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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why Go To A Bricks-and-Mortar Bookstore? Here's A Reason

Sign of the times: This afteroon I went to my nearest physical bookstore (a Barnes & Noble fifteen minutes away from my home by car) for the first time in months. And why did I make the trip? Because the author of a book I'm editing wanted to quote a passage from a book she'd read on her Kindle--which meant she didn't know the number of the page on which the passage appeared. So I volunteered to drive to B&N to look at a printed copy of George W. Bush's Decision Points and ascertain that the endnote should refer to page 427.

Which proves I guess that you can't do everything on Amazon.  Yet.


  1. This is a big drawback, it seems to me, of Kindle for scholarship.

    No, don't laugh. As long as anyone cares about fidelity to truth, which includes fidelity to citation of sources, for reasons of ethics (to credit the work done by others), commerce (to compensate them for quoting it if appropriate, or to point potential buyers toward it), accountability (to put credit or blame where it's due for accurate or inaccurate reporting) and purity (of the transmission of the human story), page numbers need to stick around for a while longer. Or maybe key phrases will be used to find text instead? I dunno. But people who do research - and that's actually a LOT of people, not just the ivory tower folk - could benefit hugely from Kindle use, and this is a big drawback for them.

    Are page numbers visible on other readers or is the problem ubiquitous?

    Also, you might have been able to save yourself a trip if you'd looked up the passage on Amazon using the "Search Inside the Book," which is on the left within the "Look Inside the Book" function. That has page numbers. Try looking your quote up there and see if you find it!

  2. I wrote about a different but related issue back in April when I discovered that footnotes all appear at the end of the book and, without page numbers, there's no way to determine what they relate to--especially since you can't flip to the end of the book while reading and by the time you get to the end the referents are in the distant past.

    Technology being what it is, I can't believe there isn't a way to fix these annoying problems. I know that if you change the font size the page numbers may change, but somehow that doesn't seem like an insurmountable obstacle in a world where you can deposit a check in the bank by taking a picture of it with your iPhone. C'mon Amazon; you can do this!

  3. Toni: I tried the "Search Inside This Book" feature on Amazon and was thwarted by a message saying that the portion of the book I needed to see was not searchable. I don't know why.

    I understand that some formats of e-books on the iPad now include page numbers mirroring those of the printed books. I imagine that within a year or two this will be standard, including on the Kindle.

    In time, when an increasing number of books are published ONLY in e-book form, scholarly norms will have to evolve that permit citations by e-book "location" or some other agreed-upon metric. This wouldn't be unprecedented: after all, classical texts and the Bible are routinely cited not by page number but by chapter and verse or other traditional subdivisions.

  4. Karl: Right! Judy: Right! Which is why it is so ridiculous that this hasn't been solved by now. I can see some crucial folks were missing from the focus groups. Darn. I'd have liked a few free slices of pizza or whatever was on offer in exchange ;).

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