London Book Fair’s Sustainability Lounge

From Publishing Perspectives:

The timing of London Book Fair’s new Sustainability Lounge program is significant.

Rachel Martin, the global director of sustainability at Amsterdam’s Elsevier, says that the arrival of the United Nations’ latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has raised the alarm to its necessary pitch.

“We are not on track to limit warming to 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) or even 2.0 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit),” the report tells us.

The message has become inescapable: The level of urgency has soared in these years since the 2018 advent of these UN reports. One conclusion is unmistakable in the panel’s new Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023: Time is running out faster than we thought it was.

‘We Need the Poetry and Fiction and Children’s Books’

If there’s anyone in book publishing who’s becoming the international go-to personality for the climate crisis for the book business, it’s Martin at the publishing giant Elsevier—like London Book Fair, a RELX company.

Martin and her Elsevier colleague Michiel Kolman have worked with London Book Fair director Gareth Rapley and his associates to develop the Sustainability Lounge. And in an interview with Publishing Perspectives, it becomes evident that Martin has two assignments for the international publishing business.

  • Obviously, publishing must adopt climate-crisis responses in carefully worked out plans to ensure the industry lowering emissions in its own operations, from acqusitions through distribution and sales.
  • But maybe not as obviously, publishing also needs to produce the content necessary to capture, inspire, and guide the world’s attention to the racing rise of an existential threat.

“We need the poetry and fiction and the children’s books and the stories and the different perspectives around this,” Martin says, “in order to get people to understand there is a better future out there—because there has to be a better future out there.

“And so we do need publishers to be catalysts of action, we need them to be publishing on topics like what does 2030 look like? We need them to be talking about self-help, and how do you become a change-agent in your own organization?”

. . . .

The IPA also has led the way in three critical publishing responses to the crisis:

  • The SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Book Club
  • The fast-growing SDG Publishers Compact, now with some 300 signatories
  • With the Federation of European Publishers, the Publishing 2030 Accelerator, a project to develop systemic industry response to the pressures of climate change

. . . .

But the Sustainability Lounge at London Book Fair has the distinction of being a stage devoted all week to the question of the climate emergency, with bespoke programming throughout the run of the trade show.

. . . .

Martin—a vivacious conversationalist, full of humor and enthusiasm for her specialization—is crystal clear on what’s needed from publishing: both those best practices in sustainability but also “a vision of what we’re working toward, so people feel like they’re headed for a better life. They need to be inspired.”

This executive at one of the very biggest academic houses in the world says with a smile, “Academic publishers are very good at putting out the science, right? But we need to use every lever at our control. Every inspirational, motivational idea of cultural power to push us over a little hump when we’re not quite sure if we want to go down a path” required to ease the warming crisis.

For that, she’s turning to the trade: The role for carbon-footprint reduction is urgent–and so is the call for climate-relative literature.

. . . .

Martin tells Publishing Perspectives that she’s calculated the carbon footprint on the Elsevier stand. “And what are some of the lessons learned,” she asks rhetorically, “in terms of carbon emissions at book fairs? We’re thinking about something a bit like the ‘carbon label,’” she says, “something that RX and London Book Fair might give their exhibitors to calculate their own stands’ carbon footprints” in the future.

Rachel Martin stops herself in mid-conversation, thinks about it. Then she decides to go ahead: “Okay, what we found out—spoiler alert—is that it’s more about who is on your stand than it is about some of the materials on your stand.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG will welcome the reactions of visitors to TPV, but for him, the scent of virtue-signalling is strong in the OP.

He wonders if a consistent push to reduce the number of physical books published by these enormous companies each year and a rapid transition to electronic-only publishing wouldn’t do more good than having a sustainability display at a physical conference that involves hundreds of book people flying from all over the world, more than a few on corporate jets.

