Why the Kindle Is Losing Me

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I really loved my Kindle when I first got it. I love writing books, and I’m for anything that helps people consume and purchase more of them– I don’t care if I make a fraction of the royalties off electronic sales.

I was especially struck by how much I wished I’d had a Kindle in college. As a literature major I read about five books a week, not to mention all the textbook reading for other courses. There were so many great touches in the UI that elevated the experience from just putting a book on a screen. There’s the Kindle store and its friction-free, one-click purchases from anywhere, say, a cafe the night before the exam when you still haven’t bought the book. There’s the freedom from lugging around a heavy backpack of books. And there are so many features that are designed specifically for collegiate reading like the ability to easily highlight, annotate, store those annotations in a specific file, and be able to easily search around within the book and find certain quotes or passages. I thought, this isn’t a beautiful piece of hardware, but it is clearly designed by someone who knows high-volume readers.

So how the hell is it possible that the Kindle doesn’t have a feature as obvious as page numbers? You know what happens when you don’t have page numbers? You can’t do a basic footnote for anything you’ve read. Yeah, that’s going to be a slight problem for the college market.

I know what you are thinking. Sarah Lacy is an idiot, the Kindle has to have page numbers. The features of a book are pretty much words, a cover, table of contents, an index and page numbers– how could they just eliminate one of them? I’ve spent months looking for a way to figure out page numbers on The Kindle 2 and can’t find it, and no one I’ve asked seemed to have an answer for me either. And according to this the college edition doesn’t either.

The Kindle does have “locations.” The logic seems to be that because the Kindle allows you to change the font size, you can’t have page numbers because there are a different number of words on your Kindle pages. I guess some brainiac didn’t think there’d be any reason to add a feature that correlates those “locations” to the actual page numbers. Newsflash Amazon: You can’t force the academic world to change pages to locations in footnotes and assignments. You want that market? You have to design for it.

I discovered this the hard way trying to do footnotes for my upcoming book. As research, I read about thirty or so books on history, politics and economics of the emerging world, almost all purchased on Amazon and at first I was really gung-ho on reading them all on a Kindle. After all, I was traveling two weeks of every month, refused to check luggage, and the Kindle travels light. But I wound up reading most of them in hard copy because I got tired of relying on battery power to read, having to turn the book on and off when planes were taking off and landing, and worrying about someone swiping the Kindle in rougher areas of the world. (After all, a paperback you can just leave on a cafe table. If someone takes it, oh well, one less book I have to read.)

Thank God I am such a dinosaur. Because footnotes from a Kindle edition have been a nightmare. I have had to either use Google books to find page numbers or, worse, repurchase them in hard cover just to do footnotes. I could have just camped out in a bookstore and jotted down page numbers, but most of these books were too obscure to be carried in an average Borders. This all sort of defeats the point of an ebook. Technology is about adding features and functionality to a thing that was limited before– not taking them away. The only way the Kindle survives in an iPad world is by appealing to hardcore readers and students. Amazon needs to fix this now.

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