Kindle, Kraken and Page Numbers

by John Holbo on December 30, 2010

I got an iPad for X-Mas so – finally! – I can get in on this e-book thing. I bought Quiggin’s Zombie Economics. Also, Mieville’s Kraken. Now I’m thinking about writing: Krakenomics: How Really Big Things Can Drag Down You, And Everyone You Love, To The Very Bottom, And There’s Nothing You Can Do About It, Probably. “Chapter 1: Shit Creek and the Paddle – Learning To Love Learned Helplessness”. Or something like that. But I’m too lazy to write it, so you write it. Also, I haven’t even read the Mieville yet, so what do I know?

But I’m thinking about quoting our John in something I’m writing (yes, on Zizek). But I can’t footnote a Kindle edition. No pages. What will the world come to? Bibliography has gotten a bit old and odd in the head in the age of the internet, but the existence of pages themselves is kind of a watershed. On the one hand, there’s really no reason why a text that can be poured into a virtual vessel as easily as it can be inspirited into the corpse of a tree should have to have ‘pages’. Still, it’s traditional. Harumph. I suppose I’m going to have to use Amazon’s ‘search inside’ or Google Books and pretend I read the paper version, as a proper scholar would. Or just email John Q. and ask.

{ 47 comments }

1

Zora 12.30.10 at 7:18 am

Books could be quoted via the “sacred text” approach. John 12:3. Sura 23:10-11. Chapter and verse obviates pagination.

Pagination is already a problem if someone cites one version of Bleak House and you happen to own another one.

Of course, it may be difficult to train computers to divide books into chapters and verses. How would you do it? By punctuation? It might take strong AI.

2

John Holbo 12.30.10 at 7:19 am

Hmmm, now that I think about it, there’s probably room to move into the lucrative great books that are really about vampires/zombies/androids/werewolves market. “The Kraken In The Rye”. A coming of age story of an inconceivably vast undersea creature, at Pencey prep school, that is kicked out for getting poor grades, takes the train to New York, gets beat up by a pimp, and continuously complains about all the phonies that can’t admit they, too, are inconceivably vast, undersea creatures.

3

John Holbo 12.30.10 at 7:22 am

“Pagination is already a problem if someone cites one version of Bleak House and you happen to own another one.”

I know, I know. So of course you give edition and page number. Really it would make most sense to do something like Quiggin (Princeton UP, Kindle), 3768-81.

4

Keith 12.30.10 at 7:23 am

Proper citation for electronic books is to cite chapter and paragraph number, instead of page number. It can be a little unwieldy in long chapters, but that’s the best we’ve got right now until we can get anchor links that work across software. It would be a lot easier to include an anchor link to the appropriate paragraph in the text but we’re probably a good 18 months way from that, which in Internet years is forever.

5

JamesP 12.30.10 at 7:54 am

If you open a Kindle book in Kindle for PC, it paginates it like the print copy.

6

John Holbo 12.30.10 at 8:15 am

I have Kindle for Mac but I don’t see any pagination at all. Am I missing something?

7

JamesP 12.30.10 at 8:37 am

Huh, I hadn’t used Kindle for PC for about six months (since before getting a Kindle), but back in June it displayed in a fixed page format. Having just downloaded it now on a new computer, it now works like the regular Kindle, complete with the option to alter text sizes, etc. That’s annoying, since I was using the old version for exactly that footnoting purpose …

8

Sebastian (2) 12.30.10 at 9:17 am

yeah – that’s an issue with the kindle. I think it has precise and stable “Location” numbers somewhere, but then, of course, the other person needs a kindle, too. I really do wonder what they were thinking.

9

John Holbo 12.30.10 at 9:34 am

Well, it’s not really worse than someone else having to have the same edition of Bleak House. And eventually it will be at least as reasonable to assume the other person has a Kindle as any other given edition …

10

ejh 12.30.10 at 10:23 am

Not where the other person is me, it won’t.

