Why Books Have Blank Pages? A Waste of Paper?

Blank pages in publications are everywhere, if you pick up a book at random you will most likely find at least one or two intentionally empty pages inside.

From Instruction manuals, books, magazines and exam papers, these lackluster pages can be found all around. The questions why do books have blank pages have been posed for decades. Today, I am going to answer them.

Why do books have blank pages?

Blank pages always have a function, usually to separate content or fill the space.

Reasons Why Books Have Blank Pages

Though they may seem useless at first glance, blank pages (known academically as ‘vacat pages’ from the Latin “vacare” which means “being empty”) have numerous uses:

  1. Place-holding – Sometimes the blank page is there to ‘save’ the space for something that will be printed in later copies so that the organization of the printing process is not ruined. This way, the publishers know exactly how many pages are required before new editions are made and won’t mess with the pre-decided number of pages. 

  2. Space-filling – Certain novels, documents and magazines might have a quota of pages to fill, a single or double blank page at the beginning and end can help fulfill this quota. In books, space-filling is often used to save on printing costs, though I will elaborate more on this later. 

  3. Content separation – Blank pages in-between sections in books or documents can make it easier to follow and ensure that the reader cannot see beyond the current section – something that is especially useful when it comes to exam papers.

What Does a Blank Page Symbolise? 

Despite often being completely blank, vacat pages can occasionally have statements printed on them such as “This page was intentionally left blank.”

This seems counterproductive but is considered necessary in the printing industry, especially when printing legal papers, notes or documents. Exam papers, legalities, manuals, and copyrighted works tend to have these notices to make the reader aware that the blank page isn’t an error. 

Additionally, Printing-Document-Processors are frequently programmed to ignore empty pages, which means digitalized copies of books and documents can be wrongly numbered without a notice.

Furthermore, blank pages stop digitalized books from being wrongly formatted, for example, if a blank page is not there to separate chapters, then the pages might blend, rendering it difficult to tell when a new chapter begins. 

When it comes to books and novels, blank pages are used for the sake of balancing the content. Conventionally, chapters begin on odd-numbered pages (referred to as ‘recto pages’). As a result, if the book in question has a number of pages that disturbs this a clean, blank page is inserted at the end or beginning to fix the disruption. 

Due to economic reasons, books are often printed on large sheets of paper – a single sheet such as this can be used to print several pages at once.

The pages are then neatly folded and then halved appropriately, but this means that the books are printed in multiples of 8, 16 or 32. This may not seem problematic, but blank pages are almost always needed to fill the space unless the book happens to have the perfect number of pages by itself, but this rarely happens.

Vacat pages are beneficial when it comes to standardized tests, such as SATs, GCSEs, A-Levels or MCATs.

Since these exams are timed by examiners who are usually testing students nation-wide at the same time, on a set date and hour, there has to be a guarantee that no student will be able to see the questions before turning the page, thus giving them an unfair advantage. During these exams, it is forbidden for students to turn the page to the next section until the examiner allows them to. 

Having blank pages in-between sections means that no one will have an unfair advantage and creates an equal ground for all test-takers. 

Some tests allow these pages to be used as scrap paper to make notes on. 

Classified legal records in the US army have blank pages as well. This is because these documents are often checked whenever inventory is transferred and blank pages are used as a separator, making sure every page is counted for. 

Are Blank Pages a Waste of Paper?

According to this website, 2 billion books a year are printed in the US alone, which means that 32 million trees are cut down and turned into paper.

A single tree can produce enough paper to make 62.5 books. With the high rates of deforestation and global warming continually rising, there has been an increased concern with environmental issues in the past decade when it comes to wasting natural resources. 

Some people claim that books, in general, are a waste of paper and that Kindles and digital reading apps are the future. The loss of 32 million trees a year in America alone is enough to scare anyone into being wary of how many trees go into the making of books, but there are factors which are often overlooked:

Yes, trees must be cut down to make paper for books (and vacat pages), however, books do not have a ‘one-time’ use.

Libraries exist for a reason – once produced, a book can last for many decades (if not for centuries, if it’s adequately cared for!). 

You can borrow books – including textbooks – from libraries and easily return them once you no longer need them. Likewise, you can buy and resell books for someone else to enjoy if you do not want them anymore; they do not necessarily need to be thrown away after being read once.

If you enjoy the feeling of physical books and if the harsh light of your mobile screen hurts your eyes, yet you are concerned about the environment, rent books

Renting and borrowing instead of purchasing new copies helps reduce the amount printed and gives older or second-hand books a new life

When comparing physical books to digital ones, many people use the “e-books don’t use paper!” argument, but few people take into account the following:

  • The carbon footprint of an ebook is roughly 168 kg of CO2. A normal book has a significantly smaller carbon footprint of only 7.5 kg. (Though it is dependent on the number of pages, size of the book and other minor details) This means that to match the carbon footprint of 1 ebook, around 23 books have to be produced. 

  • An e-book does not need paper…but it’s made of plastic, various metals and lithium batteries. As such, its materials are generally not eco-friendly, whereas books are always bio-degradable! 

Therefore, vacat pages are not a waste of paper – they always have a purpose for being there and are accounted for when books are printed. They exist for a reason!

A Book with Only Blank Pages Sold Over 100,000 Times

You may think that selling a page with only blank pages is a fool’s idea, and yet...one man did just this and sold over 100,000 copies!

Sheridan Simove “wrote” a book titled What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex – a gag book, meant for comedic purposes. The book, despite being entirely empty, became a fast bestseller on Amazon – and was soon thereafter banned from the site. Simove certainly didn’t expect the book to be so popular, even earning him a Guinness World Record. 

Using a small-budget PR team, he published his “novel” and advertised it in a local UK tabloid.

Once an article was written about it, sales skyrocketed and only a month into selling the book, “What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex” was already the 44th most purchased literary work on Amazon and sold thousands of copies, selling better than actual famous novels.

He soon got book deals…from Spain, Croatia, Australia, China, Japan and even from Mongolia – all wanting to “translate” the book – and pay him, of course. 

Simove explained that, though it has always been his ambition to be a bestselling author, this was hardly what he had in mind. His very first novel took eight years for him to write and severely undersold.

Still, this unexpected course of events is one he’s very much grateful for as it earned him an immense amount in royalties and meant he got to travel the world. 

So, are blank pages a waste of paper?

To conclude, blank pages have a reason for being there, even if that reason isn’t always obvious. The way in which books are produced means that blank pages have to exist, to save on printing costs, but they also possess several practical uses, such as filtering content and saving space for important notes and notices. They are not a waste of paper, as their pages are accounted for and they take up a tiny percentage of the overall volume of the book.