IMG_20160129_124948Have you ever considered some of the things we’ll miss from traditional paper books if e-books take over?

For example, the odd practice you still see of finding a blank page or two at the front or back of a traditionally-published book. As Mental Floss explains, because of the way books are put together in “signatures”—individual bundles of pages that are bound together—their pages need to be evenly divisible by four. If there’s an extra one or two pages over the nearest multiple of four, then the book has to have an extra two or three blank pages to make another four.

A lot of publishers have come up with tricks for using those extra pages up—the catalogs of other books you could order in the back of old paperbacks, for example, or those self-indulgent full-page spreads of blurb quotes about how good an author’s other books are that you often find in the front of books these days. Or they just leave the blank pages there as a place for people to draw pictures, scribble notes, or whatever. One book layout artist even told Mental Floss that some self-publishing authors have asked him to leave blank pages on purpose. “They think it’s just tradition.”

Of course, e-books don’t have that “signature” problem. They can be exactly as long or as short as their authors want. So you never know—given a few more decades, perhaps those pages of blurb quotes or book catalogs will be extinct.


  1. Funny, I was thinking about this very thing yesterday evening. I can see the blurbs going the way of the dodo, but I doubt very much publishers will give up on the catalog or “other titles available” page. Book discovery is becoming more critical to the industry every day. Anything that serves an actual purpose as opposed to supporting production will likely be retained, at least in the short- to medium-term. (IMHO)

  2. Back in the early 80s I helped out around the office of a computer magazine (80-U.S., devoted to TRS-80 computers). One month, the run was accidentally printed with an extra signature, all blank pages. The way they saved it (printer wouldn’t re-print except for cost) was to add a blow-in insert announcing their January White Sale!. Fortunately, it was the January issue, and they further noted that the blank pages were useful for note-taking.

  3. Quote: “So you never know—given a few more decades, perhaps those pages of blurb quotes or book catalogs will be extinct.”

    Chris, if a publisher ever calls, offering a job in marketing, turn them down. That isn’t your calling. Ebooks actually offer more opportunities for blurbs and catalogs. No publisher worthy of the name would let such an opportunity pass. The real hitch are the retailers, who don’t want publishers linking to a book source that’s not them. In my case, in the later books in my hospital series, I make regular references to the earlier ones.

    The same is true if they call about doing book layout. The very efficiency-uber-allies mindset that drives an idea that blank pages are useless illustrates one reason among hundreds why Gutenberg’s first book, a Bible, was utterly gorgeous, while roughly 20 years into the digital book revolution most ebooks still look like they were formatted for a crude Palm Pilot.

    In the 1990s, I was in a Microsoft focus group from one of its Office products. The help feature—I kid you not—had some text in virtually unreadable yellow. Some programmer thought that would make it stand out. We had to tell Microsoft that wasn’t so. There’s only a handful of text colors, all of them dark, that serve as well as black text. Why anyone would think otherwise is beyond me. You don’t need a graphic arts degree to see the obvious.

    Using white space, including blank pages, to make text attractive is a key factor in making books more appealing, as is the proper selection of fonts. For books, print or digital, it helps readers to transition from one chapter to the next for from one section of the book to another. I no more want to leave that to myself than, dining at an elegant restaurant, I want to tell the chef how to cook. I go to such places to enjoy someone else’s expertise, not to flaunt my pretensions at one. I want someone else to make my books look good, not tweak them myself or do without in a sea of nothing but text.

    Even worse, there’s a host of features ebooks could have, such as ‘accordion text,’ that the dismally unimaginative minds of ebook standard makers have yet to grasp. I have a Tolkien print book, Untangling Tolkien, that’d be far better if users had a better option for hiding and showing text than epub currently allows.

    Ah, but I could insert a (huge and dull) video file of my talking face explaining something, as if readers cared about seeing me do that.

    The digital book world is its on worst enemy. It let Amazon take over the marketplace. It obsesses over cheap. It looks ugly. It has no interest in finding and using the real advantages of digital over print.

    –Mike Perry

  4. “Ebooks actually offer more opportunities for blurbs and catalogs. No publisher worthy of the name would let such an opportunity pass.”

    I fucking hate when publishers and authors waste my time by making me page through blurbs.

    Blurbs made sense in a time when it was difficult for a publisher to get my attention, but now pubs can pitch books online at any time so there’s no need to put them in the ebook. And the same goes for catalogs.

    If I like an authors work, i will go looking for more. There’s no need to use a product I paid for to pitch me another sale. Frankly, it feels like you’re cheating me out of my money.

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