11

John Quiggin 12.30.10 at 10:45 am

I suppose you could just say Quiggin (go and Search Inside if you want to find it).

12

John Holbo 12.30.10 at 10:53 am

“I suppose you could just say Quiggin (go and Search Inside if you want to find it).”

Yeah.

13

PHB 12.30.10 at 12:42 pm

There are many things about Kindle document format that are puzzling.

I don’t like the way that it is very difficult to work out how far you are into a book. It is also rather tedious the way that the text is presented in a linear format with the endnotes presented at the end rather than as an optional popup that can be pulled up from the point in the text the endnote relates to.

For chapter and paragraph number to work as a citation format there would have to be a way to use them for navigation. But they are certainly more use than page numbers which are not always constant even for paperback and hardback versions of the same edition.

I prefer Kindle for text based books but it is of limited use for books with lots of pictures and diagrams. Very few publishers go to the effort of making diagrams and pictures look right in Kindle form and the poor Kindle UI makes it difficult to navigate a large diagram on the small, low resolution screen.

14

Jason 12.30.10 at 12:49 pm

I’d like to second Quiggin. The only reason to cite pages is to aid the reader in finding the text. Curiously, it assumes they had access to the book … no one ever told you how to find the source material in the first place in the old days.

Today, I can say Principia, I. Newton and direct you to Amazon or Google Books. That is the easy work today. In the 1700’s , I would would write Principia, I. Newton, p. 203. With the book right in front of me, that was the easy work. But you had to track down your own copy that might be three days ride and buried in the ill-kept library of some Baron.

15

bianca steele 12.30.10 at 2:18 pm

Any thoughts on the Nook? The color version seemed too heavy, but subjectively I liked the feel of the small Nook better than the small Kindle (though it may have had something to do with shopping conditions). Some sources don’t have Kindle books but on the other hand the library doesn’t have that many ebooks at all, and the good ones look like there’s a wait for them.

16

Kieran Healy 12.30.10 at 2:21 pm

I suppose you could just say Quiggin (go and Search Inside if you want to find it).

Until the press or Amazon updates the book to a revised edition and pushes out a new version to your device.

17

Natasha October 12.30.10 at 2:25 pm

“I don’t like the way that it is very difficult to work out how far you are into a book. It is also rather tedious the way that the text is presented in a linear format with the endnotes presented at the end rather than as an optional popup that can be pulled up from the point in the text the endnote relates to.”

Huh? I’m reading a book with footnotes on my Kindle now. When I cursor over to the footnote number and click on it, I’m taken to the note itself. When I’m done reading it, I hit the “back” button and am taken back to where I was in the text. Presumably the publisher (rather than Amazon) decides whether or not the text is coded for active footnotes, much as it decides whether or not it’s coded for an active table of contents.

The “Locations” bar at the bottom of the Kindle’s screen helpfully tells you what percentage of the text you’ve read thus far, which works fine for me.

18

MarkP 12.30.10 at 2:59 pm

“I don’t like the way that it is very difficult to work out how far you are into a book. “

I’ve started reading my Kindle books on an IPod Touch, which just tells you the location range, not the percentage read. It’s kind of fun not to know from the number of pages left exactly when a book is about to wrap everything up, especially for, say, a mystery. It may be the biggest subjective difference for me between reading e- and real books.

19

Jim Milles 12.30.10 at 3:09 pm

The obvious and almost completely neglected solution for e-texts would be paragraph numbering. Law librarians have been fighting for paragraph numbering in court opinions for years, opposed by Thomson West and their monopoly on print reporters. With e-books like Kindle, iBooks, and so on, the problem is that the publishers can’t make the connection between e-books and scholars. Another problem is footnotes & endnotes. I’ve read some e-books from Oxford UP with hyperlinked endnotes, but with other titles they don’t bother.

