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Once again I’m confronted with the practice of the “page” number in modern books when I’m now reading many of the secondary texts in electronic formats (our library prefers to buy the texts in that form, as I’ve ranted about here before, because they use a really stupid Adobe DRM’d format). My school’s PhD referencing guide needs to be updated; it is silent on the issue of e-books. Kindle uses a “Location” number which can be utilised, but it’s specific to the device. If you don’t have a Kindle (lets say you got the same book from Apple iTunes/iBooks, or from another e-book vendor, or you have the paper version), the Kindle “Location” is irrelevant to you.

The real problem here descends from the idea of “page” numbers as the ideal format. It’s tied to a very particular presentation scheme that plainly is about to become out of date. The whole idea of “pages” or whatever proprietary display format you’re looking at ought to be dropped and we should concentrate on the texts themselves.

I’m a classicist. We have standard editions of each text in which each is given a canonical numbering scheme, usually along the lines of book/chapter/sentence. Some examples; Livy 5.51.5 is Intuemini enim horum deinceps annorum vel secundas res vel adversas; invenietis omnia propoera evenisse sequentibus deos, adversa spernentibus. Epic poetry is typically quoted as book and line number, e.g. Vergil Aenid 1.278-9: His ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono; imperium sine fine dedi, or for collections of shorter poems, book/poem/line, e.g. Horace Carm 2.3.1 Aequam memento rebus in arduis. These citation schema are assigned to each text when a scholar has painstakingly compiled a ‘standard’ edition of the text from the surviving manuscripts (often published by Teubner, so sometimes referred as the ‘Teubner edition’ of the text).

For modern texts, publishers should be now assigning each text a ‘standard edition’ way of citing the text and if necessary, embedding that information into the text itself if the ebook formats won’t support it. This way it won’t matter if the reader uses a Kindle, or a Kobo, or iBooks or even a printed version; the text references are constant, and apparent to all readers.

Of course, ideally the ebook publishers ought to all agree that they will each have a way to embed the publishers’ citation system into each of their own individual formats such that every edition of a text can be referred to in a standardised way by all users of any format. But of course as we are stuck in the “format wars” period and have a vicious, anti-scholarship intellectual property regime imposed on everyone by vested corporate interests, I’d be surprised if that happens.