eBooks and the Vanishing Concept of the Page

By Deane Barker on April 25, 2009

How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write: this entire article is an interesting look into how e-books and Google’s digitization efforts will change how we read. But this section stuck out at me — in the digital world, the concept of “pages” breaks down.

One geeky side note here: Before we can get too far in this new world, we need to have a technological standard for organizing digital books. We have the Web today because back in the early 1990s we agreed on a standard, machine-readable way of describing the location of a page: the URL.

But what’s the equivalent for books? For centuries, we’ve had an explicit system for organizing print books in the form of page numbers and bibliographic info. All of that breaks down in this new digital world. The Kindle doesn’t even have page numbers — it has an entirely new system called “locations” because the pagination changes constantly based on the type size you choose to read. If you want to write a comment about page 32 of “On Beauty,” what do you link to? The Kindle location? The Google Book Search page? This sounds like a question only a librarian would get excited about, but the truth is, until we figure out a standardized way to link to individual pages — so that all the data associated with a specific passage from “On Beauty” point to the same location — books are going to remain orphans in this new world.

The entire article is a great, futurist look into how books are changing, and what the future might hold.

Consider this passage:

For nonfiction and short-story collections, a la carte pricing will emerge, as it has in the marketplace for digital music. Readers will have the option to purchase a chapter for 99 cents, the same way they now buy an individual song on iTunes. The marketplace will start to reward modular books that can be intelligibly split into standalone chapters.

Shades of my request that authors write shorter books.

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