An unexpected problem with ebooks

15 Jul

Okay, a super-short post today, but only because it’s more of a question that I’m hoping somebody out there might have the answer to.

I’m just about to buy Ray Kurzweil’s book The Singularity is Near, partly out of pure curiosity and partly because it may be relevant to something I’m thinking about for book #2. So I was pondering whether I should buy the printed version or the ebook, when I got stumped by the following dilemma:

If I were to buy the ebook and then want to cite passages from it in something I subsequently write, how would I do so? Ebooks, of course, don’t really have page numbers. The number of pages in your ebook basically depends on what size font you choose for your ereader – if the type is bigger, you’ll have more pages; if it’s smaller, there’ll be less.

So how the heck does one quote from an ebook? I feel it’s important to properly cite your sources, both to give proper credit to the originator of the information or thought and to shore up your own credibility. But an ebook seems to make that hard, if not impossible to do because you can’t just cite the document as a whole, you have to be specific. Or is this specificity going to be an unfortunate casualty of the ebook movement?

Citing from a website isn’t a problem because you just include the URL, but does anyone have any ideas as to how a writer might get around this particular issue? I’d love to hear them, if so.


Posted by on July 15, 2010 in books, internet


4 responses to “An unexpected problem with ebooks

  1. Jon Dursi

    July 15, 2010 at 11:43 am

    This is a problem for e-textbooks, too; you can’t just tell your students to read page 14.

    But in general, using page numbers has always been a problem; different editions, etc will have different page numberings. Textbooks are the *best* case, because you can expect most of the students to have the same version. For citing, just give it by chapter and section.

  2. Peter Nowak

    July 15, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    Good points. I haven’t heard any good suggestions as to get around this issue, but I suspect it’s something ebook and ereader designers are going to have to figure out (and hopefully soon). I think I’m going to stick with printed books for anything I plan on citing. I ended up buying the dead-tree edition of The Singularity is Near.

  3. Mike Wise

    July 28, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Kobo’s e-reader has a setting where you can default to the publisher’s layout (at least it does on the ipad version). It is unreadable for most people, but it might provide a standardized series of page numbers you could use.

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