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Old 02-20-2012, 03:33 AM   #1
DonaldL.
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Academic ebooks can succeed but publishers must play their part

Academic ebooks can succeed but publishers must play their part

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The electronic revolution is edging its way into the classroom. The ebook is here, but it is not so obvious yet that it is here to stay. At a recent seminar, alongside the shiny new hardbacks and marked-up photocopies, a few ebook readers were to be seen.

All was going swimmingly until someone mentioned a passage on a particular page. The ebook users looked up in panic. Their ebooks had no page numbers and there was no obvious way of correlating what appeared on the screen with the real thing. From then on, the ebook devices were powered down and their owners sheepishly peered over the shoulders of their classmates.
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Old 02-20-2012, 03:56 AM   #2
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Just as the academic user was an afterthought for word-processing software – remember how awkward it was to create footnotes in the old days? – the truth is, I suppose, that the academic market is such a small part of the book trade that our needs are never going to drive the delivery model. But if the publishers don't sort this out then, as we saw with the music industry, someone else will.
The awareness is spreading.
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Old 02-20-2012, 10:09 AM   #3
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Aside from the matchless virtue of page numbers [...]
It's not matchless. Academic books are supposed to be organized in sections. If a speaker is incapable of giving better reference points, it's their fault.
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Old 02-20-2012, 10:35 AM   #4
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I must respectfully disagree, Sil_liS. When quoting, etc. in academics, it is always by page number. It is the world-wide accepted format for quoting books, magazines and journals. That is the reason the publishing information is so vital (and also why full URLs are required for websites, as well as the "date" of "download"). If I quote from a book in my work, just giving a section title does not "cut the cake". I STILL have to find a hard copy page reference.

In addition, academic writing is not necessarily broken into small sections--that is neither good nor bad and has to do with many factors including writing culture (I teach research writing in different languages and am a technical/academic/medical translator). It is not provided for by i.e. MLA or APA or any other academic structure. In fact, overly using paragraph titles (overly short sections) instead of transitional phrases is considered "bad form" in many fields.

And as has been noted: different pages, etc. for different formatting means it IS harder to find a quote in a chapter extending 10-15 pages without a page reference. That is why often-times in courses specific books complete with ISBN are "recommended" in the syllabus.

I believe that this is the reason some readers here want to see book pages and notice them missing, whereas others don't really bother or even prefer the % bar. It has partially to do with what your reading is primarily for.

For leisure, page numbers are not so necessary. I, too, "thumb to a page" by percent on a pbb. For academic reading (or even for a book club), a universal "page number" restricts the "scan" field for those following the lecture and can be very beneficial.

If there were a solution (pdfing is one of them, but not perfectly implemented), it would greatly push ebooks into the academic fields. (i.e. "invisible page numbers" to jump to according to the book edition.) Unfortunately, I am not capable of implementing such a background/invisible structure including reflow to make it pretty--I can only hypothesize.
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Old 02-20-2012, 10:40 AM   #5
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Page references are essential only when there is no other way to search data. Page number correlate to indices and 'bookmarks' and exist only because there is no other way to navigate a book. When I was an apprentice machinist, we used something called Machinery's Handbook. Machinery's Handbook is nearly 3,000 pages of essential information. Finding something in it was a chore -- even searching the index was a learned skill. There were some blank pages at the front. When I found something useful, I noted the page and topic in pencie -- my own updatable index.

That was a generation ago. I haven't opened that book in decades. Today, if I want a nominal size or to calculate thread pitch, I have google. In the future, e-books will be indexed in ways that facilitate locating data and correlating content to a syllabus. Students will preview, learn, and review a lesson as the instructor intended integrating text, video, interactive excercises, and lectures. This is all pretty trivial stuff. I think it will be difficult for publishers to wrap their heads around this, but colleges are already assembling opensource curriculums and I expect them to sieze upon the value of rich presentations.

Let's not worry much about these guys.
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Old 02-20-2012, 10:43 AM   #6
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I must respectfully disagree, Sil_liS. When quoting, etc. in academics, it is always by page number. It is the world-wide accepted format for quoting books, magazines and journals. That is the reason the publishing information is so vital (and also why full URLs are required for websites, as well as the "date" of "download"). If I quote from a book in my work, just giving a section title does not "cut the cake". I STILL have to find a hard copy page reference.

In addition, academic writing is not necessarily broken into small sections--that is neither good nor bad and has to do with many factors including writing culture (I teach research writing in different languages and am a technical/academic/medical translator). It is not provided for by i.e. MLA or APA or any other academic structure. In fact, overly using paragraph titles (overly short sections) instead of transitional phrases is considered "bad form" in many fields.

And as has been noted: different pages, etc. for different formatting means it IS harder to find a quote in a chapter extending 10-15 pages without a page reference. That is why often-times in courses specific books complete with ISBN are "recommended" in the syllabus.

I believe that this is the reason some readers here want to see book pages and notice them missing, whereas others don't really bother or even prefer the % bar. It has partially to do with what your reading is primarily for.

