Page Numbers and ePublications: contrary companions?

For decades, authors have used page numbers (and book/journal titles & editions) to refer to other works. With the advent of epublications and ereaders, it seems that our previously printed page numbers no longer serve a clear reference purpose, because when a reference to a particular page is checked on an ereader or tablet it somehow no longer makes sense. Where is this illusive page the author mentions? How can I see what the original page from a printed work was? Not all ereaders support the display of the original (print) page number, and when they do, it is up to the creator of the epublication to have supplied this information in the metadata of a work.

Amazon of course, in their native Kindle publications, has started using locations and (print) page numbers as so-called place holders, but these seem to exist more to facilitate the continuation of reading a text than as a identifier for future reference.


The other day at work I was talking to a colleague about this lack of reference identifiers. We work for an international academic publishing house and we are anxiously reading up on all the latest EPUB3 technologies, because we believe it to be the future of another form of publishing. As it happened, we started thinking about creating identifiers to sections in a text which could in turn be used to accurately locate content when referring to it.

Simply referring to chapters seems inadequate. With long tractates on diverse academic topics, we know our authors want to pinpoint their references succinctly and accurately: the chapters in our publications can quite often be as long as 100 pages of text.

Paragraph numbers seem to lessen the danger of inaccurate references, but yet, where chapters are longer than 100 pages, the paragraphs seems to go on forever as well!

How about line numbers? Typographically you would not want these to spoil the reading experience, but as far as accuracy goes, they appear to fit the bill perfectly.

Now where have we heard of line numbers being used before?

Of course!

Ancient religious texts display them proudly and succesfully.

I have no idea where & when the practice of using verses (line numbers) started, but it seems to be an option for solving the problem of accurate referencing in academic texts. Quickly searching Wikipedia on this topic resulted in a list of pages, all on the publication of texts throughout the centuries. For reference purposes, I have added these on the last page.

Technically, when an ereader can display marginal text, it should not be a problem to add these line numbers to a publication, but I have no idea if this would be a solution to the problem. A problem, which, if I am honest, I have not yet heard mentioned in the world of academics as a pressing problem. I guess that as a supplier of content, this is something we will have to solve before it becomes urgent. Adding these line numbers to the printed versions of a text is not difficult. It will require a slight change to a page layout, but most texts have ample space in the margins, so this should not hinder the reader when accessing the text.

A new practice of reference identifiers can be in place, regardless of the publication platform, and it will give the authors a clear and accurate method when referring to other publications.

Verses in the Bible

Vellum and parchment


and particularly the sections on

  • The definable characteristics of Late Manuscript Culture
  • Manuscripts and the arrival of print


and particularly the section on

  • History


Obelism is the practice of annotating manuscripts with marks set in the margins.

Scribal abbreviation