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Old 12-08-2008, 06:31 PM   #1
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Is the page dead?

Over the weekend, I did a guest column on Teleread in which I argued ebook authors should abandon the notion of the “page.”

I argued that pages have little meaning in e-book form, because pages become amorphous shape shifting creatures depending on the e-book reader; the reader’s choice of font size, font style or line spacing; or in the case of the iPhone, whether they’re holding it vertically or sideways.

When the notion of page disappears, it creates problems for traditionally formatted books which include page numbers, table of contents, indexes and footnotes.

One person replied that we must preserve the notion of the page for academic texts, which by definition must reference the sources of their material. And academic texts aren't alone in their marriage to the page.

So what do you think? Is the page dead? Is is threatened? How do we preserve the findability of a word, passage or page? Should we save the page, and if so, how?
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Old 12-08-2008, 06:53 PM   #2
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I can tell you categorically that page numbers would have no bearing on scientific texts. All of the major and most less major journals have offered both print and electronic formats for several years, miles ahead of commercial e-publication like we are using to read novels.

References are hyperlinked, and library databases, such as PubMed, also allow readers to surf on through the reference to the (often) full text being cited and (usually) at least the abstract of the cited material. Citing references is just a matter of cut-&-paste into a writing software package, such as End Note.

I think that would be a good model for e-book publications sometime in the future, after some format things are standardized better.
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Old 12-08-2008, 07:11 PM   #3
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Pages and page numbers are just a solution to a problem (essentially how to you manage a very long scroll). Likewise, things like footnotes, endnotes, citation numbers, etc. are a solution to the problem of how to include "non-linear" information that can generally be ignored in the "narrative" of the text. Now we have better technology, so the solutions will change.

That said, it will take time for people to move away from the page number concept. I think technical and scientific will move away far faster, and from what DixieGal has said, they already are. In the more conventional area, people feel more comfortable with the idea of a page number (23 pages to go till the end of the chapter, etc.), so that will remain.

As to finding passages, etc., that should be much easier with the idea of bookmarks, etc.

(Incidentally, page number references are only useful if you have the exact right edition of the book. I remember some chaos at school when a new cheaper edition of a set text was introduced, resulting in two sets of page numbers....)
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Old 12-08-2008, 10:04 PM   #4
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The page number issue is one reason why musical scores have alternate forms of direct indexing -- movements, sections, measure numbers, etc. An orchestra or chorus can be rehearsing from scores printed by different publishers (which will most likely have page number deviations the further into the score you go) and have no trouble syncing up to a given starting point during a rehearsal.
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Old 12-09-2008, 09:20 AM   #5
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In digital reading as in paper based reading there is the need for the following (IMHO):

1. To be able to point at a position in the text independent of device and format. This is a need for scholars, but also for enthusiastic readers taking notes, students discussing a text book or for persons reading the same text on different devices. Hyperlink is great but it would be an advantage if the system could be and communicated of line and by humans as well.

2. To give the reader some idea of the length of the text (before reading) and the relative position (while reading). This is helpful information for readers planning their reading. Should I read In Search of Lost Time or Death in Venice?

The page numbers used in paper solves these tasks in a great way. For ereading it has been suggested to use percentages, paragraphs, kbs or some fixed page length. Sadly none of this has been agreed as a part of the epub-format. The current status is ebabel.
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Old 12-09-2008, 09:32 AM   #6
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In digital reading as in paper based reading there is the need for the following (IMHO):

1. To be able to point at a position in the text independent of device and format. This is a need for scholars, but also for enthusiastic readers taking notes, students discussing a text book or for persons reading the same text on different devices. Hyperlink is great but it would be an advantage if the system could be and communicated of line and by humans as well.
For most references to fiction books, a chapter number is adequate for referencing purposes (In "Pride and Prejudice", Ch 15, Austen says...). Most eBooks have a table of contents allowing you to jump to a particular chapter.

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2. To give the reader some idea of the length of the text (before reading) and the relative position (while reading). This is helpful information for readers planning their reading. Should I read In Search of Lost Time or Death in Venice?
One can generally tell from the size of the file approximately how long the book is (unless it's illustrated, in which case all bets are off!). I find the Gen3's display of a progress bar, plus to ability to see the total number of pages in the book to be adequate (although I'm well aware that not everyone agrees).

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The page numbers used in paper solves these tasks in a great way. For ereading it has been suggested to use percentages, paragraphs, kbs or some fixed page length. Sadly none of this has been agreed as a part of the epub-format. The current status is ebabel.
I'm afraid I don't agree with you that it's "ebabel". Every eBook device has some way of showing you where you are in a book. They don't all need to be the same, any more than every edition of a paper book will be paginated in the same way.
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Old 12-09-2008, 11:23 AM   #7
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For most references to fiction books, a chapter number is adequate for referencing purposes (In "Pride and Prejudice", Ch 15, Austen says...). Most eBooks have a table of contents allowing you to jump to a particular chapter.
This is not enough if you want do discus the text. A chapter can be very long.

