No Page Numbers???

The book gods have punished me for my apostasy. It turns out the Kindle has no mechanism for telling you the physical page number you are on in the book. This makes it problematic for scholarly purposes, since page numbers are usually expected for a proper citation.

It never even occurred to me that this would be the case. I knew, from having seen other people’s Kindles, that it identifies your position in the text via a system of “locations,” and with a little scroll bar along the bottom of the screen. I just assumed (!!) that there was some feature that allowed you to convert from a location number to a print page number. They’re not obsolete yet!

Apparently I”m not the only one to have noticed this problem. And it seems that the Nook and the Sony E-Readers also do not have a mechanism for converting their own location systems to the print page number of the book, so it looks like we’ll just have to get used to this. There are other ways of locating a text, after all. You can give a chapter number and a paragraph number (or section number if it’s a journal article). To judge from this, it would seem that scholarly organizations are quickly catching up. We already cite text from web pages that do not have fixed page numbers, so perhaps this is not really a big deal.

Still, it sure is annoying.


  1. #1 Robert S
    January 21, 2011

    The Sony Readers will give you page numbers. At least the prs-300 that I have does, and I assume the rest do too.

  2. #2 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 21, 2011

    From what I’ve seen at other sites I get the impression that the “page numbers” in the Nook and the Sony E-Readers do not correspond to the actual page numbers in the print book. Is that incorrect?

  3. #3 Robert S.
    January 21, 2011

    Depends entirely on how the ebook version was mastered. Epub books allow for a 1 to 1 link between page and page number but depending on how the book was converted it doesn’t always work. Not having any reference though.. I would expect there to be page numbers in any format, even if they aren’t an exact match. Microsoft reader did, .PRB on the palm did, even with reflow.. Looks like this is a major oversight by amazon

  4. #4 Robert S.
    January 21, 2011

    I just did a bit of reading on the kindle system. There is a position number, which should be about as useful as an arbitrary page number given reflow and the usual conversion problems. If ebooks started being set to the same page numbers as the phys book (not hard given the fact that the same typesetting programs should be able to do both) then a page number would be nice, but I haven’t found that to be the case with many ebooks I’ve read.

  5. #5 Don
    January 21, 2011

    From the Kindle discussion: “I think Amazon knows all too well about this issue and it doesn’t matter to them that they are alienating perhaps the most lucrative market (the academics) they could possible tap in to.”

    Really? Most lucrative market is academics?? Hmmmmmm. If it were, Amazon would have pagination PDQ . . . .

  6. #6 HappyHax0r
    January 21, 2011

    My PRS-600 shows page numbers just fine too, but once again it depends entirely on the book format. EPUB shows it, Sony’s format shows it, text doesn’t, PDF may or may not depending on what’s contained in the PDF etc…

  7. #7 Alan
    January 21, 2011

    Do paperback and hard cover versions of the same book have the same page numbers?

  8. #8 eric
    January 21, 2011

    The entire point of citing a page number is to make it easier for the reader to find the quote. But the system has always been clunky; if you, the scholar, have a different published edition from the citation, or the same editition published under a different publishing company, knowing that the page number might be different in your version isn’t a whole lot of comfort. Citing page number, publisher, edition number, etc. has always been merely an imperfect “work-around” solution to the problem of searching for exact text strings in a written document.

    In electronic versions of references, you can just search for the text string directly. So the purpose of including all of that supporting information goes away; no work-around to the problem of finding a quote is needed any more. (You might still need edition number, if the author tweaked the quote in later editions, but you get my drift.)

    So, my guess would be that citing page number will probably become less important for academia as electronic versions of reference books become more dominant. Its still important for scholars now, but by the end of our lifetimes, probably not so much.

  9. #9 James Sweet
    January 21, 2011

    So here’s how I see it evolving: Eventually, all things which require a bibliography will have an on-line version of the bibliography. And then they can do links like this:

    Rosenhouse, Jason. The Monty Hall Problem, etc.

    (Sorry, I didn’t feel like building a full citation)

  10. #10 NewEnglandBob
    January 21, 2011

    Do paperback and hard cover versions of the same book have the same page numbers?

    NO. Even different revisions and different country versions differ.

  11. #11 harrync
    January 21, 2011

    This is from years ago memory, but I believe the private court reports publishers solved this problem more than a century ago: In their reprints of the official court reports, they would simply insert the “official” page number in brackets in the text. So you might be in the middle of page 50 of the reprint and see “…and in the [123] case of Jones v Smith…”. That simply meant that “case” was the first word on page 123 of the official reports, and should be the page number used in any cite. So you can do this with hot metal type, but can’t do it with modern computer technology? Strange.

