The Book Is Dead--For Good Environmental Reasons
This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.
Let us now praise the bound book and wish it well in the great artifact hearafter. We live in a world that has changed radically since we woke up in 2007 or 2008 when the first pronouncements of the death of the printed book made headlines. In many ways, those pronouncements were a set of trial balloons sent up to see what the level of objection to the premature death announcements would be.
Now, in 2012, we know with much greater accuracy what the levels of objection to this new world of digital publishing are and who’s objecting the loudest (hint: it’s not just publishers but authors as well).
Trying to inform and educate as to why the sustainability of all industries that rely on fossil fuels in most areas of production and distribution need to be reconfigured has set off a firestorm of misinformation as well as fear. The reasons for fear are obvious--changing an old paradigm is worrisome, anxiety producing. If you aren’t involved in the process of change and are only being offered it, the chances of you feeling uncomfortable are pretty high. However, treading on those feelings and alarms in book lovers, many publishers and authors have also resisted this change due to their own lack of knowledge as to what this paradigm shift can lead to and how it will benefit not just those of us in the book business but the planet as well.
Currently, the publlishing industry should be working towards the goal of decreasing (with their goal to be approaching zero) their reliance on fossil fuels to run their business. Financially, this is going to become more apparent. The business models publishers used necessitated all kinds of other investments that didn’t have anything to do with the production of books. They needed land for warehouses and buildings constructed to meet those needs. Roads had to be maintained, water and electric power hooked up, transportation costs that would be affected by the shifting price of fuel and paper, huge amounts of paper that had to come from forests and that had to be processed and the consequential pollution of all these processes whether it is in the air, water or land. Yet, none of these topics are addressed in discussions of the future of the book.
For good reason, I suppose. Then we would have to be talking about what it takes to create a bound book, what the steps are in its production and the natural resources required in order to sell massive numbers of books to recoup the costs of producing them.
Rather, discusions center on the sentimental and fetishistic reasons many people love bound books. I agree that bound books are a marvel. But, the real cost of producing books at these current levels is a horrible waste of resources that can’t be replaced.
You would think people in the book business would read some of their own books to see why this is so. Book publishers don’t pay attention to what they sell nor do they pay much attention to the people they are producing books for.
My wife and I took a long car trip this summer in our Prius (lest a reader wonders how eco-friendly we are) and talked to people all across the country. We were involved in a video project which opened up avenues of conversation about books and publishing. We have taken many such trips over a number of years. Our findings are anecdotal but consistent over time.