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.


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