Kindle and the Index

When Amazon first introduced Kindle, way back in 2007, they said it did not support indexes. In 2011 this has not changed – the Formatting Guide at Kindle Direct Publishing says, under Creating Back Matter:

Back matter consists of the last pages in your book which provides additional information the reader should know about, such as Bibliographies, Appendices, Notes or Glossaries… Indexes are not recommended at this time.
Kindle Direct Publishing

Following that advice, when publishers started putting books on Kindle back in 2007 they often simply excluded the index, even when it existed in the print version. That practice has since changed, and now they tend to include the index, as it appears in the printed book, but with a caveat at the beginning saying that the reader should use the search facility to get from the index entry to the relevant passage in the book.

It is possible to include hyperlinks in a Kindle text, just like a webpage, creating a jump from one point in the text to another. At least one book formatter tried to use hyperlinks to overcome the index limitations by linking the index locators to the start of the page they referred to. This is very quick to do (just a matter of minutes) but doesn’t produce a very satisfactory result. The problem is that Kindle pages are not only small, they are variable. Readers can change between 8 font sizes, change the typeface, line spacing, words per line, and even rotate the screen, all of which drastically affects how much appears on a page. So if the original printed page was quite large, and the font small, say a page of endnotes, and the Kindle reader chose a large, easy-to-read font with generous spacing, it might be that one printed page covered 12 or 15 Kindle pages. Think what that means. The index says that the information is to be found on page 137, and the link takes you to the top of the printed page 137. If the relevant text is actually at the bottom of page 137, then the reader has to read through 15 Kindle pages of text before they find what they are looking for.

On 7th February 2011 Amazon announced that they were introducing ‘Real Page Numbers’ to the Kindle. This development, which has now been rolled out to everyone’s Kindle via software updates, means that it is possible to press Menu, enter “137″ and press “page”, and be taken to the text position in the Kindle which matches the top of page 137 in the physical printed book, assuming one exists. This is actually better than the linking mentioned above for two reasons. First, it is much quicker to use the GoTo function than to navigate across the screen using the arrow keys to reach the link – remember there is no mouse or touch screen on the Kindle. Second, it requires no special linking from the book publisher, so it can work for books from the back catalogue which have indexes. However, it still suffers from the problem, described above, that the page size does not match. There is no way of knowing where the print page ends on the Kindle – it could be three pages away or fourteen-and-a-half.

The only real solution is to link the index locator directly to the relevant character position in the text. Hyperlinks can do that but it requires that the indexer has put in the extra work and has specified precisely to where on the page the index entry refers. This can have been recorded using embedded indexing, or some form of XML indexing, but the extra work must have been done. To demonstrate that it can be done, I have, for the Society of Indexers, formatted for the Kindle their book, Occasional Paper 5, Indexing Children’s Books complete with a hyperlinked index. (Available from my download page, Kindle Store UK US DE)

This allows the user to go from the index to the correct text with a single click, and return to the same position in the index by pressing the Back button.

Some publishers who use XML and already require indexers to produce linked indexes will readily be able to produce indexes linked in this way, but what is still unaddressed is how the reader gets to the index. The Contents is a special button in the Goto menu, but the Index is not there. This is because Amazon say that the Kindle does not support indexes. In fact, a simple software change would appear to be all that is required and usable indexes will be possible. Of course, some indexes will be not linked by the publishers and others will, so some indexes will me more useful than others – but that is nothing new.


Related posts:

  1. Future publishing technologies and indexes

About James Lamb

James Lamb has a degree in Computer Science and Mathematics from London University, worked for over 20 years as a senior IT technician and team leader, much of that time for dealing rooms of international banks, and became a full-time, professional indexer in 2004.
This entry was posted in e-books, Kindle, SIdelights (SI newsletter). Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Kindle and the Index

  1. Nora says:

    Real page numbers rolled out to all Kindles via software update???

    Not to mine.

    The Kindle web site says real page numbers are only on certain books and all the top 100 best sellers. Even then, you have to press menu to see them.

    None of my recently purchased books have real page numbers.

    • James Lamb says:

      The ‘real page numbers’ is included in software version 3.1 and can be downloaded here if it hasn’t reached your Kindle already. It is a new feature so it will only be on books which have been translated to Kindle recently but presumably will become more common.
      You’re right that you only see them when you press them Menu button, but you can also jump to them from the Go To menu. The fiction book The Golden Acorn is available free from the Kindle store and has page numbers if your Kindle software is up to 3.1 and you want to see how page numbers work.

  2. Christopher Pipe says:

    There is also the question of ranges: if the beginning of printed page 17 is converted to Kindle page 98 and the beginning of printed page 21 is converted to Kindle page 124, then the original index entry for pages 17-21 will presumably appear as Kindle pages 98-124, but not only may the discussion not start until Kindle page 100, it may continue to Kindle page 130. Imagine the horror if an index in a printed book directed the reader to pages 98-124 when it should have been 100-130!

  3. Neal Punt says:

    The very same indexes used in hard copy of a book to locate where the indexed items can be found in the book can now also be used in the Kindle version to locate where these items can be found in the Kindle version.

    Scholars will now have just as much information available to them in the Kindle version as they have available in the hard copy. This a vast improvement for Kindle readers and especially for scholars.

    Get details at:

    Cordially, Neal Punt

    • James Lamb says:

      That link doesn’t explain how it does it and doesn’t show an example of what it does, so it looks to me like other services available which link to the top of the hardcopy page. That can easily be 15 or 20 Kindle pages away from the real target, and gives exactly the same features as the Kindle “Real Page Numbers”.
      To be useful it would need to link to the exact location on the page and that information is not stored in the hardcopy index, so would need to be added. Usually that information is only available if the original indexer created an embedded index or if the book is reindexed (which is not an automatic procedure).

  4. Hello James,

    I am so thankful for this post. I am presently publishing my first book called Milk Diaries, and I found it quite helpful. For the paperback version, I inserted codes for the Index (for example, “{ xe “Milk supply:low” }”). Does that suffice as embedded indexing?

    Thanks again!

    Maggie Singleton

    • James Lamb says:

      Hello Maggie,

      Yes, that is embedded indexing, and that does contain enough information to create a pinpoint-accuracy, linked index. MS Word, however, does not have the functionality included to create a hyperlinked index from an embedded index, but some publishers, notably Cambridge University Press, do, so if your book is being published with them, then your {XE} entries will end up creating linked Kindle index entries.


      • Larry says:

        I have noticed on my Kindle Keyboard that on at least one book (the Bible mentioned at the end of this note), a press of the Menu key results in a previously-unseen drop-down menu entry called Index (located below the “Sync to Furthest Page Read”, and before the “Book Description” entry). Do you know how to format a Kindle book to trigger this menu entry, and how to build it?

        The Bible that I am referring to is a free download from Amazon, so you can download it and see what I mean about the Index entry appearing in the Menu drop-down. The book is:

        The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (without Cross-References) [Kindle Edition] (free download from Amazon)
        by Crossway Bibles.

        Thanks, James, for any light you can shed on this.

        • James Lamb says:

          Hello Larry,
          Thanks for the question. I haven’t seen that before. Crossway seem to have introduced in on Mar 8th. KF8 still seems to be the latest file format, and I can’t find it in there.
          The feature is also mentioned in some university of St Thomas library instructions but there is nothing to say when that document was produced. The index itself is simple links to the target verses, which is easy enough to do, but can’t see, at the moment, how they have generated the “index” link on the main menu.

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