There was much rejoicing when Amazon rolled out their latest Kindle update which included page numbers! It made life much easier for book clubs, students, and everyone who just wanted a comfortingly familiar way to figure out where they were in a novel. What’s really cool, though, is that Amazon did some serious behind the scenes work to make the feature successful.
Amazon explained on today’s Kindle blog post that they didn’t want to just create new page numbers for the eBook (and implied that’s how their competitors do it), but instead they took the time to match Kindle version page 1 to paper version page 1, etc. Their main explanation:
An e-book, like a print book, is at its core a stream of text. In a print book, this stream is broken up by the size of the pages on which it is printed. Number these pages and you have a way of referencing any point in the book. The text on page 53, for example, is always the same for every book of the same print edition. But in an e-book, what looks like a “page” is a display, and the amount of text displayed depends on the font size that you as a customer choose, as well as other options you set yourself such as portrait or landscape mode, or which Kindle or free Kindle app you read with.
We wanted to be able to display real page numbers that have value and are useful for those who need to cite a specific passage in a book for class, follow along with their friend in a book club, or simply point a friend to a favorite part of the book. Adding “real” page numbers means we had to find a way to match specific text in a Kindle book to the corresponding text in a print book and identify the correct page number to display.
With our massive selection and knowledge of print books, we were excited to be in a position to help solve this problem. We had to invent an entirely new way to match the streams of text in a print book to the streams of text in a Kindle book, and assign page numbers in Kindle books. There are hundreds of thousands of Kindle books (and growing every day), so to handle a job of this size, we turned to our Amazon Web Services computing fabric. We created algorithms to match the text of print books to Kindle books and organized all of this in the cloud, using our own AWS platform. The results of this work are stored in Amazon’s Simple Storage Service, where we track the complete history of every page matching file we’ve produced. We even found a way to deliver page numbers to books that customers had already purchased – without altering those books in any way, so customers’ highlights, notes, and reading location are preserved exactly as they were.
It’s interesting that Amazon not only took the time to unify numbering between the Kindle and paper versions, they also felt the need to brag about it! It highlights that the eBook market is still finding its footing, and the competition over features is becoming more fine-grained. The focus is slowly moving to the little usability details, like page numbers, or how easy it is to highlight and take notes. With agency pricing overtaking price wars, and content becoming ubiquitous in many stores, plus the sheer number of reading options on smartphones and tablets, everyone needs a new way to stand out…and this is Amazon’s latest attempt.
Has having page numbers improved your Kindle reading experience? Or is it a nice detail, but nothing you cared too deeply about? Share your experiences below!