20

Henry 12.30.10 at 3:20 pm

“Steven Johnson”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d1248de4-11f4-11e0-92d0-00144feabdc0.html#axzz19QBevtx2 plus a proper web archiving system is surely utopian, but would beat traditional citation practices hands down.
Also, on Krakenomics – when I emailed an economist well known to our readers about Mieville’s latest some months ago, I entitled the email ‘squidporn.’ He responded that he had thought from the title that I had some juicy stuff on Goldman Sachs. There is a short story in there surely – “The Squid” – a Lovecraftian take on financial models vast, inimical, both intelligent and utterly indifferent to human concerns.

21

Patrick 12.30.10 at 3:29 pm

bianca- My wife uses the black and white Nook. She thinks its fantastic.

…I know that’s not the most in depth review, but we don’t have one of each e-reader to compare and contrast. We just have the one Nook, and its been a uniformly positive experience.

She does advise getting at least a basic leather case for it, because you may end up carrying it everywhere, and you’ll want to protect the screen. And get a book light, because the e-ink is great on the eyes… but the lack of backlighting puts you at the mercy of the ambient light.

22

Nick 12.30.10 at 4:06 pm

What’s wrong with citing the Kindle location of the quote? It’s meaningless to a non-Kindle owner, but a page number is just as meaningless to someone without the same edition of the printed cover. The Kindle location is reproducible across Kindle platforms.

23

LFC 12.30.10 at 4:07 pm

This talk of getting rid of page numbers in citations is worrying. Some of us read books in physical form, prefer to do it that way, and have no intention of getting a Kindle or an Ipad or a Nook or whatever. The point of citing pages is not just to direct people to the text, as someone said above, but also to show that the author doing the citing is not simply making things up. It allows one to check his or her statements, assertions, quotes, etc. Holbo works in a university with a library. Why can’t he betake himself to the library, find the physical copy of Zombie Economics, and note the relevant page numbers? That way he wouldn’t have to pretend that he’d looked at the physical copy.

24

Jon H 12.30.10 at 5:24 pm

PHB wrote: “I don’t like the way that it is very difficult to work out how far you are into a book.”

What’s the difficulty? There’s a progress bar at the bottom of the screen. It even marks where you started in the current reading session.

25

ScentOfViolets 12.30.10 at 5:42 pm

Some sort of marker set at regular lengths would seem to be necessary for those who are just eyeballing the text to see where they are and where they left off reading the last time. The only question then is the form factor. A marker for every paragraph seems to be too closely spaced (though as an annotation feature on an ebook, it makes perfect sense as an additional feature) while a marker for every chapter doesn’t seem spaced closely enough. Maybe it’s just what I’m used to, but a marker on the order of every thousand words seems to be about right.

26

roac 12.30.10 at 5:45 pm

Law librarians have been fighting for paragraph numbering in court opinions for years, opposed by Thomson West and their monopoly on print reporters.

As a consumer of law reports with no knowledge of what West is up to, I am curious — do they really think printed case reports have a future? I haven’t looked at one for years and years. And the space headache they create for firms must be enormous. The only use I can see for them any more is as a backdrop for pictures in ads.

(Although I really think dead trees beat electrons when it comes to looking up statutes.)

27

Matthew Shugart 12.30.10 at 6:15 pm

Natasha, #17: the popup up function you mention with footnotes in Kindle is a variable. I have some Kindle books that have that function (very convenient), and others that do not (making it impractical to follow up whatever might be in that footnote).

The graphics problems is really serious, especially in the case of maps.

Thus far, having owned a Kindle for just over a year, I am finding I love it for daily news”paper” subscriptions, but I am not yet sold on it for books. And I thought I might like it for reading PDFs, but found it too clunky–at least on the smaller format version of the Kindle that I have.

28

Jon H 12.30.10 at 6:25 pm

LFC wrote: “The point of citing pages is not just to direct people to the text, as someone said above, but also to show that the author doing the citing is not simply making things up. It allows one to check his or her statements, assertions, quotes, etc.”

