citing from the kindle

My thanks to my colleague Toranosuke for pointing out this fundamental issue with the Kindle (and e-readers generally) and practices of citation.

The issue? It is a fundamental point: there are no page numbers that go along with Kindle books (or any book I read on the Kindle, whether from Project Gutenberg, Aozora Bunko, or elsewhere). There are “points” in the book, but because the font size can be changed, so can these “points” be changed along with it.

These are great for tracking one’s progress through a book while reading, and for bookmarking and jumping to different points in a text. (Though there are often so many thousands of points that for locating a specific spot – like one would do with a page number – it ends up being almost meaningless)

For many books I’d read in the Kindle – what I unfortunately refer to as “throwaway” books like light novels and light non-fiction – this isn’t a huge issue. But it isn’t a huge issue because I don’t care to cite them in other writing, for the most part.

It’s what’s been keeping my colleague from buying anything vaguely academic on the Kindle, and woke me up to this problem before I made what would perhaps be a wasteful purchase. If I’m writing anything from a paper to my dissertation to a blog post, I want, and need, to cite what I’m referring to. I often need to quote directly. But how am I to do this, with no set point of reference?

With Web pages, there are standards for citation, and this goes for online journals without page numbers as well. One can pinpoint a section and paragraph number. But with an e-book, the length is such that this becomes completely impractical.

This is an issue that e-readers are going to have to overcome to truly take over the book market. It’s not something that your average Kindle purchaser might think about, but it’s something that a significant community of readers depends on daily. And it raises serious technical and intellectual issues for the use of e-books in a “serious” way. (Now there’s a loaded word for you.) I wonder, is there anyone working on this, from the end of style guides all the way to those implementing e-readers and e-book standards? I have no answer to this, but I’d like to hear what my readers think.

4 thoughts on “citing from the kindle”

  1. Since page and line numbers change based on text size, perhaps the only remaining option is the Scriptural one: book, chapter, and verse. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone 19:357, for example.

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