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Should Amazon change how Kindle pages are numbered?

Amazon says "locations" are the digital answer to page numbers, but many users have had an adverse reaction to them.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
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David Carnoy
4 min read

Amazon says 'locations' are the digital answer to page numbers, but some users have had an adverse reaction to them. Amazon

People are passionate about page numbers.

Just ask the hundreds of posters in Amazon's Kindle forums who've debated the issue of how Amazon numbers its pages with "locations" on the Kindle and in its Kindle e-book-reading apps. And just ask the readers who've e-mailed me over the years complaining about Amazon's numbering scheme.

"I got a Kindle for Christmas and I like it a lot but I still don't understand what those numbers are at the bottom of the screen," one reader e-mailed me recently. "Someone explained it to me and I still don't understand it. They have page numbers on the Nook, why can't they just do it for the Kindle?"

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, when the original Kindle launched a few years back, Amazon decided to go with a new form of page numbering that breaks the book down into the aforementioned locations. At location 771-76 in the Kindle user Guide, locations are described as "the digital answer to page numbers." Some have described this system as being similar to the way the Bible is divided into chapters and verses, which helps with referencing particular sections.

For the Kindle, "locations" were designed to the alleviate the problem of font-size selection changing the number of pages in a book. "Changing the text size on Kindle also changes the page numbering, but with locations, you return to the same place every time regardless of the text size," The Kindle User Guide explains. "You can bookmark particular locations and go straight to a location using the "Go to" option from the menu when you're in a particular book."

To go along with the locations numbers, you get a status bar that tells you what percentage of the book you've read so far. Many people are just fine with this scheme and scoff at those who can't get the hang of it.

The "R" Guy, a Kindle forum commenter in a different thread (yes, there are multiple threads on this topic), recently wrote:

Oh, grow up people! The world moves on. We adjust. You sound like a bunch of whiners who are lamenting the loss of your precious slide rule at the expense of having to now figure out how a calculator will ever replace it. I have been able to accommodate my graduate studies and utilize the benefits of e-book technology. Yes, some growing pains in doing so, but it can be done (as outlined in the various ways previously stated). Google doesn't need to fix this for you by adhering to book publication formatting mechanics going back centuries. Work with your respective institutions to come up with acceptable process for now...The general mores, folkways, and politics of academia will eventually make it into the 21st century...albeit screaming and whining with you all along the way.

However, while the system has its defenders, it appears to have more detractors--and some even blame Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for what they consider a genuine debacle.

"Keep in mind that his [Bezos'] background is engineering and computer science, so more than likely he signed off on this whole 'locations' idea as it would seem quite logical to someone with an engineering background," Ron Jaffe posted on January 28. "Indications from the media are that Jeff really is concerned about the 'customer experience,' so perhaps he's just not aware of the mass discontent...no, HATRED that exists for the 'locations' way of handling pages."

As The "R" Guy alludes to in his post, some of the debate is concerned with how academic institutions will treat page citations in the future, as more students and institutions switch to digital books. Some argue that "locations" is a good way to deal with the problem, while others suggest just setting a standard medium size font for the defacto page count and reference pages from that standard using a regular number scheme.

I personally think much of the problem centers around having what amounts to two numbers for the location, which seem to represent bytes of data--apparently 128 bytes per location--and includes spaces and invisible formatting characters.

I'm looking at Dennis Lehane's "The Given Day," which is a long book with 11,622 locations (I've read that if you divide by 20 you get a rough estimate of how many "real" book pages the book has). The number on a page I randomly turn to has the location 8074 - 8087. Call me dense, but am I in a section between locations 8074 - 8087 or is this the actual location? Throw a letter or something in there, but the whole two numbers thing is just hard to grok. Frankly, I still have no idea what it means and simply ignore it and look to the "progress bar" a the bottom of the screen to see where I stand in the book.

Of course, Amazon could just give consumers a choice between actual page numbers and locations, font size be damned. But I have a feeling it knows that consumers would opt for the more familiar page number standard they're used to. As evidenced by all the posts in Kindle forums, changing how people think is hard. In the case of location-based page numbering, I think Amazon had good intentions behind it--and maybe it really is a good idea--but the company needs to do a better job of explaining exactly what it is if it hopes for it to be more universally embraced.

As always, feel free to get your two cents in--and vote in our poll. Perhaps Amazon is listening.