As we enter 2007, persistent problems continue to thwart the publishing industry. And in the spirit of resolutions, I propose that we try to tackle one of them once and for all. Yes, high returns, lagging sales, digital copyright threats and plummeting literacy rates all endanger the industry. But there's an even greater challenge facing book publishing. It is the poisonous elephant in the room that no one will acknowledge. I refer, of course, to the industry's shocking pagination practices.

I'm not entirely sure there is such a thing as a poisonous elephant. Still, I don't think I'm overstating the situation when I say that current methods of pagination are nothing short of scandalous—illogical, inconsistent and pedantically regimented. Virtually every novel published today begins on page 3 instead of page 1 (go ahead, choose one at random from your shelf and you'll see what I mean). Pages advance in strict numerical order with numbing inevitability to the end of the book, long past the point when the reader has ceased to care. Introductions and forewords are paginated in Roman numerals—shouldn't the texts be in Latin?

The industry has to do better. Current methods of pagination have done nothing to increase sales. Surveys by the Book Industry Study Group show that consumers don't even consider page numbers when shopping for books, and most readers skip right over them. "They're so predictable, I don't bother looking at them anymore," one subject said.

Publishers ignore this situation at their peril. Unfortunately, the industry is in thrall to the rules laid out in the Chicago Manual of Style, a bullying and didactic tome if ever there was one. Is Chicago the center of the publishing industry? Or of style, for that matter? Not! We should no longer submit to the dictates of a city known primarily for deep-dish pizza and "toddlin'," whose notable figures include Al Capone, a criminal; and Mrs. O'Leary, a woman who had a cow. The time has come for the Chicago Manual of Style to be consigned to the dust heap of history, or to any convenient dust heap.

Instead, let us create new styles of pagination that engage the reader and enrich the reading experience. For example, reverse pagination might be used to heighten suspense. A thriller could begin on, say, page 350 and move inexorably toward page 1 at the end of the book, creating the impression of a timer ticking down to the climax. We could enhance the surprise endings of mystery novels by withholding all the page numbers until the final chapter, where the delighted reader would find them revealed en masse along with the solution to the crime. Sudoku books could abandon numbers entirely in favor of a letter-based form of pagination—a sly commentary on the switcheroo this staggeringly popular diversion has put over on the conventional crossword puzzle.

Why should we be locked into using counting numbers for pagination? Why not, say, whole numbers? Of course, we'd have to figure out where the zero goes, but I believe we are up to that challenge. We might also consider Fibonacci numbers, a system devised by the 13th-century Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, in which each number is added to the preceding number to produce the next number in the sequence. The result is a pagination pattern of 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on. This method would enable readers to get to page 100 in practically no time and to relish the sensation of flying through a book so fast their hair's getting mussed.

These are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling. I hope my comments will spark an industrywide conversation about creating new and innovative styles of pagination more suitable to the 21st century. Before that can happen, however, we must first admit there is a problem. As they say in recovery, denial ain't just a misspelling of Denali. Readers and publishers alike must acknowledge that the old methods no longer work, that reform is needed. Only then will we all truly be on the same page.

Author Information
Laurence Hughes toils in the publicity department of a great big publishing company. His writing is featured in the anthology Mountain Man Dance Moves.