The Book Is Dead--For Good Environmental Reasons
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We found people had wonderful recollections of reading when children. Adults who do read, don’t read as much as they would like to. Though, they read to children and grandchildren and make time for that. They weren’t concerned about the death of the bound book. They were much more concerned whether their part of the country would survive. On two levels, these worries had to do with the environmental degradation of the area from industries that had disappeared. Or from the environmental damage of the changing weather patterns that affected their crops or other businesses. The fact that all of these concerns could be linked to how books were produced led us to some extremely interesting conversations about the real future of books in this country.
The drought stricken Midwest was filled with millions of acres of withered, brown corn stalks. Temperatures were at 108 degrees when we camped in Nebraska. By the time we got to the desert, the temperatures were even higher, 115 degrees in Las Vegas. By the time we were camping on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the monsoon season had begun. The new growth brought about by the water was such a relief from the parched earth we had been driving through, particularly the desert areas between Las Vegas and Reno. The smell of sagebrush and pine hit us like a perfume we could never forget.
Watching the dependence of the desert on that minimal amount of rain water at one particular time of year, it became a metaphor for what can be done in the publishing business that sees peaks and valleys in its own sales based on other forms of consumer weather.
Right now, the publishing business is dependent on resources from the planet and some are renewable and some aren’t. Electricity in particular is what we all rely on to keep the websites up and humming. In the e-book business, this is our main drain on the planet.
It is possible to keep that energy drain to a minimum by using web design firms that are powered by wind or solar. And to also have the website powered by wind-powered hosting companies. This decision is easy to make once a company knows it has that option.
Small companies like mine, Sullivan Street Press, can reap enormous benefits from using renewable energy to run their companies. Not surprisingly, when the energy to produce the books is low, it contributes to the general lower costs of e-books throughout the life cycle of the digitized format. As we know, it is much easier and cheaper to update and/or revise an e-book than a bound book. With no inventory to keep track of, only sales, the accounting costs are also signficantly reduced. Keeping track of sales is also less costly. For those companies such as ours that don’t use third parties to sell e-books, the cost of doing business is lower and the eventual return on investment is thus higher.
A vibrant publishing culture is essential to a vibrant democracy. Using less financially risky ways to run e-book publishing companies, smaller companies will better weather the other aspects of publishing that aren’t as clear cut as where to get the necessary renewal energy from.
The older publishing model has put too many good companies out of business. The mergers of many of the older companies so that only six major publishing houses remain also speaks to a model that may have lost its vigor and ability to survive the changes in global climate as well as dwindling natural resources. Not unlike all the administrative costs endemic to our health insurance system, the accounting practices necessary to keeping these enormous institution afloat eats up far too much human capital that in turn uses up too much of our dwindling natural resources. How much longer this type of old form publishing can be maintained is a question left for others to ponder. The better question is why are we waiting for it to die? Why aren’t we actively pursuing the means of production now that will help it to die a dignified death?