Why did Kindle owners want page numbers?

Andrys at Kindle World has a great Q&A on Kindle’s Real Page Numbers.

A long time ago there was an article about how magnificent Amazon’s method to add ‘real’ page numbers was. Didn’t write about it because couldn’t really understand how it worked – it was so magnificent it flew right over my head. Of course, it was impressive and showed how Amazon can handle truly big problems like putting in page numbers into books created without page numbers.

What did make me wonder then, and the same thing makes me wonder now, is -

Why did Kindle owners want page numbers?

Of course, if you fall into the category of people who love locations you can disregard the rest of this post. However, if you prefer page numbers, you might like this post.

Why did Kindle Owners want Page Numbers?

Here are a few possible reasons -

  1. They wanted to be able to match book page numbers with Kindle page numbers.
  2. They were more comfortable with page numbers. Additionally, the transition from paper books to Kindle books is made easier if there are as many things as possible that are familiar.
  3. It makes more sense to consider ‘page numbers’ than locations. After all, you never read a book a location at a time.

The first reason is the one that Amazon has tackled. It’s gone out and created this concept of ‘real’ page numbers. It’s made page numbers that match perfectly with page numbers in a physical book. This satisfies the Kindle owners who need to stay in sync with a reading group or with their Professor’s instructions.

The second reason might be (just my gut feeling) the real reason the majority of Kindle owners asking for page numbers wanted page numbers. A page number has a lot going for it – it’s familiar, it’s easy to follow, it makes the transition from physical books to ebooks easier, everyone understands what it means, the number never get ridiculously huge (7,000 locations is a bit overwhelming and somewhat meaningless), it anchors the page, it fits in easily in the book world.

Isn’t it strange that while it’s doing everything it can to make the Kindle disappear like a book (including taking a gamble on eInk) Amazon forgot that books have page numbers?

The third reason is that ‘page numbers’ make a lot more sense than locations. Locations are something an algorithm prefers. Page Numbers are what most human beings prefer. If you have a page of content displayed on your Kindle, it’s just easier to think of it as ‘Page 137′ or ‘part of Page 137′ – as opposed to ‘locations 2,100 to 2,112′.

Page Numbers vs Percentage Complete

Locations and Percentage Complete are not elegant solutions when you’re reading.

Page Number = How far you’ve come. There is no break from the fact that you’re in a story. If you want, you can check on total pages and get some idea of how much is left. However, the sense of where you are and how far you’ve come is far more important than ‘percentage complete’.

Percentage Complete = How much of the book you’ve read. It’s very different because it focuses on the destination rather than the journey. If the point of reading a book were to finish it, as opposed to enjoying reading it, then it would make sense to focus on percentage complete. It’s not.

Locations = Not sure anyone, even Amazon, knows exactly what locations are. Let’s confuse users to the point they have no idea where they are. Personally, the location number is always some crazy, big, scary number that tells me nothing of value.

Anyways, that brings us to the second part of this post. Which has something to do with the fact that you need to press Menu to see Page Numbers and something to do with the fact that only a portion of Kindle Books have Page Numbers so far.

What Implementation of Page Numbers did Kindle Owners want?

Again, Amazon did a great job for the category of readers who want to be able to track their book club and their Professor’s home work assignments. Also, this is a huge problem. Probably NP-complete.

So, credit to Amazon for tackling it.

Coming back to what other Kindle owners would have liked.

The other Kindle owners who wanted page numbers – the ones not in book clubs and college classes. Perhaps all they wanted was a Page Number that was familiar and logical. Perhaps they just wanted to be free of Percentage Complete and Locations.

To feel like we’re reading a book and not some computer file torn into snippets called locations and re-assembled.

A Page Number is an old friend. It was there in Richmal Crompton’s William books and it was there in The Jungle Books. It was there in the first picture books we read and in the latest physical book we read (before jumping over to the Dark Side). It was charming and helpful and never asked how much longer we wanted to stay. It’s home was our home.

A Location is the person you don’t know very well who always seems to be looking at the clock. Aah … our rendezvous is 47% complete. Soon I’ll be free of your location-deficient reading skills.

That’s the thing. Amazon seems to have missed that this is about friendship and familiarity and comfort. This isn’t a science problem to be solved with some magnificent algorithm. It’s a very simple human need – give us page numbers because we like them and we understand what they mean. 

This whole ‘real’ page numbers thing is strange. When is a page number not real? We see the page and the page number is on it – and it’s real. How could it possibly be unreal? It’s locations that are unreal. Popping up like weeds and pushing out page numbers. Annoying little pests – plus there are so many of them. Thousands of them – crawling all over our books and threatening to crawl up our hands.

The Simplest Solution

Just use Page Numbers.

Make it a mode -

Page Numbers Mode: For people who can’t do the multi-dimensional integration and plasma-fluid surface tension calculations required to fathom Locations.

Change it according to font size or make it fixed on the average font size. Anything is fine. As long as every page on the Kindle has a page number.

