Our aim is to preserve the history of Franklin Bookman, one of the earliest eBook platforms, and understand its place in time and its impact upon the evolution of eBooks.
We do this by uncovering the relationships between hardware / software / business / human aspects that form the Franklin Bookman ecosystem.
BOOKMAN is to books as GameBoy is to games.
What is BOOKMAN
The Franklin BOOKMAN is an electronic book product line by Franklin Electronic Publishers (FEP). Products were targeted at the mass-market, offering access to interactive reference materials in a portable and and convenient format.
Main genres of Bookman content:
Dictionaries (mono and multilingual)
Encyclopedias & History
Food & Drink
Bookman devices share common functionality:
Full QWERTY keyboard for navigating indexed content
Built-in main content ROM that can be expanded with up to two ROM-card slots for additional content
Ability to send data from one ROM program to another (e.g. a highlighted word from Concise Columbia Encyclopedia to the Advanced Dictionary & Thesaurus in order to get the definition)
Used common battery technology: AA (LR6), AAA (LR03), CR2032
4 colored content function keys
The product line expanded out of Franklin's earlier Digital Book System (DBS) as a way to market additional reference book content (1) and increase per-unit sales volumes (2).
By selling more devices with onboard content as well as the ability to expand via ROM card, each device could appeal to its own genre without additional purchases while simultaneously receive promotional offers for tangential or unrelated content beyond the main focus of the base content.
Player / reader hardware was likely manufactured at a very low profit or like with other consumer-oriented content systems. The DBS, BOOKMAN's direct ancestor, sold only as a reader; users usually had to buy their first ROM cart separately. This made it harder to sell as a whole (public buying behavior is biased towards fewer options and items for the initial purchase) meaning less total sales and profit.
Though no official sales figures have yet been found, this product strategy was considered to be widely successful. The longevity of the BOOKMAN product brand 1995 - 2009 (15 years) is evidence for this success.
The evolution of Bookman products led to a further developed device and content system called the eBookman. It offered a larger touch-sensitive screen, active backlight, and DRM system. A logical conclusion of the Bookman R&D lineage. You can find more information about these units at "eBookman Lives".
The Amazon Kindle is usually what we think of when someone uses the word "ebook" in 2021, which is no mistake as the Kindle ecosystem dominates the eReader market share; 75 - 95% in most countries. It is the most successful eReader ever. But, like many other champion devices, it certainly wasn't the electronics industry's first attempt in this niche. eReaders have a history stretching back almost 40 years prior and the concept and user experience of "ebooks" was developed over much of this time by the company known as Franklin Electronic Publishers (FEP). FEP was undoubtedly the first company to create a purpose-built device for consuming ebooks- indexed and searchable reference works rather than the novel / linear style content as you may think of ebooks now.
Many other online sources will claim that the Rocket eBook (1998) was the first commercial ebook reader. But even a cursory glance at contemporary devices will draw the same conclusion: the claim is solely based on the display technology of the device (ePaper) as there were many platforms offering published digital book content before 1998.
In truth, FEP released the world's first dedicated consumer eBook device (Spelling Ace) in 1986- a ground-breaking product that created a new category of electronic content consumption and gave the company (then known as Franklin Computer Corporation) a lifeline separate from its desktop computer products which were severely impacted following legal troubles due to Franklin's use of reverse engineering in development.
Through this happenstance, FEP realized that the underdog niche of electronic language products was an untapped market. The company banked everything on acquiring suppliers, hiring key personnel, developing, and designing progressively more sophisticated content consumption technologies such as the EC-7000 (a dedicated encyclopedia) and DBS-1 (the direct precursor to the Bookman product line).
With each iteration, FEP would refine their offerings throughout the 1990s and into the late 2000s with various devices and plug-in card systems before being surpassed by more powerful general purpose PDAs, devices with cheaper storage and better display technology, and eventually online-first devices like the modern smartphone.
The archive seeks to capture the entire BOOKMAN hardware and software catalog in order to preserve the history of Franklin Bookman. Currently the archive contains the details of:
69 x DBS cartridges
3 x DBS devices
132 x Bookman cartridges
130 x Bookman devices
40 x related patents
Physical devices will inevitably wear down; LCD screens + connectors break, capacitors fail, batteries leak and other tangible components of BOOKMAN products will eventually breakdown and become inoperable. As time goes on they become more difficult to replace or repair. Our aim is to collect enough examples of hardware and physical media to use as a primary source for material reproductions in goal #3 (see below).
2. Show the contextual impact on eBook evolution
We will be looking at contemporary devices in the same market; direct and indirect competitor companies and products. Predecessor and successor technologies will give clues as to how things were and came to be in the midst of the Franklin Bookman brand lifetime. This will be summed into a grand understanding of Franklin Bookman and its impact upon the evolution of eBooks.
Studying the marketing materials as well as hardware + software supplier dependencies will reveal a great deal about the product strategy and decisions Franklin faced in producing the Bookman platform. The archive is gathering an extensive collections of source materials for study:
3. Uncover the ecosystem that makes the Franklin Bookman
The point is to tie the entire product experience into the modern day by making the experience of using the Bookman ecosystem reliable (for those who still own units) and accessible (for those who do not own units); highlighing the hardware, software, business, and consumer relationships.
Creation of open source software (OSS) that will allow BOOKMAN owners to back up their ROM card contents. The idea is to reverse engineer BOOKMAN I, II, III, and MBS ROM card formats once it is possible to reliably extract the contents.
Deeply understand the BOOKMAN hardware in order to emulators for preserving the BOOKMAN experience independently of the original hardware. Please see the Reverse Engineering Page for more.
TBD: Note research methods and link to project board to see overall status of tasks and contributions towards goals
Help the Archive
Want to help us out? Here are some ways to contribute:
A. Send in hardware; we will accept working or broken units
The archive is trying to source at least one copy of all ROM cards and reader devices. The ROM dumper tool can extract ROMs for hosting on the archive site. We are currently developing tools to extract the onboard ROMs as well!
This tool is used to create replacement labels for Franklin BOOKMAN cartridges that have faded or otherwise deteriorated labelling. The generated labels are downloadable as SVG files and can be printed at 100% scale for a 1:1 reproduction size suitable for application on worn ROM cards.
Click here to access the Bookman Label Maker
You can find scans of various Franklin promotional / catalog leaflets below. Items listed in chronological order.
FEP received its own official number in the USB vendor code list after submitting it to the USB consortium: 0x09b2 (hex) or 2482 (dec). The submission was related to use of USB for the eBookman device.