FRANKLIN BOOKMAN

Data Archive

Welcome to the Franklin BOOKMAN Data Archive. The archive focuses on devices, peripherals, and electronic content that form the Franklin BOOKMAN electronic reader ecosystem. It aims to be the definitive resource for Franklin BOOKMAN on the Internet.

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 positioned as a more portable and convenient way to access reference material normally found within print books and magazines. Genres included language education, medical, religion, and sports among others.

All devices in this line share some common functionality:

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).

  1. 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.

  2. 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 line and name 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 screen, active backlight, and secured DRM system. Those devices were the logical conclusion of the Bookman R&D lineage. You can find more information about the eBookman here at eBookman Lives.

Dick Tracy explains BOOKMAN (1995)

Origins of Electronic Books

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 saved the company, then known as Franklin Computer Corporation, from spiraling further into the pits of bankruptcy.

FEP device evolution

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.

For a comprehensive history of FEP up to (arguably) its peak in 1998, see this excerpt from International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 23. St. James Press, 1998..

Changelog

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Archive Goals

The BOOKMAN archive began in Feb 2021 and this is what we're trying to achieve with all of this information.

1. COMPLETE DATABASE : 90% done

Looking to capture the entire BOOKMAN hardware and software catalog. Currently the archive contains the details of:

2. PRESERVE CONTENT : 1% done

Create 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 ROM card formats and make it possible to extract and restore these ROMs. Please see the technical details section for the detailed progress notes so far.

3. MAKE BOOKMAN ACCESSIBLE : 0%

Physical devices will inevitably wear down; LCD screens break, capacitors fail, batteries leak and other tangible components of BOOKMAN products will eventually become difficult to replace or repair. Our aim is to deeply understand the BOOKMAN hardware in order to create emulators for preserving the BOOKMAN experience independently of the original hardware. Please see the technical details section for more.



diagram of the goals and substeps

Reach out if you can help us. Your support is much appreciated!

Together we can further the goals of the archive by:

BOOKMAN Devices (107 listed)

Third-party BOOKMAN devices

System Compatibility

BOOKMAN Cartridges (110 listed)

DBS Devices (3 listed)

The Digital Book System (DBS) was a precursor product to the Bookman first sold to the public in 1992. There were two hardware revisions of this product line and the devices were heavily marketed towards medical professionals. The last product bundle from this line was released in 1995 by which time the Bookman system was to supercede it as Franklin's cartridge-based ebook reader.

Franklin Digital Book System DEMO Cartridge IC-901 (1993)

DBS-1

DBS-2

DBS-2D

System Compatibility

Generally all DBS cartridges are intercompatible between the two readers. Some cartridges may have audio content which is simply not accessible on the DBS-1 system due to the lack of an audio jack. Otherwise the two systems seem to be identical in terms of content accessibility.

DBS Cartridges (69 listed)

Reverse Engineering Page

Replacements and Restorations

Bookman Card Blank

This 3D printable card blank will ensure your Bookman cartridge contact strip stays clean and sits flush with the rest of the device by filling the card slot.

Download blankcard.stl for 3D printing

Leaflet Library

You can find scans of various Franklin promotional / catalog leaflets below. Items listed in chronological order.

1992 The Franklin Revolution Is About To Unfold (F-1268)

1993 Franklin Digital Book System (FCR-28900-00-A)

1993 Welcome to the Wonders of the Franklin Electronic Library (FEP-28100-00)

1994 Welcome to the Wonders of the Franklin Electronic Library (FEP-28100-00-B)

1994 Franklin Digital Book System (FCR-28900-00-B)

1995 Chips & Bits - Computer Gaming World Issue 127 (CGW127)

1995 Your keys to unlocking a world of instant medical information... (361900)

1996 Franklin Digital Book System - New! Updated Catalog (FCR-28900-00-C)

1996 The Franklin Electronic Library (FEP-28106-00-A)

1997 The Franklin Electronic Library (FEP-28106-00-D)

1998 Introducing Franklin's MBS Medical Book System (FEP-28117-00-A)

1998 Look Up Information Instantly -- Electronically (Radio Shack 1998 Catalog)

2004 FRANKLIN (FEP-28129-00A)

2006 FRANKLIN Grenzenloses Sprachenwissen rund um die Welt (FEP-28129-00A)

Other Notable FEP Devices

Language Master series

Encyclopedia series

Bible series

FEP Press Releases

FEP Company Miscellany

Key People

Critical Web Snapshots

Patent Information

SEC Filings

Common Stock Certificate

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