nonfiction backmatter

Moving Backmatter Online While Pleasing Bound Book Lovers

Dear Editor…

After reading Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (which we both loved) my husband wondered why books have to contain all those resources and notes in the back. He wondered why that section couldn’t be online. It would save printing all those pages and therefore natural resources. Are there any other earth-friendly solutions to documenting resources in nonfiction books?


Dear Natasha…

With 64 backmatter pages, Dead Wake uses scads of paper. Making its backmatter online-only would be eco-friendly… but not reader-friendly: In the U.S., 50 million people aren’t connected to the internet. Many internet-connected print readers would suffer, too: A joy of nonfiction reading is flipping to the back of the book for expansion of the main text, as we do when Dead Wake’s main text says “There were other sorts of complaints” but leaves the details for the back. We can’t require readers to put down their bound book to access their internet-connected device whenever a tiny floating number promises a good footnote. I propose publishers offer print-on-demand bound editions sans backmatter for flexible internet-connected bound-book lovers. We’d order the bound book online (likely paying more since POD doesn’t enjoy the savings of volume printing) and get a backmatter url. Publishers can futz the content management issues of books going out of print or changing publishers; they’d avoid inventory/stocking issues, meet a customer need, and help our earth.

Happy reading!
The Editor