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Kindle is fun but sucks for scholars

I’m enjoying my Amazon Kindle ebook reader, albeit while accidentally pressing the “next page” button as often as everyone else (did they beta test this thing all on the thumbless?), and whining about the rest of the annoyances about which you should not even get me started. Nevertheless, it works fine for pleasure reading and I like carrying a whole bunch of books among which I can switch rapidly. And despite its ugly DRM heart, you can upload books from the Net in PRC, MOBI, or text formats.

But, when it comes to books I read for research, it’s about as effective as it would be as a boat anchor.

First, the note-taking and highlighting are jokes.

Second, it (usefully) lets you repaginate on the fly, but (annoyingly) doesn’t know the original page numbering. How am I supposed to cite a page in a reference? It should let us ask nicely about which physical page the current text came from.

Third, there’s no bibliographic tool.

Obviously, Kindle was not designed for researchers. I understand that, and I would have made the same marketing decision. But for Kindle 2.0, it’d just take some software. (Well, and a change to the Kindle book format to capture the original page numbers.)

There’s a bunch of skeptical Kindle links here.

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11 Responses to “Kindle is fun but sucks for scholars”

  1. There’s no possibility of original page-number capture, as there’s no particular 1-1 mapping between the Kindle edition of something and a particular print edition. You’ve got to embrace the fact that page numbers are, in an ebook world, a throwback. Let’s come up with acceptable citation conventions for ebooks with their location system.

    For the rest of it, right on. Frustrating. But a simple matter of programming, no?



  2. BTW, I hope — though I’m not particularly optimistic — that adoption of ebook technology FINALLY drives a stake in the heart of content vs. presentation confusion. PDFs on the kindle — particularly technical ones with lots of illustrations, charts and graphs, and equations or code examples — are virtually useless. And in the the general case it’s actually not even *possible* to make them work!

    PDF as distribution format for pedagogical and research materials — considered harmful.



  3. JB, there is a way to preserve the original page numbers while not preserving the original pagination. If the version Kindle sucks in is paginated, it very likely contains page number info. If so, the Kindle import process could put invisible page number markers into the text stream. Of course they wouldn’t match up with the number of screens the book takes (which is dynamically computed anyway), but that’s the point: Give me a menu choice that will show the number of the nearest page number marker.

  4. […] Pilgrim’s concise skepticism, but also to the positive responses of bloggers like Shelley and David whose judgment I trust. I’ve asked Amazon if they might lend me a review unit, since I’ll be […]

  5. […] An issue raised by David Weinberger and others is that the Kindle is weak for academic reading since it is hard to cite materials that have been adapted to the Kindle platform. […]

  6. […] an e-book, harder to mark up an e-book, not as fun and tactile to hold (and smell) an e-book, you can’t cite them very easily right now, and illustrations and other heavily formatted material (typefaces and […]

  7. Good point about the page numbers, I was thinking the Kindle would be great for college and research. Maybe in the next version there will be a way to get the original page numbers of a hard copy book. Obviously my Kindle use is only recreational.

  8. If I had known about the lack of reference for the book’s original pagination I would NOT have bought any Kindle. Boo. Having said that, I did find a very clumsy work-around for some books. I find the passage I want to cite and then go to Amazon and “look inside the book” in question to see the page number but does anyone want to buy back my Kindle at say fifteen percent off of original price? No, I didn’t think so.
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  9. I also own a kindle and find it unfortunate for academic research. I generally cite the book as I normally would but specify [Kindle Edition] after the title and substitute a location number for a page number. This, of course, is meaninglesss to those who don’t have a kindle or have the book on their kindle. (My professors, fortunately, have accepted the citations in this format.)

    I like davidw’s suggestion of having the page numbers invisibly stored, so that if one needs them, one can get them. And the sony ereader operates on page numbers and, I think, still allows one to adjust the font. So, it is certainly not impossible for an ereader to give page numbers even if they don’t have a 1-1 relationship with the screen.

    I have contemplated getting a sony ereader for academic texts (as they do give page numbers) but really doubt it is worth the expense.

  10. I wish I had researched this Kindle more before buying. Citations are a necessary part of my doctorate papers, so i guess APA needs a 7th edition!!

  11. Just don’t waste your money on Kindle books. For all the BS about a ‘new model’ and about page numbers being obscelete, if a publisher like Routledge charges me effectively the same for Kindle book to which I cannot make reference or follow references to, they are simply stealing my money, providing me with unmerchantable goods. And given how simple it would be to make the information available to the reader (at no cost!) there is no excuse for the publisher allowing its academic books to be published in this format in the first place without adding a means of coping with references – or is the Kindle format so inflexible that it cannot be updated, in which case we need to move away from it now.

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