For leisure, page numbers are not so necessary. I, too, "thumb to a page" by percent on a pbb. For academic reading (or even for a book club), a universal "page number" restricts the "scan" field for those following the lecture and can be very beneficial.

If there were a solution (pdfing is one of them, but not perfectly implemented), it would greatly push ebooks into the academic fields. (i.e. "invisible page numbers" to jump to according to the book edition.) Unfortunately, I am not capable of implementing such a background/invisible structure including reflow to make it pretty--I can only hypothesize.
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Old 02-20-2012, 10:46 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Krystl View Post
I must respectfully disagree, Sil_liS. When quoting, etc. in academics, it is always by page number. It is the world-wide accepted format for quoting books, magazines and journals. That is the reason the publishing information is so vital (and also why full URLs are required for websites, as well as the "date" of "download"). If I quote from a book in my work, just giving a section title does not "cut the cake". I STILL have to find a hard copy page reference.
Maybe we are talking about different things. Most books that I use are well structured, and quoting page numbers can be easily be replaced by the section number (for example section 2.5.3 instead of page 128). They would be easy to find with the search function in ebooks.
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Old 02-20-2012, 11:31 AM   #8
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Couple of comments:

First, while page numbers may be the standard in quoting for a paper, this wasn't quoting for a paper, this was in a classroom. If the entire classroom - and the professor - can't think of doing a full text search for something unique to that page, that's not a problem with the book format, that's a classroom full of idiots.

Second, my nook has page numbers. If they don't coincide with the page numbers in the paper version, that's a) no more a problem than two different paper editions, and b) not a problem with the ebook format so much as a problem with a publisher that hasn't gotten the details figured out yet. (If nothing else, the .epub format could easily have pages hard coded in. Be clumsy, and ugly as hell, but it would give you page numbers that you can control.)
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Old 02-20-2012, 11:50 AM   #9
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Most Amazon Kindle books now have page numbers, which correspond to a particular print edition of the book. For example look at this Kindle book:

http://www.amazon.com/Programming-Py...9756477&sr=1-2

See where it says Length: 1632 pages? (darn, that is a long book!) Hover over that, and you will see the print edition the pages correspond to. If you have that print edition, you can refer to the page numbers on print and Kindle and they will match.

eP
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Old 02-20-2012, 04:48 PM   #10
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Sil, you are most correct and I completely agree when that format is used in the text, but not all texts use that form of formatting (sections). That is a style popular by some but not all academic fields or texts used in academics. Not using it, however, is not a sign of "bad writing" or a bad academic text. A lecturer uses page numbers as well as section numbers in lectures--especially in the humanities (think literature books, philospohy books--they are not written in the style of a research paper) where there are no sections to quote from (think oh, Pride and Prejudice--simply because it is on almost every e-book shown in adverts) and it may be faster. I have known many professors with very different styles of "citing", as pertains to the style of text currently used (academic lecturing does also use "citing" despite the belief it does not because it is not writing).

Tausin--how arrogant to call them "a classroom full of idiots" for not doing full book scans for a quote for something unique to one page . Some of those books are 100s of pages long. Oh, and please do not forget--it was a mixed class--both pbb and eb.

And I would never stoop to insulting someone unknown--neither students nor professors, nor the writers here who are real life ebook users in real life situations noting real limitations in some ebooks and their publisher's decisions. As I have never taught in such a class with both paper and ebooks present (and most of us have not, I am sure), I take these anecdotes as the "complications" that will arise as a new format gains ground and coexists with pb.

Neither the author nor I implied there were no page numbers on any ebook--it was an anecdote referring to a class where obviously everything was going just swimmingly until a universal problem arose in an ebook version (lack of page number) causing the students to be forced to revert to the paper version with its page numbers.

Third--As you and elemenoP so well pointed out, there are ebooks with page numbers which most definitely serve the academic purpose (and that is not something the author questioned). The problem was not the ebooks that had it--it was the ebook without this feature, which is a weakness of the publisher of that book (which is what the article was about).

What both you and elemenoP both describe are the efforts made to correct this problem/deal with this issue. I, for one, hope publishers continue to add page numbers available somehow on the book (with the "background feature" described by elemenoP on the kindle). And as noted in various parts of these forums, not all books have this feature and not everyone sees why it would be useful, etc. Here is where it is useful and necessary.

Last edited by Krystl; 02-20-2012 at 04:50 PM.
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Old 02-20-2012, 06:56 PM   #11
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Tausin--how arrogant to call them "a classroom full of idiots" for not doing full book scans for a quote for something unique to one page . Some of those books are 100s of pages long. Oh, and please do not forget--it was a mixed class--both pbb and eb.
I don't think you understand what I mean by "full text search." You pull up the search function, you type in something, and you hit "search." It doesn't matter how many pages the file might be, the search function will find any exact match. If it isn't completely unique, there will be a "find next" button you tap, and on you go to the next. So long as it's reasonably unusual, it's trivial to find what you're looking for. Really. While I don't really believe the article is all that reliable a source, if the account is accurate, it takes a special kind of clueless to have nobody around who is familiar with this very, very basic function.
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Old 02-21-2012, 04:11 AM   #12
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You are, of course, correct, Tausin, and this has been possible for years on pcs. For some reason, however, despite the prevalence of laptops in classes, it has never overridden the use of paper texts either for lecturer nor students. In written works, structures/sentences/phrases are often very similar making a global search at times difficult and, at times, more time consuming, especially if required to type the sentence searched for in by hand (from memory without error) in order to find it--it is not always a simple word search and is dependent on the field.