Don’t hide it behind the menu and don’t introduce it book by painful book. Just put it into every book.

It’s not going to please people who are in book clubs or those students who actually read their textbooks (and aren’t willing to do a search). However, all other Kindle owners (or at least a large portion of them) are going to be very happy to get an old friend back.

A book has pages and pages go well with page numbers. If the Kindle wants to re-create the best book reading experience, Amazon should consider letting go of its attachment to locations and percentage complete.

15 Responses

  1. You left out a very important reason for page numbers: in non-fiction works, you can’t cite percentage or location — you cite a page number. I’m trying to go as digital as possible, if for no other reason, a lack of shelf space. But I need to be able to cite a page number in my work, which makes Kindle ebooks a problematic choice.

    • Thanks, that’s a very good reason. I’m guessing for that you would need ‘real’ page numbers. Or could you just say – Book X, Kindle Edition, Page Number 237?

      • Each discipline has its own citation format but, yes, something like that. I imagine that if e-readers take off in academic settings, the use of page numbers will become even more important. Unless, of course, you are simply buying the term paper off the internet.

        Just kidding.

  2. So I don’t get the need for page numbers. Which edition do the page numbers come from? The hard back. The paperback? Large format? Too many variables in my opinion. Page numbers are meaningless in ebook formats. Just my $.02

  3. Lack of page number is my biggest criticism of Kindle. I agree with all the reasons, the one Roberto mentions. Will there be a solution? Am I stuck with this Kindle without page numbers? To be honest I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I had known. If I had pagination, I would be super happy.

  4. Roberto makes a good point about citations for research, but since I use my Kindle strictly for pleasure reading I only display the percentage completed. My one complaint (and it’s very minor) is that I think the percentage should measure only the main body of the work, and not include the cover, copyright page, forward, afterword, bibliography, etc.

  5. I say good for Amazon. Me personally, I don’t care about locations, but I love percentage. I like it even better than page numbers in paper books.

    The point, though is not what I like or what you like or what any individual likes – it’s giving readers choices. And that’s one of the advantages of an electronic reader – there are a lot more options to customize the reading experience.

  6. I don’t care about page numbers. I do like tthe fact that you show the %of reading left.

  7. Guess what?? I did all the right things and downloaded so as to get page numbers. Never got the page numbers?? My daughter owns a later edition of Kindle that I and she did the same thing. She, also, did not get page numbers. Maybe some simple instructions or an explanation.

  8. Guess What?? I downloaded the information from Amazon and did not get page numbers even though I followed the instructions. My daughter has a later edition that I and she did the same thing and got no page numbers? We’re wondering what we are missing ??

  9. I like page numbers as it is easier to go back rather than a location which you sort of need to write down. However, I downloaded the page numbers and never got them even though I followed the instructions. My daughter has a later edition of Kindle and she did the same and also did not get the page numbers. We’re wondering what we did wrong?? Has anyone tried it ?

    • Marge, to the best of my understanding, page numbers are only available on Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi, and they are only available for certain books.
      Also, you can only see them when you press Menu.

  10. You’re hitting the nail on the head here. Personally I like percentage, and I can handle locations — I don’t really need to relate to how thick a book is in real life. My mother (who got a Kindle WiFi for her birthday after she saw mine) however really likes the page number feature. She relates much more to paper books than I do. All of that is a transition effect, in a way, but it’s a transition effect that will last 40 years, so we may as well get comfortable with it.

    It ought to be trivially possible to auto-generate non-real page numbers for those books that don’t have the real thing yet. Probably distinguish somehow between the two. Some sort of algoritm that gets reasonably close approximation to words per page of a MMPB would be my preference.

    You can’t usefully have pages that change with font size, because then you’re not just not helping reading groups that mix kindle and paper, but you’re also not helping anyone who wants to compare from kindle to kindle. The “page numbers” on mobipocket reader that would change with font and screen size and would even simply track “3000 pages in large font and 2000 in a smaller font = page 5000!” (and yes, the numbers would be that ridiculously high on my Nokias…), which wasn’t even consistent from run to run of the program, were fricking awful. Location numbers are a *major* step up from that, if you can believe it.

    Some sort of automatically generated relates-to-paperback page number would be a plus to me. You’d probably want to generate it centrally to guarantee a match from kindle to kindle with all kindle books.

  11. I hope Amazon reads your article. One of the things I really miss on my Sony is the page numbers. Why go to allthe trouble to replicate every part of the reading experience exceptpage numbers. Locations and percentages are fine for techies but all those millions that are afraid to go digital can’t figure them out, and they need to be included if we want ebooks to flourish.

  12. Personally, I much prefer percentages to page numbers, but I certainly understand why someone might feel the opposite (Switch11 makes some great points). Ultiamtely it’s simply a matter of taste, like whether you want a white or graphite Kindle.

    The obvious solution is for the Kindle to give you the option as to what you see at the bottom of the screen: page number, percentages, both, neither, or even locations. That way everyone gets what they want. Seems like it would a very simple fix and not something the programs would have to devote much time or resources into.

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