PG suggests allowing a great many of the trees that are pulped for paper books each year to continue to live by absorbing lots and lots of carbon dioxide might be a more significant contribution to diminishing global warming. Think of the amount of pollution the trucks, ships and planes involved in moving physical books and their components around spew into the air each day?

PG is not an expert on global warming, climate science, etc. However, he has seen enough virtue-signaling over the years of his adulthood to recognize the difference between saying the right things and doing the right things.

But as always, PG could be wrong.

11 thoughts on “London Book Fair’s Sustainability Lounge”

  1. And so we do need publishers to be catalysts of action, we need them to be publishing on topics like what does 2030 look like?

    Great. What does 2030 look like? We have already heard about what 2000, 2010, and 2020 will look like, and the forecasts have been a bust. Publishers did their part. Let’s hear about 2030.

    • Do you really want that?
      Be careful what you ask for.
      Hint: 2030 won’t be pretty.
      Not for self-important publishers, not for anybody.
      The little stuff is TBD but the big, global stuff is hardwired for all to see.

      You don’t need a crystal ball to read maps and demographic pyramids and the three main paths of the next decade.

      • Sure. I want to hear about no more snow, eternal California drought, the Sunken City of Miami, new dust bowl… all by 2030. We were promised these in past forecasts.

        • Well none of those on the agenda, sorry to say.
          The fear mongering was looking in the wrong ditection. What is reslly coming is already here.

          So no oracle is needed because as Mulder would say: “The signs are out there.” Easy to read if one knows a bit of economics and demographics. Plenty of story fodder if nothing else.

          The signs say no utopia nor outright dystopia is coming but lots of crises are headed our way: internal strife and external wars, multiple economies at or near collapse, governments falling, and more wars. 50-50 odds each. (Business as usual, really.)

          Just be happy if you aren’t in eurasia. Putin set the dominoes falling and the reactions are going to be felt from Portugal to Vietnam.

          The three main geopolitical roads involve tbe failure of (in order of likelihood) Russia, China, the EU. In the aftermath, the new regional powers will be Türkiye, Poland, France, and a Nordic Alliance. (Not exactly going out on a limb, right?) Look up the demographic pyramids of the players.

          Which of the three regimes collapses first varies.
          As of 2010, the EU was in the lead. As of 2021, China. But now the odds point to Russia if they don’t figure out a graceful exit from Putin’s Folly. If they don’t, the final collapse of their Empire will give China an extra decade of life. Not tat they’ll enjoy a balcanized failed state next door. They might outlast the EU a bit. Of course, the Uncrowned Emperor might go all Putin on Taiwan to add to the fun and games.

          Closer to home, Greenvana looks to die aborning in scandal as the numbers make themselves felt. Too much too fast always leads to crashes.

          The pacific trade war will almost certainly be matched by an atlantic twin as the US continues its shift to isolationism and plays by euro industrial policy rules. Exactly how it plays out will depend on how long the gerontocracy hangs on. But the gravestone to globalism will reference the IRA OF 2022. The last drop.

          If the world doesn’t blow up by 2029, it might in august when the NASA PSYCHE probe arrives at the asteroid. What it reports will define the 30’s.

          One thing that won’t factor anywhere is GPT software.
          There will be bigger, real messes to fret over.

          We’ll likely muddle through, somehow, but it won’t be pretty. It never is.

  2. These people are the furthest (literate) entities from the scientific method and statistics — they fled those subjects in seeking their current careers.

    So, let’s (by all means) take their panic and advice on any topic whatsoever.

  3. To save an enormous amount of resources, the big publishers would have had to EMBRACE ebooks – and learned to only accept work submitted to them electronically.

    Instead, the ebooks are priced ridiculously high. Way out of proportion to their actual cost of production. To keep up the old way of destroying trees and moving physical objects around at great cost.

    And the publishers won’t do proper rejections by email, quickly, and without paying for postage.

    They made (like the Chinese with their one-child policy) a huge investment in hardcover books – and no one in charge dared change the direction one whit – and now they complain about the natural consequences of their actions. You can’t help these people.

