The Kindle continues to impress me with its utility. I use it daily, and have just completed another book on it (and started another two). Yet, the stack on my nightstand has disappeared. How can this be?

Criticisms also continue, despite sales figures that match those of the first-generation iPod (about 240,000 devices have been sold thus far). To continue the comparison with the iPod, here is a redacted critique of an electronics device launch:

IDC analyst Bryan Ma said [company] may take some heat for entering the consumer electronics market, which typically has lower profit margins than [company] gets from its [standard retail offerings]. . . . Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Intelect, said that the [device] will likely stand out for its large storage capacity but predicted that the device may have trouble digging out a niche in the market. . . . Technology Business Research analyst Tim Deal dinged the $399 price as “a little high.”

Of course, the company in the above quote from 2001 is Apple, the device is the iPod, and the standard retail offerings are computers. Everyone has an opinion. That and $0.99 will no longer buy you a cup of coffee, but it will get you a song on iTunes. (iTunes is now the #1 music retailer in the United States, edging out Wal-Mart in the spring of 2008.)

An issue raised by David Weinberger and others is that the Kindle is weak for academic reading since it is hard to cite materials that have been adapted to the Kindle platform.

A robust discussion of this issue has been held on the Amazon site. The main points these entries hit is that when citing a book (the Kindle is still mostly about books, although this is changing), you typically only cite the book if you are paraphrasing ideas; that if you are quoting directly and need a page number, you have to track down a physical copy of the book and find the text there (or use Google Books); or, if it’s a magazine or journal, you have to cite the article (often easy enough using PubMed for journals).

Still, the Kindle seems architected for citation ultimately. There are stable location marks in each text, consistent and repeatable. And it seems Amazon will have to solve this, if it hasn’t already: a bigger Kindle geared to textbooks is apparently in development, to spare students and children the back-breaking backpacks they have to sport today.

With links replacing citations functionally in many ways, will it matter in the future if citations abide by old-fashioned Chicago or APA styles? Or will a clear link be all that is needed as scholarlship moves to the network.

I miss reading the album liner notes from my old LPs. That doesn’t mean LPs are coming back.

(Thanks to JO for links and inspiration for this post.)

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


12 Thoughts on "Citing the Kindle"

On your iPod sales figures, note that for much of its early existence, the iPod was only available for Mac users, something around 3% of the computer-using population. So the number is skewed a bit low, certainly when compared to iPod sales when the device was available to everyone, as is the Kindle. Note that the Kindle has also had the benefit of being continuously advertised with e-mail blasts and featured prominently at the top of one of the busiest sites on the web, so that 240,000 figure may not bode so well after all. Note that it equals a week or two of iPhone sales.

Personally, I side with Cory Doctorow in thinking that the stand-alone reader is doomed, and that the future lies in convergence devices, mostly for economic manufacturing reasons:

Not to discount the fabulousness & fun of the Kindle. I’m sure these devices do rock & they’d be great as a textbook replacement.

However, LPs are coming back with a sales increase of 15% in 2007 and it looks like an even greater margin in 2008. The web & your local DJ venues work in mysterious ways…it’s definitely a niche market retail but there’s room for us all to survive here:


There is another aspect to the analogy with online music sales. We do not miss liner notes or cover art enough to bring back LPs. Far more importantly (and sadly to my mind), most seem to accept the huge loss in sound quality that comes with MP3s (which don’t even compare to old cassette tapes let alone LPs/CDs): convenience trumps quality. Will the same be true of books? Rather than wondering whether/how the Kindle can be improved to handle textbooks, perhaps we should ask how much artwork and other design frills most readers will happily do without. (After all, many journal publishers have already deemed multiple rounds of proof-reading an unnecessary and expensive luxury on the grounds that readers tolerate or don’t notice the errors this would pick up.)

It’s not likely that Amazon will “solve” the citation question. That’s a matter for MLA, APA, Chicago, etc. The style sheet organizations certainly adapted (each in its own way) to online resources; this is another such step.

The critical aspect is that different populations read in different ways. Scholars want one set of functionalities and casual readers want other functionalities. In print, those differences were meaningless because there was only the single platform of print. Now, with the Kindle, it becomes more evident that we have to accommodate those different patterns of reading and citation.

By the way, I am glad the NFAIS Enotes were useful to you, Kent!

In dawns on me that I missed a main point in this entry — that citation is going to go away and be replaced by linking. A breakthrough with the Kindle is its wi-fi connectivity. The display already supports hyperlinks. It seems with the move of scholarship online that linking will replace typewritten citation. So, the trick will be for the Kindle to learn to accept links. Then, it will be ready for the next generation of citation — linking.

I can also envision citation moving completely onto the network through links, but that’s a ways down the road–likely until Kindles or their descendants are as common as sliced bread. Until then, we need some standardization that will allow non-Kindle readers and Kindlers alike to reproduce the research by locating sources accurately. MLA and Chicago, etc. have formatted styles for electronic books and other e-material, but I think given the move to locations, some tweaking will be necessary until our e-dreams come true. I’ve begun tinkering with a format that adds chapter info to the citation to help localize the reference across different editions (no claim to anything earth-shattering here). But what I’d like to offer would be styles for common bibliographic software like Zotero, Refworks, or EndNote.

Refworks might be the most useful place to start since reference for Kindle books (all Amazon books for that matter) can be put in a database simply by clicking the icon that appears in the address bar of Firefox while browsing titles. I’ll get to work on this…

For now, I’ve got rudimentary MLA-like styles on my blog.

I have the original Kindle and cite it in papers regularly. I documented my citation style for APA, MLA, and Turabian. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Citing a kindle

I usually use a ‘slightly altered’ version of the APA style. Here is an example of what I would do, with the example of a book by Scott Hahn. See here:

If I just cite a chapter, I write:
Hahn: 2009: chap. 3:3

If I cite, or quote, a specific passage, I write:
Hahn: 2009: chap. 3:3; loc. 598-603.

If this is the first time I cite a Kindle or Mobipocket book, I also write this:

(This is a book published in Kindle/Mobipocket format. All quotations from, or citations of, such books refer to sections or precise locations (loc.) in the text, and not page numbers.)

In the bibliography, I write:
Hahn, S. (2009). Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI. Kindle Edition. Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Brazos Press [Retrieved from, March 26th 2010]

When using Kindle highlight the section following the instructions. Then go to “My Clippings file in the Home Page section and look for the highlighted info. you will see the following info for example:

— Book Title: Highlighted text- blah blah blah (Author’s Name)
Note Loc 143 | Added on Teusday, September 10, 2009, 10:01 AM —

Then what you would do is to cite the information in your paper, type: (Author Loc 143) When you do the works cited page be sure to indicate that the book is a kindle book.

Any quotation, summary, paraphrase, fact or idea that is not your own must be credited to a source. Each source has its own way of documentation using the MLA works cited format. Quotations need to be placed in context for readers. You can provide this context by naming your source (i.e. stating who said or wrote the quoted words) in the body of your sentence. Tis method is commonly referred to as an in-text citation or in-text frame. Source: In-text citations separate quoted material from your own writing in addition to quotation marks. You will also notice the separation between your ideas and another’s can be heard when your sentence is read aloud. Without this context or in-text frame, quotations are sometimes called disembodied or ghost quotes.

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