By the 1970s, the advent of new technologies for the transmission, storage, and distribution of data, once the prerogative of book publishing, had become a problem for the industry; television screens and databases became symbols of the challenges to editors and publishers (see computer; information storage and retrieval). The increasing use of sophisticated copying machines posed new problems to the need of publishers and authors to protect their property by copyright, and in 1976 the U.S. Congress passed a major revision to the federal copyright law that attempted to define to what extent published material could be reproduced without payment of royalties.
In the late 20th cent., computers and such related innovations as the CD-ROM (see compact disc) and the Internet allowed publishing to expand, making readily updated texts available on line and on disk and fostering multimedia presentations and interactive uses (see hypertext). The easy access to and copying of electronically published material raised additional copyright issues, and in 1998 Congress passed legislation that extended copyright protection to on-line material. In addition, the wide availability of computer-driven desktop-publishing technology to small presses and individuals gave impetus to the production of a wide variety of self-published books. By the beginning of the 21st cent. several large U.S. publishers had set up separate electronic ventures and a number of independent on-line print-on-demand (or publish-on-demand) web companies had been created. The fastest growing of the independents, Lulu.com, was founded in the United States in 2002. Only four years later it had more than 30,000 titles available, was creating about 1,000 new ones every month, and had expanded its operations into several European countries.
Technology also led to the development of the electronic book or "e-book," which combines the storage, search capabilities, and adaptability of a computer with the simulated page format of a traditional book; early versions appeared in the late 1990s. By 2000, thousands of books were being digitized, to be read on line, downloaded, printed out by the reader, or printed on demand by the publisher, thus assuring that their electronic versions need never go out of print. That same year, as reading devices became more compact and sophisticated, several of the largest U.S. publishing houses opened separate on-line publishing ventures while smaller electronic publishing start-ups became more common.
Meanwhile, some books also became available in component parts (chapters, maps, tables, and even paragraphs) that, for a price, could be customized into new entities created by their readers and, like other electronic books, be either downloaded from the Internet or printed on demand by the publisher, bound, and shipped to the customer. Since 2000, e-book readers have been developed that can store hundreds of publications, and they have become extremely popular with segments of the reading public. Software for reading e-books on computers, electronic tablets, and smartphones also has been developed. With e-books and e-book readers widespread, previously unknown writers have found it relatively easy to self-publish on websites that make their books available for download; by 2011, several of the books of such "indie authors" had become electronic best sellers.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.