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History's First Real E-Book

25th Anniversary in April/May 2021

Neon Blue by John Argo (1996)

Neon Blue is a romantic suspense novel published online in 1996, before e-commerce and before modern commercial e-book and digital publishing. Spring 2021 (April/May) will mark the 25th anniversary of this historic event. At the time, the Library of Congress still refused to award Copyright Registrations to digital books, stating in a telephone interview (1999, regarding John T. Cullen's published print and e-book The Generals of October) "We don't know yet if those are real books. You can register copyright on such material as unpublished manuscripts."

Neon Blue was and is the first real ebook ever published, according to the following criteria:

(1) proprietary, not public domain, which eliminates Project Gutenberg and any other public domain sites from this category;

(2) published entirely online, not sample chapters or teasers;

(3) published online in HTML to be read online, not downloaded, nor on portable media (e.g., floppies, CD-ROM, tape, or the like);

(4) part of the innovative first weekly series (Neon Blue Fiction for Suspense; The Haunted Village for SFFH) online with regular sequential chapter releases, each Sunday evening PST;

(5) had a global readership of avid fans on every continent, whose fan e-mails have been preserved.

Global Best Digital Novel 1996-1999. We can't call them bestsellers, because this is before e-commerce, so they weren't 'sellers'. As one Internet historian mentioned in her 1999 book, we were giving the books away promotionally. That's referring to Neon Blue (and its immediate successors, the SF novel This Shoal of Space in July 1996; Constitution Thriller CON2: The Generals of October in early 1997; and shorter works like the thriller Terror in my Arms in 1998). The author (John T. Cullen, writing genre fiction as John Argo) received excited fan e-mails from avid readers around the globe on every continent, in cities as far-flung as Toronto, Canada and Johannesburg, South Africa; nations including Germany, China, Argentina, and of course across the newly Web-installed USA.

Best Seller on Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble's Len Riggio was an early investor in innovative startups like Nuvomedia, producer of the first real e-book hardware, the Rocket eBook. We were bestsellers in the tiny but fervent Rocket eBook market in the late 1990s. By about 2000, Barnes & Noble had launched a website ( and other domain names) where the John Argo books were high-flying bestsellers for over a year. Then B&N killed off that site (the e-book portion) for several years before getting back into e-books after a hiatus. During that hiatus, the number one e-book venue online was Fictionwise, where John T. Cullen a.k.a John Argo had many top sellers (including the top ten or more in Nonfiction/History) before Barnes & Noble purchased Fictionwise and killed it off by January 2012. The point is that Neon Blue, This Shoal of Space, and similar works from Clocktower Books were top sellers and popular works in a pioneering, innovative age when Web publishing was brand-new and wonderful. It was a venue frequented by web-savvy, tekkie, usually SF-literate, college educated men and women who enjoyed an innovative, intellectually rewarding, even literary read. With over a million books flooding the market by 2017, needless to say, that had all become history.

Museum of Clocktower Books Notes. We launched two tiny websites in 1996 without domain names, as folders at a San Diego innovator called Electriciti (still exists; now apparently dedicated to automotive industry news). Our two websites were Neon Blue Fiction (suspense) and The Haunted Village (SFFH; originally By December 1996, we (Brian Callahan) had purchased the Clocktower Fiction domain name (our first), which he developed into our umbrella publishing domain. By about 2000, we changed the name to Clocktower Books (still thriving, with its own unique ISBN prefix 0-7433) to embrace potential nonfiction as well. More info on all this and more at the Clocktower Books Museum site.

More info at the Clocktower Books Museum.

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