The current model of book publishing is bad for our planet. Here’s what we can do instead.

The level of waste our book supply chain produces each year is bad for the environment and critically inefficient. Some readers have embraced the convenience of eBooks, but the majority of readers still prefer the familiar feel of a paperback or hardcover book in their hands. There’s just something heartwarming about the smell of paper and turning the physical pages of a book rather than looking at another screen.

But what if we could apply digital technology with the tangible aspects of a book? What if we could meet the needs of those who prefer the accessibility of an e-reader AND those who prefer hard copies of books? What if it could be done while reducing waste, saving money, eliminating expensive shipping costs, supporting your local economy, and selling books around the world? It is possible, and the solution already exists.

Here are 3 ways the publishing industry can change:

  1. Stop marking books as “returnable”.
    The publishing industry uses approximately 32 million trees print books every year. And one of the costliest and most troublesome publishing practices is an outdated return policy that not only unnecessarily uses natural resources, but affects profits for both publishers and authors. About 25% of books are returned to publishers annually for a full refund. So, in essence, we print a lot more books than we need, and that is depleting our natural resources.
    Not only is the returnable book practice terrible for the environment, it also hurts the publisher’s bottom line. This has a ripple effect on what they are able to pay authors in advance and in royalties. As even large-pocketed corporate publishers struggle to maintain those losses, it can be devastating for a freelance publisher.
  2. Increase the digitization of books.
    Many publishers are already using a digitization method where authors and publishers can link to digital files of their paperbacks and bound books on the e-commerce sites of various booksellers. When a customer purchases a book from this site, the order goes to a digital printing partner who prints it and ships the book to them.

    This print-on-demand technology is offered by Ingram Content Group and is already being used by independent publishers to access the sale of their books in traditional retail environments without the risk of expensive book returns. Unlike Amazon titles which are still considered by many to be “vanity publications” and are only available on one site, Ingram’s book catalog is recognized and accepted by mainstream retailers around the world.

  3. Adopt espresso machines (EBM)
    But what if there was an even better way to buy books from your local bookstore while eliminating shipping costs and supporting the locals? There is already.

    An EBM is a machine that allows any business with a dedicated Internet connection and 10×15 foot space to become a local and international paperback bookseller. Millions of different titles in a variety of languages ​​are available and can be printed and bound, right in front of your eyes, in minutes. EBMs can also track payments to publishers and content owners and use the highest encryption standards to ensure data security and integrity. Books are only produced after purchase. With no shipping or returns, the EBM matches supply with demand.

What about an all-in-one green and local all-in-one publishing, printing, distribution and bookseller solution? All it would take for publishers to take advantage of the technology would be to design their books to dimensions compatible with EBM. And, of course, more and more booksellers have to offer this option in-store.


Written by Kim Staflund.

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