Welcome to the BOOKMAN 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:
Full QWERTY keyboard for accessing content
4 specially colored keys to execute specific functions relating to content
Built-in main content database that can be expanded with up to two ROM-card slots for additional content
Content on the devices was indexed and searchable via keyboard input
Ability to send text 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)
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 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.
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 BOOKMAN archive began in Feb 2021 and these are our overall objectives:
1. COMPLETE DATABASE : 95% done
Looking to capture the entire BOOKMAN hardware and software catalog. Currently the archive contains the details of:
69 x DBS Cartridges
125 x Bookman Cartridges
115 x Bookman Devices
2. PRESERVE CONTENT : 40% 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, and MBS ROM card formats and once it is possible to extract the data. Please see the Reverse Engineering Page for the detailed progress notes so far.
3. MAKE BOOKMAN ACCESSIBLE : 10%
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 deeply understand the BOOKMAN hardware in order to create emulators for preserving the BOOKMAN experience independently of the original hardware. Please see the Reverse Engineering Page for more.
MAME is likely a suitable project to contribute code to with regards to emulation efforts. We will likely deliver Bookman emulation code towards that project as an end-goal.
Additionally, if we are yet unable to get the prerequisite knowledge to achieve this there are other plans in place to create time-sharing access to a real BOOKMAN device via this site.
Help the Archive
Want to help us out? You contribute materially by:
Sending reader devices + ROM carts (working or broken) into the collection
We are looking to source unique, uncommon ROM cards so our ROM dump tool can extract and host them on the site
These ROM cards are still missing from the Archive:
DBS systems are wholly compatible with all DBS content
BOOKMAN Cartridges (125 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)
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.
Named as Franklin's Chief Scientist in 1991, he led the R&D team
"The company hopes to develop machines that can comprehend the nuances of a language, such as the difference between 'threw' and 'through.' Presently, computers can tell if the word is spelled correctly, but not if it's being used correctly."