e-book Indexing

I have my Kindle turned on as I read Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The book is about the psychology of “optimal experience.” It stands to reason, then that “employment” would be an important topic in the book. I use Kindle’s keyboard to type in the term. It retrieves two occurrences of the term. Just two in the entire book! Can it really be that a book about gaining deep enjoyment from life’s experiences hardly discusses where many of us spend 40 hours a week of our lives?

Wait… “jobs.” I should have looked up that word, too. Let me do it now. Rats! 101 occurrences! I can’t look through 101 occurrences. They take up 26 pages on the Kindle! Interestingly, none of the 101 occurrences refer to the same locations where it found the term “employment”. In other words, even though “employment” and “jobs” essentially refer to the same thing, the Kindle Find feature doesn’t know that.

Just for fun, I type in “occupation.” Only 4 occurrences. (Sigh…)

And the ebook version of Flow has no index. Thanks a lot, HarperCollins.

I look at another Kindle ebook, Tribal Leadership by David Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright . Great book. And it has an index! Only the index isn’t called an index. The word “index” has been replaced with the title “Searchable Terms”. A note below it reads “Entries in this index, carried over verbatim from the print edition of this title, are unlikely to correspond to the pagination of any given e-book reader. However, entries in this index and other terms, may be easily located by using the search feature of your e-book reader.”


Let me try that. The term “assets” appears in the index. It has the following subheadings under it:

  • for behaviors, 228
  • common ground, 222-224
  • core assets, 221-222
  • for outcomes, 224-225
  • tribal strategy and, 214

OK, so let me type in the term “assets”… Oh, come on! 63 occurrences, spread over 16 pages. And each occurrence has about four lines of text around it, as though that will help me. Where are my subheadings to help me quickly find the information I want? The original indexer only felt that the seven pages shown in the subheadings above were relevant entries. She must have skipped any occurrences of the term “assets” in which they were just “passing mention” (in indexer-speak). In other words, the terms were in the book, but you would have been disappointed had you been led there by the index.

One more try… I’ll open Accidental Genius by Mark Levy. This one seems to have an index, too. But I’m skeptical now. It has page numbers too, but Kindle uses location numbers, so these page numbers obviously don’t correspond to any numbers in the ebook. But wait, the first page number of each range of pages is underlined, like they are links. Let me try clicking on page 81, next to the phrase “abundance approach”… Yes! it brought me to the page in the text that discusses the concept! At last, a proper index. Congratulations, Mark Levy and your publisher, Berrett-Koehler. You’re putting the reader first.

If you are an author or a publisher, don’t short-change your readers by expecting them to find info in your book just using Search. Give your readers a real index!

Contact us, and we’ll do one of three things for you:

  1. Write an index for you and link it to the text so that readers can click on the terms and go to the discussion of the concepts in the text.
  2. Use a pre-existing index and link the terms to the text.
  3. Create an online version of the index (like we did with a number of Seth Godin’s books here). We’ll list not only the page numbers of the print book, but the location numbers in Kindle books and other formats.

Because you owe it to your readers.

See Tools of Change for Publishing’s interview with BIM’s Kevin Broccoli about whether Search is enough…