    • If publishers went all in with eBooks, what is their competitive advantage? For a few hundred years, that advantage was the production, distribution, and sales of paper volumes. They did that better than anyone else.

      If their offerings are dominated by eBooks, what is their competitive advantage? What would they do better than anyone else.

      • That is 19th century, steady state universe thinking. “Tomorrow will be the same as yesterday. What was good enough for granpappy… They do today as they did 20 years ago and preside over an industry segment that performs like it did 20 years ago. That is , *stagnant*.

        What could they do different?
        Well, for starters, they could look to the other content publishing industries: audio, video, gaming, software. They compete just fine with each other and, yes, independents, on tbe basis of finances, marketing, market research, creator support, leveraging new technologies, understanding the audiences for the various genres and niches and how to maximize returns for each one. Each industry is slightly different but they watch and study each other and learn and adjust.

        Brandon Sanderson’s recent self publishing venture is one example: as he pointed out, the game industry practices simultaneous releases in multiple formats ranging from the basic game alone to various combinations of added value and even bundled “season passes”, prepaid add-in downloable game extensions that are released months later. He used crowd funding to presell various premium editions of his upcoming books and raked in millions of dollars from those editions months before the first even hit retail.

        The video industry also practices simultaneous multiple format releases: standard, 3D, IMAX, and most recently Dolby. The premium versions cost more of course. That industry has also explored day and date digital home viewing at different price points, both sales and rentals, and different release windows for different movies. Universal has a strategy of releasing a movie to digital depending on the genre, budget, and returns. A blockbuster might take six to eight weeks to go to digital sales, another to weeks to digital rentals or streaming subscription for “free” all in order to maximize returns. Their most recent trick came with the suspense/horror/semi-funny M3GAN about a kid’s robot doll/companion. When the studio execs saw the R-rated (expected of the genre) finished product they realized the story had broader appeal beyond the horror niche and tweaked out the expected gore to get a PG-13 rating. It worked and they recovered their full investment, including marketing in the first weekend and tripled it in less tan two weeks. At whick point they released the original R-rated version for digital sale while it was still in theaters and two weeks after that they had both versions on the PEACOCK premium streaming service. Naturally, a sequel is forthcoming.

        Instead of lazy one size fits all strategies, the other industries routinely create a different campaign for each release depending on the content and its target audience. They market with teaser trailers, alternate reality games, prequel novels or comics series, collectibles and toys, as apropriate.

        Some actors build their own personal promotion online channels with regular videos or blog posts. The most creative being Ryan Reynolds who has an ongoing prank video “feud” with Hugh Jackman and teasing tweats with his actress wife. All clever, amusing, and effective in maintaining awareness of their brands between movies.

        Trapub does none of the above. Not for the authors or even their brands and reap the results of such inaction. As they saying goes, “If you keep on doing what you always did, you’ll keep on getting what you always got.”

        Again: stagnation.

        But the days of books being the only form of mass entertinment and story telling are long gone. The mythologies of the modern era live in game and video, often both at once.

        Books are at best a niche making pennies compared to the returns on games and video.

        Do nothing, get nothing.

      • Coordinating all the other bits of publishing a book–editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, etc.

        Of course, that’s not enough for them to maintain their position or to justify the amount of money they take from sales, so it would require a rethinking of publishing’s entire business culture, from how authors are treated to whether they should still have everyone working in Manhattan, so it’s not going to happen.

  4. Twenty thousand years ago there was ice in New York that had been there for 100,000 years. It was not the first or second or third ice sheet of the last million years. We are not at a tipping point that will bring destructive warmth. We aren’t even headed back into an ice age before 2030.
    Three and a half million years ago the Panamanian link between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans closed and we entered this current phase of snowball earth. It will not stop because of carbon dioxide.
    I just have to say this once in a while.

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