  12. #12 clew
    January 21, 2011

    Distributed Proofeaders, which feeds Project Gutenberg, argued this out a while ago and now the HTML standard (at least) leaves the original page numbers in marginal brackets. The consensus was that it wasn’t too much additional work, if it would keep the books in a continuous scholarly tradition. We made note of the line numbers kept from some early — very early? — editions of Plato.

  13. #13 Alan
    January 21, 2011

    Re #10 Thanks NewEnglandBob. – So it appears that dealing with kindle vs book is logically no different to dealing with paperback vs hard cover.

  14. #14 H.H.
    January 21, 2011

    In agreement with eric @ 8.

    Another reason page numbers are relatively useless in digital additions is because the user sets the font size for their reading screen, and the amount of words that fits on their “page” would be necessarily different from someone else reading the same material with a different resolution. The text just reflows on your screen as you go.

    A new system will have to be developed as we move to all digital media because page numbers will eventually become a meaningless concept.

  15. #15 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 22, 2011

    A back-end approach that I have used is to, at least when available, use Amazon’s “Look Inside” to find the page number.
    Unfortunately this is not universally available, but it sure helps when it is.

  16. #16 tyaddow
    January 22, 2011

    My wife assures me that her Nook provides page numbers that correspond to the print version.

  17. #17 Gerry L
    January 22, 2011

    B&N uses the “real page numbers” as a selling point for the Nook, only aimed at book club readers rather than academics.

    Before buying my NookColor I tried out my brother’s Kindle and found the weird numbering system to be disorienting.

  18. #18 Drivebyposter
    January 23, 2011

    As stated above, the Nook has page numbers, probably not exactly corresponding to a real book, but it does at least give one some sense of orientation. You get a general idea of where to look, just like you’d pretty much only get a general idea with different versions of the same real book.

  19. #19 paul01
    January 23, 2011

    I got a sony e-reader for Xmas (650 model). It has page numbers, and when you change the font size the change is accomodated, i.e you may remain on page 417 for several turns of the page, and sometimes you end up on page 417-418. I don’t know if the page numbers in the e-book correspond with the physical pages in some exemplar.

  20. #20 Tom
    January 23, 2011

    Jason, I tried to warn you about this deficiency, at least indirectly. My post (#11 in the “I Bought a Kindle!” comments thread) gave a few caveats, and gave you a link to read the entire review of a former professor of mine here:

    If you read it, you would have seen that he brings up the page numbers vs. Kindle “locations,” along with a few other comments about Kindle browsing difficulties, in the “Minuses” sub-section of the “Light Reading” section.

    Eh, I know you’re busy, so I can understand why you wouldn’t read the entire article in the link (or even if you clicked on it). Then again…

  21. #21 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 24, 2011

    Tom –

    Sorry I missed the link the first time around. I agree completely with what your former professor said. For light reading it works very well, but for serious, technical reading the technology still has a long way to go. Still, I do a lot of light reading, so I don’t regret having bought one. The thing about the page numbers is annoying, but the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages.

  22. #22 J.J.E.
    January 24, 2011

    @ Jason

    A few things to consider.

    1) You can cheat by searching for the relevant text (enough to be unique) in Google Books. Then you can find the page number for a particular print edition and be done (a kludge, I know);
    2) The Google e-book reader actually gives page numbers, and allows you to switch back and forth between “flowing text” and the scan of the page.

    #1 is probably the most practically useful. You can review books even if you don’t have a physical version handy. #2 is only useful in a hypothetical comparison perspective (which does you precious little good since you already purchased a Kindle and are therefore at least a little committed to that platform). However, for the record, the disadvantages of the Google e-book reader (at least on my Android device) make it far inferior compared to the Kindle reader (again, on my Android device). The annotation, searching, highlighting, etc are quite good on the Kindle software, even when it isn’t on Kindle hardware. I’d take a Kindle + Google Books kludge over the Google ebook reader any day.

  23. #23 Ray Moscow
    February 1, 2011

    Yeah, I’ve had a Kindle for a few months and noticed the “no page number” problem. I was kind of hoping that someone had an easy solution.

  24. #24 juhawks
    February 6, 2011

    I have a Kindle and it took me a little while to get used to not having page numbers, but now I could care less. I definitely can see how it would be a problem when using it for teaching or academic purposes where others may be using the actual book.

    However, there is a way to view page numbers…
    You can try finding the book in another format, such as PDF. In many cases a PDF version of a book is just a scan of the pages, including the page numbers. Kindle will just read the numbers as text within the document so it won’t correlate a page number to the actual location of the book. This is annoying because the page number can appear anywhere on the page, sometimes right in between letters of a word. But at least you’ll be able to actually tell someone which page you are on.

    Kindle is also open to suggestions, go to Amazon’s Kindle page for their boards…

    Top 20 alternative eBook web sites…