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.

Kindle adds Page Numbers

The Kindle now has a software update available that adds real page numbers. The software update with the Kindle Page Numbers feature is now available as a free early preview.

You can get the Kindle software update with real page numbers at the Amazon Help page. There are instructions on how to install it. Please note that this software update is only for Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi.

Here’s what Amazon has to say about it on their blog post about the Kindle Page Numbers feature –

 Real Page Numbers – Our customers have told us they want real page numbers that match the page numbers in print books so they can easily reference and cite passages, and read alongside others in a book club or class. 

Rather than add page numbers that don’t correspond to print books, which is how page numbers have been added to e-books in the past, we’re adding real page numbers that correspond directly to a book’s print edition.

We’ve already added real page numbers to tens of thousands of Kindle books, including the top 100 bestselling books in the Kindle Store that have matching print editions and thousands more of the most popular books.  Page numbers will also be available on our free “Buy Once, Read Everywhere” Kindle apps in the coming months.

Funny how Amazon fires a shot at Nook and Sony Reader with the little ‘how page numbers have been added to ebooks in the past’ snip. Actually, it’s strange – Nook books do seem to use real page numbers or something like that. Sony definitely adds page numbers for some books. Perhaps someone with more experience using Nook and Sony Reader can chime in.

Kindle Page Numbers – The Details

Let’s see –

  1. Only available for Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi owners. 
  2. Currently available as an ‘early preview’. You can download it now or wait for whenever it’s no longer an early preview.
  3. These are real page numbers corresponding to the page numbers in real books.
  4. ‘Real’ Page Numbers have already been added to tens of thousands of Kindle books. This is such a perfect opportunity to make fun of Amazon’s love of vagueness. We have added an unspecified number of page numbers to an unspecified number of books. These are real page numbers as opposed to unreal page numbers. With real page numbers you can never tell exactly how many books have them.
  5. Page Numbers will soon be available in books read using Kindle Reading Apps.

This is a hugely important feature, and Amazon adding it increases the gap between Kindle and other dedicated eInk eReaders.

How much of a difference do Kindle Page Numbers make?

Well, let’s consider the missing features that come up more often than ‘a lack of page numbers on the Kindle’ when people are choosing which eReader to buy.

  1. Library Books.
  2. ePub.

That’s it. Nothing else comes to mind.

Page Numbers are probably the 3rd or 4th biggest reason people were choosing a rival eReader instead of the Kindle. Now, Kindle has ‘Real’ page numbers and it’s increased the gap between it and Nook and Sony Reader.

random thoughts on page numbers, more offers for Monday

For your Kindle, some more offers courtesy Happy Reader Joyce –

  1. Starlighter by Bryan Davis. Price: $0. Genre: Children’s Books, Religious, Dragons. Rated 4 stars on 53 reviews.
  2. It Takes a Genome: How a Clash Between Our Genes and Modern Life is Making Us Sick by Greg Gibson. Price: $0. Genre: Genetics, Science. This was free earlier on August 30th, 2010. A few reviews claiming it’s a very general book, and not really meant for people really into science.
  3. Edward Kennedy’s Leadership Lessons by FT Press. Price: $0. Genre: Leadership, Business. Another repeat free offer. This was free on December 6th, 2010.
  4. That is SO Me: 365 Days of Devotions: Flip-Flops, Faith, and Friends by Nancy Rue. Price: $0. Genre: Religious, Children, Year-long Devotional. Rated 3.5 stars on 2 reviews. 
  5. The Aedyn Chronicles: Chosen Ones by Alister McGrath. Price: $0. Genre: Fantasy, Chosen Few, Religious. Rated 3.5 stars on 27 reviews. A repeat offer from July 19th, 2010.

The repeat of offers makes you wonder – Do the new Kindle owners (ones who got their Kindles on Christmas or later) take priority over earlier Kindle owners?

If not, then why not release offers that are new for EVERYONE.

Perhaps there’s a list of books and authors Amazon wants to promote, and that’s why we’re seeing repeat offers.

Thoughts on Page Numbers

Page Numbers continue to be a topic causing much consternation. The justifications for Kindle not having Page Numbers are mostly just that – justifications. Let’s try to dig a little deeper.

From a thread at the Kindle forum on page numbers, and from other sources, here is a list of cons of not having page numbers –

  1. It becomes very difficult to figure out references in Textbooks. Your Professor says Page 237 and you have to use Calculus to figure out what location that might be. 
  2. It becomes difficult to use a Kindle in a book club.
  3. It’s difficult to tell someone using a physical book where you’re at. 
  4. We just aren’t used to locations. Page numbers – everyone gets. 
  5. The Kindle shows pages, yet it lists locations. You’re using pages and you have Next Page and Previous Page buttons – but then you’re supposed to forget about page numbers and use locations.
  6. No one knows just what a location is. That’s a big part of the problem – It’s not just that you’re losing something familiar. It’s being replaced with something that’s unexplained. It would be like replacing pounds for weight with oranges – Except no one tells you what one orange weighs or what size of orange to use.
  7. You dissociate from everyone else. All physical book readers, all other eReader owners, and all people who use reading apps are using page numbers. You’re on this Kindle island with locations instead of page numbers.

There are also some benefits due to using locations –

  1. Locations don’t change with font size.
  2. Page Numbers change with type of book (hardcover, paperback, etc.) so locations are more consistent.
  3. Less work for Amazon and authors and publishers.
  4. Locations make more sense than page numbers from a logical perspective. It makes you wonder whether this is a decision made by an algorithm, or by a very logic-oriented person, without considering the perspective of general readers.
  5. If it survives for more than a few years it’ll get people more invested in the Kindle.

It’s interesting how at the forums it’s become difficult to talk about a Kindle shortcoming. It instantly turns into an argument with people claiming that the shortcoming isn’t really a shortcoming. The biggest argument being used to defend the lack of page numbers is – People are stuck in the past. They need to learn to change with the times.

That’s a strange argument – Kindle uses eInk precisely to re-create the ink on paper experience. So it’s not like it’s not catering to people’s need for familiarity.

Also, it’s debatable whether a product’s goal is to drag people into the future or re-create what people are comfortable with.

Why is Kindle the only eReader using locations?

Kindle being the only eReader using locations means one of two things – It wants to drag everyone into what Amazon considers a more efficient way of ‘locating’ places in a book, or it just didn’t want to deal with the complications of using page numbers in ebooks.

Here’s a simple solution used by Sony, courtesy Mark Twain (the commenter, not the author) –

“Sony and many producers of Epub digital books have found a very simple fix for this: place the print version page number faintly at the end of a line of text on the right margin. It is completely non-distracting, but easy to find if you are looking for it.”

Sony reader and Nook both use Page Numbers. No matter what the other arguments – it’s easier to work with page numbers. It’s something everyone’s used to.

It’d be nice if Amazon moved from locations to page numbers, or let users choose what they wanted to use. It’s not a problem that’s going away anytime soon.