wolff’s plea for page numbers; or, on e-books

I concur with Jonathan Wolff that academics (and not just us) need page numbers in their e-books if they are going to replace the standard format. If they can put words on a page, why not a number in the corner of that page? I also love the idea of bundling e-books with hardbacks at a discounted rate. There are probably few people willing to buy both (duplicates, that is) at the list price, and failing a discount it’s likely that readers will find ways of making electronic versions available for free. In fact, why not throw in the e-book for free with purchase of the hardback? Perhaps this is the price publishers should pay for eliminating our ability as consumers to photocopy a chapter for use in class. Unless I don’t understand the technology fully, one of the downsides to the e-book is that you cannot make a portion of it available (under fair use law) to others for the purposes of education. This, to me, is a serious drawback.

I love my Kindle. I bought it instead of an iPad precisely so that I would not be distracted by all of the options available on the iPad. But where it fails as a technological advance is in the way it forbids me from ‘flipping’ through the text. Searching is an amazing option, but when the coordinates I’m looking for are (echoing Wolff) ‘near the top of the right-hand page somewhere in the middle of the book’, the Kindle gives me the blank stare. I don’t see how this can be regained. The other wonderful thing about Kindle books is that they’re often cheaper than the ‘material’ version. When they’re not, I’m disappointed and not yet likely to spend the money on the e-book instead of the hard copy.

Then again, perhaps ‘flipping’ is not meant to be regained. What we have to wait for is a reconfiguration of our reading practices as a reading population under the new e-book regime. Eventually–maybe even more quickly than we realize–our brains will stop taking the time to make mental notes as vague as the one quoted above, and it will generate some new mnemonic strategy for marking key passages in the text. This will be an adaptation to the new e-text, rather than an adaptation of the ┬átext to our old reading practices. Or some compromise.