I’m a fan of footnotes. Most of my books have 40 to 50 of them, and some fans have told me one of their favorite things about my books are how fun and enhancing they are to their experience with the main text.
Years ago, I asked my readers which they preferred, endnotes or footnotes, and a long, opinionated conversation ensued. Readers care more about form that you’d think.
For several reasons, e-books are less kind to footnotes. Some e-book creation services, like bookbaby, relegate footnotes to endnotes, which few people read.
Alexandra Horowitz has a good article in the NYTimes about the history, and the future, of the footnote. She writes:
The footnote jousting could soon be moot, as the e-book may inadvertently be driving footnotes to extinction. The e-book hasn’t killed the book; instead, it’s killing the “page.” Today’s e-readers scroll text continuously, eliminating the single preformed page, along with any text defined by being on its bottom. A spokesman for the Kindle assured me that it is at the discretion of the publisher how to treat footnotes. Most are demoted to hyperlinked endnotes or, worst of all, unlinked endnotes that require scrolling through the e-reader to access. Few of these will be read, to be sure.
When we change mediums, content changes as well. If you watch a movie in a theater vs. on television, many nuances designed for one medium don’t convert well to the other. It’s always worth asking someone who was bored by a movie you found fascinating if they watched in on a theater or on TV (or even worse, on an airplane) . Cinematographers design shots and lighting to work in one form, and conversion to another is something they may never have considered. Old school writers who write footnotes, write the main text assuming those footnotes are there. Move the footnote, and you’ve change something important about how the text will be read.
I think Kindle, iPads and all digital book formats can support footnotes better than they do. But there is so little pressure to do it that I suspect Horowitz is right. It won’t happen all at once, but as the popularity of digital books continues to rise to majority status, we’ll see footnotes continue their slide into esoterica. Perhaps we’ll see more parentheticals (like this) or hyperlinks to specific notes, but that will never be quite the same form of expression as the footnote is.
Read the full article: Will the E-Book Kill the Footnote? – NYTimes.com.