Footnotes or Endnotes

I know this is not the most consequential issue out there, but it is significant at least for those of us who read and write books.  When I read an academic book, I want there to be footnotes at the bottom of the page, not endnotes at the end of the book.  It is much more difficult to turn to the back of the book than to simply glance at the bottom of the page.  This is especially important for law books, because so much of the legal literature is placed in footnotes, including important substantive points.

Yet, publishers strongly favor endnotes.  My publisher claimed that the book would be cleaner and more readable without footnotes.  I am not exactly sure what that means, but I am guessing it is suggesting that readers like a page without footnotes.  Perhaps nonacademic readers like it, but academic readers do not.  And whether they are academic or nonacademic readers, I am sure all of them like a footnote when there is substantive content there.

I struggled for years reading Friedrich Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty with endnotes. Those endnotes were a great course in the history of political philosophy, but one had to turn to the end of the book to see them (as well as the analytic table of contents).  Thankfully, a new edition of the book has been published with the endnotes moved to the bottom of the page — a great improvement.

What about technology? After some years of struggling, most new kindle books have a good system of endnotes.  One touches the endnote number and one is taken to the endnote at the end of the book.  One touches the endnote number again and is returned to the text.  That is certainly better than endnotes at the end of a paper book, but not as good as footnotes in a paper book, where you can tell at a glance whether there is a substantive note that might require reading.