But surely a kindle range serves the same purpose of showing that the citing author is not simply making things up.

If you want to double-check, then the kindle range may not be very useful. But you have ways of searching for verbatim text now, that let you find the passage in-context.

The only problem is in the case of footnotes or endnotes where the citation is hung off a paragraph that doesn’t actually use a verbatim quote from the source. In that case, you’d want the note to include something to use as the search terms.

29

Robert Nagle 12.30.10 at 6:37 pm

1. Kindle is a seriously defective format. Everything is easier in epub devices.
2. I assume you mean endnotes, not footnotes. (Footnotes would be impractical given the screen real estate).
3. Here’s one publisher’s attempt to implement endnotes on Kindle . Here’s the code to do this .
4. As you see, the above solution requires hand-coding the HTML, which may be impractical for many people.

My prediction is that if you are composing in MS Word and using some sort of converter program, it eventually will be possible to use endnotes. I think the real problem you are raising is how to reference a position in an ebook when the page number is variable. That really depends on the reading systems to figure that out (and they haven’t made that part a priority). I think the solution is for reading systems to develop a semi-human-readable URL shortener. i.e., Ch1-Sec2-11 (which refers to Chapter 1, Section 2, paragraph 11). The reading systems need to implement that — I can’t imagine this is very hard — but it’s just not a marketing priority for the device makers.

30

LFC 12.30.10 at 6:45 pm

@27: surely a kindle range serves the same purpose of showing that the citing author is not simply making things up.

Granted. Those with a kindle could check. Those without couldn’t.

31

bianca steele 12.30.10 at 7:06 pm

Disparities in access do open up (per Anand on the other thread) intriguing opportunities for deception. The Kindle is a bit trivial as an example. Citing to a paywalled JSTOR article offers the chance to send any number of messages or just to subtly change the meaning if the cited article slightly undermines the argument that cites it. Limited-access archives offer the same possibilities; archives, the contents of which are reachable only by petition to, and personal communication from, the archivist, even more so. Adding research assistants to the mix increases the possibilities exponentially. Intentional errors (“oh, I inadvertently wrote down the wrong range”) offer yet another possibility, not even getting into codes like, “the important information is on the previous page,” which one could conceivably share with a small number of people for purposes of secrecy. Enough reason to make citing practices simple and clear.

But I’ve spent a bit too much time listening to the arguments of people who think Christopher Marlowe, Scholar, was “The Author, Shakespeare” and was murdered for his pains for being a Catholic double agent.

32

Ben Alpers 12.30.10 at 7:06 pm

Granted. Those with a kindle could check. Those without couldn’t.

Since Kindle programs for every conceivable platform are available for free, you really don’t need a Kindle (though you would need a PC, Mac, or some sort of handheld).

A bigger problem is that you’d need to purchase a copy of the e-text in question as libraries (or friends for that matter) cannot lend copies of Kindle-formatted e-texts.

33

Jon H 12.30.10 at 10:46 pm

“A bigger problem is that you’d need to purchase a copy of the e-text in question as libraries (or friends for that matter) cannot lend copies of Kindle-formatted e-texts.”

I believe Kindle support for lending was just enabled in the last day or so.

34

Jon H 12.30.10 at 10:48 pm

LFC wrote: “Granted. Those with a kindle could check. Those without couldn’t.”

If there is a passage quoted, then that can be used as a search term online, in order to check.

35

Warren Terra 12.31.10 at 12:33 am

A couple of people seem to be reading you as saying that the Kindle format does not support footnotes within its e-books, when I believe you mean that you can’t properly cite the Kindle edition when you are writing your own articles and books.

The other issue raised upthread, about whether it is right to cite a book than can only be examined by purchase rather than in a library, is interesting – but I’m not sure there’s any good solution to it within the world of e-books. And in any case, even if you tell someone to go search the Kindle edition they can presumably search any electronic edition. I am curious about what might happen if authors get in the habit of editing their texts, which in the world of electronic books might mean that the earlier version is no longer in existence.

