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


The level of waste our book supply chain produces each year is environmentally harmful and inefficient. Some readers have embraced the convenience of e-books, but the majority of readers still prefer the familiar feel of a paperback or hardcover book in their hands. There’s just something comforting about the smell of paper and turning the physical pages of a book rather than staring at another screen.

What if we could apply digital technology to the tangible aspects of a book? What if we could satisfy 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 costly 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 “consigned”.
    The publishing industry uses approximately 32 million trees print books every year. And one of the most costly and inconvenient practices in publishing is an outdated return policy that not only wastes natural resources, but affects the profits of publishers and authors. About 25% of the books are returned to publishers annually for a full refund. So, in essence, we’re printing far more books than we need, and that’s depleting our natural resources.
    Not only is the practice of returnable books terrible for the environment, but it also hurts the publisher’s bottom line. This has a ripple effect on what they are able to pay authors in advances and royalties. While even deep-pocketed enterprise publishers struggle to sustain these losses, it can be devastating for an independent publisher.
  2. Increase digitization of books.
    Many publishers already use a digitization method where authors and publishers can provide a link to the digital files of their paperbacks and hardcover books on the e-commerce sites of various booksellers. When a customer buys a book on this site, the order is sent to a digital printing partner who prints 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 costly book returns. Unlike Amazon titles that are still considered by many to be vanity editions and only available on one site, Ingram’s catalog of books is trusted and accepted by mainstream retailers around the world.

  3. Embrace Espresso Book Machines (EBM)
    But what if there was an even better way to buy books from your local bookstore while eliminating shipping costs and supporting local? There are already some.

    An EBM is a machine that allows any business with a dedicated internet connection and a 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 before 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. In the absence of shipping or returns, EBM matches supply to demand.

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

Written by Kim Staflund.

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