Ted Savas tried to leave a comment on this post, but for some reason it never showed up. Ted is the managing director of Savas Beatie publishing, which puts out a number a fine books on the Civil War and other military topics every year. He sent me the following:
My personal preference: footnotes, for all the obvious reasons. My professional (would like to see in all our titles) preference: footnotes, for all the obvious reasons.
The cost of laying out a book with footnotes is significantly more because it is much more difficult to properly space and match up notes and text (and then proof), especially if the notes are explanatory in nature and flow onto subsequent pages. As odd as it sounds, publishing software remains problematic in its handling of footnotes. Programs often lock and crash, text/notes can still flow page to page when chapters are opened, and so forth. (I remember having this discussion with Bob Younger of Morningside a decade ago. “That’s why we use hot-type,” was his reply, or something like that. I miss old Bob; he helped me a lot in learning the trade.)
There is another reason, less commonly discussed. We have had buyers for chain stores look at what they consider “general book trade” history titles with footnotes (our Shiloh book by Cunningham is one example) and call them “too academic-looking,” or “so scholarly looking it will turn off general buyers,” that sort of thing. These comments are jaw-droppingly ignorant, in my opinion, but they place the national buy orders. If the result is selling hundreds of copies to spread around nationwide, as opposed to thousands of copies it is a serious issue to consider. (We don’t commonly meet with this objection/observation, and it depends on the specific wholesale buyer, but we have seen this on more than one occasion; we work to fight through the ignorance.)
I know neither of these examples is very satisfying, but together they form the foundation upon which the current publishing edifice re: notes has been erected.
As to running a tab at the end with sources: I do not think it is intended to be misleading. It might be lazy on the part of the author, or it might be dictated by the publisher, but I have yet to see proof that a book was crafted this way to mislead readers.
Thank you for asking me to comment.
Theodore P. Savas
Managing Director, Savas Beatie LLC
Ted also hosts a blog on publishing, A Publisher’s Perspective. It’s on my blogroll.