The Lean, Green Future of Publishing

peak oilWe are beginning to discern the scope of the major enivronmental problems facing us.  Global warming, potentially disruptiove energy shortages as we approach peak oil; deforestation; and a host of other critical resource and environmental issues.  All of these are ultimately the result in aggregate of  individual choices and actions made over many years.  Many in the book publishing industry are taking steps now.  The Green Press Initiative (GPI) is one example.  It’s mission, as stated on its website, is:  

 . . . to work with publishers, industry stakeholders and authors to create paper-use transformations that will conserve natural resources and preserve endangered forests. 

So far 154 publishers, printers and mills havve committed to its plan for environmental innovations.  The GPI spring update is an encouraging sign that publishers want to be responsible partners in coping with environmental issues.

As individuals, and companies participating in a global industry, we will need to rethink some long accepted business models and practices if we are to prosper in a sustainable way.   Below are a few thoughts for your consideration about how the traditional publishing model might be reconfigured to be more sustainable. 

Acquisitinos – Publishers will have to be smarter about the titles they select for publication.  Poor decision making around title acquisiton leads to returns, which inevitably lead to the resource wasteful pulping of millinos of books each year.  Better use of publishing analytics can put such judgments on a much sounder footing.

Manufacturing processes -New types of paper, glue and ink that are designed for quick and efficient recylcing will need to be created – ala McDonnough and Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle.   

book warehouseStorage -As publishers well know it costs money to hold unsold inventory.  But it also takes energy.  Environmentally controlled warehouses are big consumers of energy.  As energy becomes more expensive, we will need to consider ways to eliminate inventory altogether and find cost effective ways to print only what we can actually sell. 

Distribution -The cost of shipping books is steadily increasing.  Increasingly, this will argue for keeping books digital until the point of purchase (or as close to that point as we can resonably make it).  With high fuel costs, the advantage will shift away from large centralized distribution centers, to localized printing and distributino.  

Returns -Booksellers need to rethink their buying habits.  With better knowledge of what has sold and improved marketing analytics to show which books have a strong likelihood of selling well, chains and independent bookstores should be able to move away from wasteful buying, high book return rates and the attendant destruction of unsold books.

sunsetWe have talked about some of these changes in other posts,  mostly from the perspective of leveraging new publishing technologies to get improved financial performance.  But there is another perspective we need to consider that will become more urgent in the years ahead.  In a world on the cusp, where we are bedeviled by looming scarcities of fundamental resources and energy, we will need to think carefully about every choice we make.  For the decisons we make today do not represent merely business or financial choices.  They are ethical choices that will affect the future of the generations that follow us.

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