The author was referring to a course where students had ALL of the different mediums--hard back, paper back, photo copy and ereaders. That is real-world use. It is still utopic to believe that all students will have the same device. The search function is exclusive to the minority in the class (a few readers)-therefore a professor uses the accepted technique for lecturing.

Lecturing technique is not going to change any time soon. It is still most practical to teach with the most "general" or simple search function which remains page numbers (with the caveat that in a paper/syllabus with outline sections that is also used). That is a simple and basic fact and has nothing to do with intelligence or ability--but the media used.

I find it interesting that this was one of the first shortcomings mentioned that I read on Mobilread--I believe it was for general book clubs where the ereaders caused problems with finding the exact page being discussed--you can search for it, I do not have the link at hand (I am sorry). I believe that was also mentioned that e-books also said "from page 18-25" or something similar on some readers to account for edition derriviations? hmmm) that also caused some to mention it was easier to just by the pb so that everyone had the same format.
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Old 02-21-2012, 08:36 AM   #13
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Sil, you are most correct and I completely agree when that format is used in the text, but not all texts use that form of formatting (sections). That is a style popular by some but not all academic fields or texts used in academics. Not using it, however, is not a sign of "bad writing" or a bad academic text. A lecturer uses page numbers as well as section numbers in lectures--especially in the humanities (think literature books, philospohy books--they are not written in the style of a research paper) where there are no sections to quote from (think oh, Pride and Prejudice--simply because it is on almost every e-book shown in adverts) and it may be faster. I have known many professors with very different styles of "citing", as pertains to the style of text currently used (academic lecturing does also use "citing" despite the belief it does not because it is not writing).
I guess that we have a difference in perspective because my field is physics. Organizing the text in sections and subsections is essential, and I rely on it more than page numbers. During lectures, we are shown figures rather than text from books, and the figure number relates to the chapter and subchapter in the book.
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Old 02-21-2012, 06:01 PM   #14
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You are, of course, correct, Tausin, and this has been possible for years on pcs. For some reason, however, despite the prevalence of laptops in classes, it has never overridden the use of paper texts either for lecturer nor students.
The particular example was one in which some students had ebook readers.

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In written works, structures/sentences/phrases are often very similar making a global search at times difficult and, at times, more time consuming, especially if required to type the sentence searched for in by hand (from memory without error) in order to find it--it is not always a simple word search and is dependent on the field.
What "from memory"?

"OK, class, let's look at page 676." "My page numbers are different, can you get me some term to search for on that page?" "OK, search for 'binary explosives.'" "OK, got it."

What is so difficult about that?

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The author was referring to a course where students had ALL of the different mediums--hard back, paper back, photo copy and ereaders. That is real-world use. It is still utopic to believe that all students will have the same device.
What does it matter what device they have? Are there any ebook readers on the market today that do not have a full-text search function?

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The search function is exclusive to the minority in the class (a few readers)-therefore a professor uses the accepted technique for lecturing.
The particular issue here was the claim that electronic textbooks are useless because they have different page numbers. That simply isn't true. They don't have the same page numbers, but they have superior search abilities that make them at least as fast to find what you're looking for when the professor, or another student, has the paper version open to the page in question in front of them and can quote a passage unique enough to search for.

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Lecturing technique is not going to change any time soon. It is still most practical to teach with the most "general" or simple search function which remains page numbers (with the caveat that in a paper/syllabus with outline sections that is also used). That is a simple and basic fact and has nothing to do with intelligence or ability--but the media used.
It has to do with professors not wanting to have to learn new ways to do old things. And yes, it will change, as more and more professors realize they can get a (much bigger) cut of the billions spent on textbooks every year, while making student nearly worship them for lowering prices substantially. Electronic textbooks are the future; nobody but textbook publishers thinkgs otherwise. Professors who don't keep up will find their classes less and less popular, and ultimately, the means they get paid less.
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Old 02-21-2012, 10:23 PM   #15
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My professors in university always accepted that people had different editions. That was why you had to specify in your bibliography which edition you were using---the idea was that anybody could go and get your same edition and then use your citation to check your reference. With that criteria in mind, I can't think of any professors that would have had a problem with ebooks. I would just say 'Kindle edition' and cite the location and anybody could get the Kindle edition, navigate to the location I mention and check my reference.

If I did have a professor who was a luddite and wouldn't let me cite a Kindle edition, what I would do is use the Kindle as my reading version so I wouldn't need to spend all my time in the reserve stacks of the library, then just sign out the print copy from the reserve desk and use it to write down page numbers.
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