How to cite a Kindle ebook

If you’re writing an academic paper and need to cite a Kindle book, you’ll quickly notice a problem: there are no pages, and therefore no page numbers. The wrong approach is to complain about the device for not being a printed book; the better approach is to figure out how to make it work for your research, so you can take advantage of ebooks now instead of waiting for academia to catch up.

Basic style guidelines

First, the basics. The Chicago Manual of Style says this about books published electronically:

“If a book is available in more than one format, cite the version you consulted. For books consulted online, list a URL; include an access date only if one is required by your publisher or discipline. If no fixed page numbers are available, you can include a section title or a chapter or other number.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (New York: Penguin Classics, 2007), Kindle edition.

The APA recommends a similar approach to citing ebooks:

For the reference list entry, you’ll need to include the type of e-book version you read (two examples are the Kindle DX version and the Adobe Digital Editions version). In lieu of publisher information, include the book’s DOI or where you downloaded the e-book from (if there is no DOI). For example:

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from


To cite in text [when page numbers don’t exist], either (a) paraphrase, thus avoiding the problem (e.g., “Gladwell, 2008″), or (b) utilize APA’s guidelines for direct quotations of online material without pagination (see Section 6.05 of the manual). Name the major sections (chapter, section, and paragraph number; abbreviate if titles are long), like you would do if you were citing the Bible or Shakespeare:

One of the author’s main points is that “people don’t rise from nothing” (Gladwell, 2008, Chapter 1, Section 2, para. 5).

The MLA approach to ebooks is quite similar:

When citing eBooks, you should [follow] the guidelines for citing nonperiodical web publications, found in section 5.6.2c (pp. 197-189) of the MLA Handbook:

Author’s Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Place of publication: Publisher, copyright date. Source of eBook. Web. Date of Access.

How to get around a ban on citing ebooks

Some professors might refuse to allow ebooks in citations, either because they’re being mulish or because they want everyone to use the same (print) edition for convenience’s sake. If that’s the case, you can use one of the following methods to convert a Kindle location to a print edition’s equivalent page number. (The first two come from this Kindleboards discussion.)

  1. (The less precise way.) Convert your current location into a percentage of the book, and multiply that by the total page numbers of the print edition. For example:

    1. Book has 300 locations and you’re at 200; divide 200 by 300 to get .67, or 67%.
    2. Find print version on Amazon or another bookstore and look for total pages.
    3. Multiply total pages by the percentage; if the print book is 250 pages, then: 250 * .67 = 167.5, or pages 167-168.

    Use with caution, as this will pretty much never give you the exact page number.

  2. (The more precise way.) Find a unique phrase in the text that’s very near the section you want to reference. Now go to Google Books or Amazon and search inside the book for that phrase, and you’ll usually be able to find the exact page number you need.
  3. (The lazy way.) Use this form. It should provide a fairly accurate estimation, and can also be used to convert page number to location.

Just remember that no matter which approach you take, you need to make sure you’re not referencing a different edition, since the content may have changed considerably.

(Photo: flaxmanlibrary)

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