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June 16, 2011

Finding (and Using) Page Numbers for Kindle Books

Jeff by Jeff Hume-Pratuch

There’s no question that e-books make up a rapidly increasing segment of the publishing world. Amazon.com’s Kindle dominates this market, with hundreds of thousands of titles available in formats that can be read not only on the Kindle but on millions of iPads, iPhones, Blackberries, and Android devices as well.

Although the Kindle (and other e-book readers) are wonderfully portable, there has been one drawback to their use in research and scholarly writing: no page numbers. Instead, the device presents a number that roughly corresponds to the amount of text you’ve read. This number varies depending on the size of your display and the font settings you use; it has no relation to the pagination of the printed text.


Why Is This a Problem?

APA Style requires a page citation or paragraph number for directly quoted material (see the APA Publication Manual, 6th ed., pp. 170-171) to meet the overall goal of documentation, which is to fully credit your sources and allow your reader to retrieve them. A reader who picks up the same edition of a book you used can quickly turn to the exact source of your quotation. But because the Kindle location number depends on display and font size, readers sent to “Locations 2356-2445” may scroll in vain if they are using a different model or their settings are different from yours.

While the Publication Manual (pp. 170-172) provides some workarounds for citing unpaginated material (as outlined in this post), the only digital documents with real page numbers have been PDFs—until now, that is.


The Solution

In March, Amazon.com announced that the latest Kindle will display page numbers that correspond to those in the printed original of a digital book. If you have a Kindle 3G, you can view these page numbers by pressing the Menu button. The ISBN number of the original book is displayed on its product information page at Amazon.com. These page numbers meet the requirements for citations in APA Style.

Unfortunately, this is not a complete solution. If you have a Kindle 2, KindleDX, or other models, you won’t be able to see the page numbers. Amazon has no immediate plans to make this feature backward compatible, and so far the distributors of other devices (such as the Nook or Sony Reader) have not introduced similar features. However, for the users of the Kindle 3G, this is a great step forward.

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