I agree with what I take to be the consensus in the thread that the ability to search the text is superior to citing some specific printed edition – although I note that this will work a lot better for quoted passages than if you are merely indicating the section of a text that’s the source, inspiration, or such for text that isn’t quoting from it. It would be nice if the Kindle – and for that matter e-books generally – could develop some coordinate system; word count or character count would seem the obvious candidates, but different formats might yield different word or character counts. Maybe an abbreviated code based on the text so that you could represent an uniquely searchable passage with a relatively short string of characters?

Getting back to what I take to be peoples’ misconstruing, I am curious about the implementation of footnotes in e-books. There are some books that use footnotes quite excellently in a way that adds to the casual reader’s experience (I’m thinking of those that use them for discursion and elaboration, rather than for citation), and far better than endnotes can function in a paper book, because you don’t want to interrupt your reading to go looking for the endnote. I can imagine footnotes as such, displayed at the bottom of the page, might be a real problem in e-books (because consideration is often required in their placement), but on the other hand the ability to hyperlink to a note should make an improved version of footnotes quite doable.

36

John Quiggin 12.31.10 at 4:24 am

@bianca It would be great if some benevolent grant-giver would pay to make JSTOR free once and for all. The fixed costs must have been covered by now, and the running costs must be pretty modest in the great scheme of things. As it is, there are pretty reasonable prices for almost every kind of institution you might want to get access through (including public libraries) but no guarantee that your particular institution will see the benefits and sign up, and no reasonable basis for individual access. On that last point, I bet that, if they just required a short email saying why you needed access, the number of takers would be so small as to pose no threat to their operating model.

37

Glen Tomkins 12.31.10 at 5:57 am

Haven’t links made the whole question of establishing a system of pagination/paragraphation/etc/etc obsolete? Why worry about conveying a textual locus unambiguously by means of some apparatus the reader has to t5hink about, when all you have to do is link to it?

Gad, it’s like taking your first look at one them newfangled motorcars, and asking where the buggy-whip holder is.

38

Martin Bento 12.31.10 at 9:40 am

Ebooks solve the citation problem practically out of the gate in a way that print never did (I’ve gotten a Kindle since last the subject came up here, so I can participate more meaningfully in this discussion). There is clearly a coordinate system in place on the Kindle. For each screen I go to, it gives me a range of “locations” covered by the current screenful (look at the bottom of the screen). This holds even for plain ASCII files. Seems these would work fine for cites. The other major format used for ebooks, AFAIK, is ePub. Probably, they have a similar system. It doesn’t even matter if the two systems are the same. If they are convertible, someone will post a website to convert them.

Libraries are lending ePub books now and using central services to do it. The interesting question I think is what all this does to the inherent, but previously contained, conflict between libraries and booksellers. Public libraries have been only a modest drag on bookseller revenue for two primary reasons: 1) Libraries are less convenient. You have to remember to return the book on time, or you face stiff fines. 2) Some people value ownership of books as artifacts. I don’t see 2 as being very significant for most people when books are not material items. The “ownership” of some text on a screen, save in the sense of authorship, is too abstract and arbitrary to make a fetish of. Likewise, checking out a book online, with possible automated renewal (which would be hard to prevent), is not necessarily less convenient than online purchase. Hence, if I were a book publisher, I would refuse to sell to libraries, save at rates several times what I sell to the public. If there were buyers at those prices, I might be happy to go for it, as providing some minimum guaranteed revenue, but at those prices, libraries as public institutions might be hard to support politically. The end point might be rental rather than ownership of books.

39

bianca steele 12.31.10 at 1:49 pm

Patrick @ 21
Thanks for the info.

