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Book Publishers and Book Lovers Are Destroying the Planet

15 February 2018

From TCK Publishing:

Is your love of books hurting the environment?

Every year we trash more than 16,000 truckloads of books that were never even read once. That’s enough books to fill both the British Library and the Library of Congress twice.

The sad truth is that around 10 million of the trees that are killed to create books die in vain each year, because the books end up getting destroyed instead of being read.

“The book industry is hurting the planet through inefficient manufacturing, distribution, and forecasting,” said Tom Corson-Knowles, CEO of TCK Publishing, an environmentally friendly book publisher based in Indianapolis. “Part of our responsibility as citizens of the planet is to be aware of when things we love might have unintended consequences.”

TCK Publishing is calling on publishers and readers to:

  • Become aware of the detrimental environmental impact books make on the planet
  • Discuss the problem and propose solutions

Book Publishing’s Environmental Problems

The publishing industry hurts the planet in several ways:

  1. When a traditional large book publisher decides to release a book, they estimate about how many copies they’ll sell, and then add a margin of error. Most of the time, though, those tens of thousands of copies don’t all get sold. Books often get left in the publisher’s warehouse without ever being ordered or shipped to customers.
  2. If a bookstore can’t sell its copies, it’s entitled to request a full refund from the publisher. However, shipping books is expensive. So instead of sending the books back, bookstores often rip the covers off and send only those back to the publisher as proof that the book has been taken out of circulation. Those damaged books are often pulped: ground up, mixed with certain chemicals, and recycled into paper for other uses.
  3. The paper recycling process involves a lot of energy (typically generated from coal, natural gas, or other fossil fuel sources) and also a lot of chemicals like bleaches and solvents meant to break the paper down so that it can be cleaned, processed, and made into new products.
  4. Printing books is environmentally expensive. Paper manufacturing is the third-largest user of fossil fuels worldwide, requiring significant amounts of oil and gas at many phases of the process of turning trees into books.

“Is that really how we want to do things?” he said.

Link to the rest at TCK Publishing and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Big Publishing

18 Comments to “Book Publishers and Book Lovers Are Destroying the Planet”

  1. How many electrons were killed in the eBook industry?


  2. This is precisely why I only use free-range, recycled electrons in my ebooks.

  3. Um…print on demand solves that problem…

    Plus, ebooks, obviously.

    • Yeah, POD (or at the very least, smaller print runs and not printing more than they can reliably store for a long period of time) seems like the obvious answer to this. (Aside from digital formats, naturally.) And possibly stopping this silly return policy that’s been going on for so long.

      • Another possible answer: changing the tax law that caused the purging of warehouses to be the most cost-effective option when said law was enacted.

        • Actually, the publishing business quickly found a way around that law: Store printed but unbound books in one part of the warehouse, book covers in another, and bind the books when they are ordered, immediately before shipping. That way, nothing actually sitting in the warehouse counts as a finished product. (It was Tom Doherty of Tor who told me this, a number of years back.)

          They still purge warehouses, but not for tax reasons.

  4. Did you know you shared a press release?

    I mean, it was just a stunt, after all.

    • One of the interesting things about the last couple of years (at least in the US) is that press releases sound more like news stories and vice versa, Nate. I credit the rise of fake news for this phenomenon.

  5. I seriously doubt that manufacture of books is the third largest consumption of fossil fuel on the planet. I don’t doubt that a tremendous number of books are wasted but seems a bit overstated from here.

    • Really only possible (not probably, in my opinion too) if they are including all recycling of paper. The vast majority of it doesn’t go into books, magazines, or newspapers though.

      Thinking about it, newspapers are probably far worse “offenders” here – the ultimate in read some, then throw it away. Or junk mail; I normally have the equivalent of two or three paperbacks of it every week in the recycle bin.

    • Richard Hershberger

      I suspect very carefully definition of categories is required to make paper manufacturing the third largest use of fossil fuels. Pretty much everything about this press release makes me want to see the methodology used.

      • The term “paper” encompasses the semi-processed material used in producing everything from corrugated boxes to tissues. The amount used in producing books, magazines and newspapers is a very small part of it. The press release is very misleading to say the least. While papermaking is a dirty and environmentally hazardous process, the vast majority of paper is used in other things besides books. That said, the way the traditional publishing industry is set up is a small wasteful corner of a huge wasteful industry.

        Paper is easily recyclable. The most shameful thing is how much we put in the trash. Most paper trash could have been recycled. My former employer once produced 100% of its output from recycled fiber. Through mergers it has since acquired plants producing what is known as “virgin” paper, but recycle is still a large part of the business.

  6. All of us Indie Authors are saving the planet.

    One e-book at a time.


  7. Is your love of books hurting the environment?

    Every year we trash more than 16,000 truckloads of books that were never even read once.

    Sounds like carbon sequestering to me.

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