Quote:
One can generally tell from the size of the file approximately how long the book is (unless it's illustrated, in which case all bets are off!). I find the Gen3's display of a progress bar, plus to ability to see the total number of pages in the book to be adequate (although I'm well aware that not everyone agrees).
For short stories the progress bar is extremey inaccurate and totally useless in the Gen 3. For longer work it does not give any feeling at all about things like "is it 1 or 3 hours reading to finish the book?". I just wanted to confirm your statement that not everyone agrees
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Old 12-09-2008, 11:44 AM   #8
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I agree that the inherent qualities of e-reading will provide new solutions to old problems.. It's not as if printed books were perfect in their solutions, after all: If you obtained the same book by a different publisher, using page counts for references could be rendered useless.

In most cases, chapter, section, length/position in text and indexing information will suffice to make most books easy to access. The page metaphor will eventually be considered a quaint way of expression, like the "act" of a play, the "movie reel" and the "commercial break"... still used, but not the predominant form of media metaphor, replaced by electronic file and display-based metaphors.

Hmm... will we replace the "chapter" with another phrase?
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Old 12-09-2008, 01:48 PM   #9
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This is not enough if you want do discus the text. A chapter can be very long.
I think I'd prefer a combination of chapter and paragraph numbers. I think it narrows things down sufficiently and would be easy to support in software.
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Old 12-09-2008, 01:54 PM   #10
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This is not enough if you want do discus the text. A chapter can be very long.
But, nonetheless this is what is conventionally used when discussing fiction books, since it's generally the lowest-level reference that's "universally" applicable, and independent of a specific edition of a book.
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Old 12-09-2008, 02:22 PM   #11
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But, nonetheless this is what is conventionally used when discussing fiction books, since it's generally the lowest-level reference that's "universally" applicable, and independent of a specific edition of a book.
When you discus something in detail you often give the line number and the edition you are using.

When we discus books in a book circle we use side number and place on the side (line number from start or end or paragraph number) and if people have different editions we have to use chapter and paragraphs.
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Old 12-09-2008, 02:30 PM   #12
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Check out the ebook viewer in calibre. It has a reference mode where when you mouse over a paragraph it gives you a unique paragraph number. You can navigate directly to these paragraph numbers by entering them in the location bar.
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Old 12-09-2008, 04:53 PM   #13
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Thank you for your input Harry. It is a good thing that you that you (as always) are happy!

Chapters are great for references and can be pretty precise, particular in textbooks. But it has its limitations for some text types.

Kb can be used to say something about the length of a text but will not work between various text encodings and is useless for books containing graphics (as all books do – at least for a front page). In addition most ebook formats compresses the text files. And my ebook reader do not tell me the size of the file.

Implementing functionality allowing fail safe cross referencing and giving information about the actual length of a text is very simple from a programmer’s perspective. The difficult part is agreeing on some standards.

Page numbers varies between various editions of books, that is true but that is maybe something that can be solved in the new world of digital reading.
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Old 12-09-2008, 05:24 PM   #14
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Check out the ebook viewer in calibre. It has a reference mode where when you mouse over a paragraph it gives you a unique paragraph number. You can navigate directly to these paragraph numbers by entering them in the location bar.
Brilliant as with everything else you do! If that became the "gold standard" of publishing, I could see future scholars looking back at how it used to be in the olden days when they had static paper books with numbered pages and non-changeable fonts.

Since I'm no longer an e-device user and had to trade to laptop in order to see the pages, I've experimented with eReader and Mobipocket. They both handle pagination differently, but neither is as good as my gone-but-beloved EB-1150. It had the status bar scroll, with 0 at one end and at the other end of the bar had 947 (however many pages), and your page number in the little oval that scrolled along. So for my machine, at any time, I could tell you that I was on page 234 of 947 pages. That was exact, unless I changed font sizes. Then I might be on page 156 of 678, but I still knew where I was in the book.
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Old 12-09-2008, 05:34 PM   #15
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Brilliant as with everything else you do! If that became the "gold standard" of publishing, I could see future scholars looking back at how it used to be in the olden days when they had static paper books with numbered pages and non-changeable fonts.

Since I'm no longer an e-device user and had to trade to laptop in order to see the pages, I've experimented with eReader and Mobipocket. They both handle pagination differently, but neither is as good as my gone-but-beloved EB-1150. It had the status bar scroll, with 0 at one end and at the other end of the bar had 947 (however many pages), and your page number in the little oval that scrolled along. So for my machine, at any time, I could tell you that I was on page 234 of 947 pages. That was exact, unless I changed font sizes. Then I might be on page 156 of 678, but I still knew where I was in the book.
calibre's ebook viewer actually uses a progress indicator based on the length of the actual content (number of words), independent of reader screen size and font size.

All that's needed is for reader software makers to agree on a couple of simple algorithms:

1) Calculate the "length" of a book based on its word count
2) Assign numbers to every "block" of text. The natural block being a paragraph.
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