@John Quiggin
What I’ve heard makes it sound like the publishers are weird about access to the electronic databases (the last time I did any real research, they weren’t really on the Internet yet except that you could e-mail yourself search results). I’ve always been told the university’s contractual obligations require them to restrict access. Weirdly, I can buy a borrowing card for the Harvard libraries, but as an alumnus of the Extension School, not one of the “real” schools, my card doesn’t include access to the online databases. And the big public research library in Boston says they have cut back on JSTOR and other access due to budget cuts in the past few years. It also seems the local library network has cut back to a service with fewer full-text articles than it used to have.

I could make the trip to a state library or to Harvard, but I wonder how many on-site access points the libraries actually have these days.

40

Tim Wilkinson 12.31.10 at 3:52 pm

Paper books are more real; they are the proper edition. Copies are lodged with libraries. Anything that is lodged is fairly impressive.

I haven’t read the following, just done the googling, but the url says it: http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/Horizons/2010/0511/Amazon-sometimes-issues-patches-for-Kindle-e-books.-Is-that-a-good-thing

Probably everyone is familiar with the way online news gets amended or deleted, and the problems with this kind of instability. I’m not, for once, talking about conspiratorial politics, but Orwell incidentally captured the inherently disorientating, insidious aspect of memory hole revisionism, which applies to the innocent kind too.

The Bodliean oath contains a coded warning about this device:

I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.

41

Mark 12.31.10 at 4:34 pm

If footnotes are out then how will I ever read my david foster wallace ebook? so cruel!

42

Jon H 12.31.10 at 5:00 pm

Warren Terra: “I am curious about what might happen if authors get in the habit of editing their texts, which in the world of electronic books might mean that the earlier version is no longer in existence.”

How would one cite an oral performance or lecture, for which a transcript is not available? Those might also periodically change, making the current ‘edition’ of the act different from the one cited.

43

PHB 12.31.10 at 6:09 pm

Jon H

The problem with the progress bar is that you don’t really know where the book ends.

Quite often 40% of an academic book will be footnotes, references and other filler materials. But due to the way the Kindle progress meter is calculated it can be 60% of the progress bar.

More generally, I don’t like the lack of information to show where you are in the chapter and so on.

44

soullite 01.01.11 at 3:46 pm

I’ve never read any of Meiville’s other words, but I bought Kraken and I didn’t really appreciate his writing style. He tried too hard to form complex sentences that didn’t flow well, and he sacrificed clarity to do it.

45

ajay 01.01.11 at 6:14 pm

Kraken is basically a Diana wynne Jones novel rewritten by a man with a tin ear and no sense of humour. Ben aaronovitch does successfully in The Rivers of London what mieville fails to do in Kraken.

46

Martin Bento 01.01.11 at 10:54 pm

PHB, if you want to know where you are in the main text, go to the TOC, click the beginning of the back matter, and note the first location number. Subtract one. That is the end of the main test. Then you can mathematically estimate, just as you would with page numbers. Likewise, for the end of the chapter. This is equivalent to using the TOC to find page numbers, save for the extra step of clicking. If you want the location numbers right there in the TOC, or popup-able or something, I guess what you want is to try to find other people who care about this and write Amazon requesting it. Very easy for them to do if you can convince them anyone much cares.

47

Errolwi 01.02.11 at 3:17 am

I converted one PDF novel with asterisked footnotes to EPUB with Calibre (via RTF from memory). It converted them to numbered endnotes, although they weren’t hyper-linked. I managed by using the reading software’s search function. Possibly hyper-linking is now included in Calibre’s conversion functionality.
One non-fiction EPUB book I bought (from Random House) came with hyper-linked endnotes. One issue with this approach is that you can get a large endnotes ‘chapter’ which the reader is constantly loading and dropping – chapter endnotes would avoid this.
My reader (Stanza) has a % progress bar on the bottom of the screen, and centre-tapping on the iPhone version shows [current screen no. in chapter]/[total screens in chapter]. This works well if the EPUB internal file structure chapters agree with the work’s actual chapter structure – it is easy to get a feel for how long to end of chapter.

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