobipocket had just incorporated a mere 2 months before B&N opened the ebookstore.
I will admit that this story surprised me. I only knew of B&N’s first foray into ebooks. That was when they sold the, their first ereader, in 1999. That didn’t amount to much, either, though I don’t have definite details on what happened.
To put things into perspective, in the year 2000 Sony had just gotten out of their previous ereader endeavor, the Sony Data Discman. And Amazon didn’t launch their first ebookstore until the end of the year before going on to sell ebooks in the 4 standard formats (MSReader, Mobipocket, eReader, and Adobe PDF), though they stopped selling ebooks once they settled on building the Kindle platform.
But B&N was selling MSReader ebooks in the year 2000, and as part of the launch Simon & Schuster was giving away a selection of Star Trek ebooks. They could only be had through Barnes & Noble and could only be read in the one format, so I’m not sure how many people got them.
There’s not much to this story, but if you read it you will likely recognize the parallels between then and now. That partnership didn’t go anywhere, yet everyone was lauding it as the wave of the future. Some of the statements are particularly amusing in retrospect.
"We are happy to be offering Pocket PC customers the opportunity to download these terrific eBooks," said Steve Riggio, vice chairman of Barnes & Noble.com "The Pocket PC is a truly remarkable device that offers an unparalleled reading experience. It’s fast, it’s easy and, with Microsoft Reader software, it makes reading on-screen as pleasurable as reading on paper."
But this old story is more than simply amusing. It also mentions a couple historical details I didn’t know, including Michael Crichton’s 1983 book, Electronic Life, in which he predicts the idea of ebooks. That book is new to me; the only other SF book from that era which really discussed ebooks was Ben Bova’s Cyberbooks.
The story also mentions one of the very first of the major publishers' experiments in digital publishing. Time Warner Trade Publishing announced around that time that they were going to launch iPublish.com, which was going to "provide authors, publishers and consumers with an interactive Web site for creating and distributing eBooks and other electronically published documents". That sounds a lot like Amazon KDP, B&N PubIt, or Smashwords, doesn’t it?
Time Warner Trade Publishing both launched and. That made some sense; they were in a recession and it likely wouldn’t have broken even in 2002. But the guy who killed it is another fascinating historical footnote; the CEO of TWTP at that time was Larry Kirshbaum.
You should recognize that name; he’s now a VP at Amazon and the head of Amazon Publishing. Curious how that worked out, isn’t it?