Now and then, I like to read Amazon reviews of our Berklee Press products. I might do this to get some insight into what to do for a revised edition of a book, or sometimes, just for the sake of nostalgia, as there’s a lot of love in those outpourings. Occasionally, a critique surfaces along the lines of “too many ads,” or “too much blank space.” Why junk up books with ads, blank pages, or pages filled blank staves that most people don’t want or need? Can’t we save money and trees by cutting out a couple of these? Must we be pummeled by advertising at every moment?
There are two dimensions to why we do this. First, the most economical way to print books is via offset printing. Without digressing too far into the details, offset presses print pages in multiples of sixteen pages (sometimes eight), called “signatures.” So, printing a 96-page book (16 x 6) can actually be cheaper than a 90-page book (16 x 6 – 6) because 90 pages requires additional human intervention for every copy printed, while 96 pages can be done relatively automatically.
When we lay out books, our priority is legibility. For example, in music publishing, a common point of awkwardness to address is page turns during musical notation. Also, we try to keep charts on a single page, and headers with at least a few lines of associated text, and introductions to graphics on the same spread as the graphics themselves, and so on. Making the page flow support the logic and ergonomics of the content is something of an art, and we care about this a lot. I dare say, it is one of the reasons why people find our books so clear and comprehensible.
From a production standpoint, what this means is that the content of a book might actually only take up, say, 92 pages, leaving 4 extras. (The closest multiple of 16 to 92 is 96; 96 signature – 92 content = 4 leftover.)
We could leave those pages blank, perhaps writing “Notes” at the top. We could provide some blank staves. Personally, I don’t ever ever ever write in such areas, in my books. So instead, at Berklee Press, we tend to fill any extraneous pages with ads to other resources we hope our readers will find useful. We don’t start by reserving this space for ads. Rather, we fill the extra otherwise blank pages of a signature with them. We have several ad layouts that can be used, suited to the book’s content and space allotments. So, if there’s one side of a page leftover, we have an ad for that. If there are four pages, we can do that too. Very rarely, we’ll have six. We know how many pages this will be only very late in the process, after the author is done, the index is finalized, the copyrights are cleared, and the content is put to bed.
So, these ads are really not as nefarious as what some might suspect. We’re not trying to bully anybody into buying more stuff, because we are sooo greedy. We’re actually just trying to make better use of what would otherwise be utterly wasted space. It’s the same number of trees, so hopefully this way, they will count for more.