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Self-publishing News: Could Carbon Labels Be Coming To Books?

Self-publishing News: Could Carbon Labels Be Coming to Books?

In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway takes a look at whether books might come with labels listing their carbon footprint and the continued growth of audio.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi's News Editor Dan Holloway

Do tune in and listen to the latest Self-publishing News podcast, just out. Howard and I have been talking about the German study of young people's reading habits. We had a particularly interesting time thinking about what the increasing clamp down on TikTok in the US meant for social media's reading culture and fiction-centred aesthetic groups (of special note because of the platform's prevalence in driving reading in Germany).

Will books soon come with a carbon content note?

I’ve run several stories about how the publishing industry is coming to grips with its environmental impact in recent years. This year’s London Book Fair centred a “Sustainability Lounge” for the first time. And just in the last few weeks, I noted the looming paper shortage that threatens the strength of paper book sales. 

This week sees an interesting proposal from Elsevier’s Rachel Martin. Props to Porter at Publishing Perspectives for the great coverage. Martin suggests that within five years, books might come with labels displaying their carbon footprint. Labels on books are a historically controversial topic, of course. But this suggestion is an interesting technical challenge as well. It would involve calculating a lot of variables in the supply chain. Including imponderables, such as the number of return copies in the current print run, which as imponderables go, is a heavily imponderable one. 

Martin gives some interesting figures. A print book has a carbon cost of one to four kilograms, she says. In the context of an annual personal carbon consumption of around 10 tons, that’s not an inconsiderable amount for those of us who read a lot. But it’s also a very wide range. Which shows how much scope there might be for doing things better as an industry. 

There also remain numerous variables that feel like they are further from our grasp but just as important. Such as the real carbon cost of digital reading (where reading on resource-intensive or disposable devices may be a hidden equivalent of print’s returns issue). Or the cost of streaming vs downloads. Or the carbon cost of the servers that have gone to training the data-hungry AIs that then narrate audiobooks. Martin is right that consumers may soon demand this information. Whether we are in a position to provide it meaningfully on the same timescale feels more moot.

Will Google’s AI Create Traffic Free Zones? 

Moving from one putative apocalypse (climate disaster) to another (AI disaster). I came across a fascinating piece this week that raises some really important issues about the impact of AI for writers. The suggestion the author makes is that it might be web-based content creators who could be among the biggest financial losers in the current phase of innovation. That current phase includes Google’s new suite of search tools. It will provide searchers with incredibly detailed and well-researched answers. And it will do so without the need for people to click through to the source material. It might still cite the sources. But people will not need to click them for the full picture.

Which is a problem for writers who make money from people visiting their site. That would include anyone who makes money from ad revenue. And for those of us who then sell direct from our website, it will mean a loss of footfall.

Those of you with a keen memory and as much of a passion for IP legislation as I have will remember the European Union’s controversial “link tax.” This required anyone who posted snippets from elsewhere on the internet to pay for having done so. It was a bid to compensate creators for revenue lost because people would no longer have to click through to someone’s site to read what was there. At the time, it was a very controversial move. People feared what the impact might be for sites that aggregated content or quoted articles. But it might just prove to be an incredibly prescient framework for helping tackle this impending crisis.

One consequence of this new technology could be the increase of paywalled content. If AI search scrapes content from what is freely available on the web, it may be the only way to create value from one’s words is to put them behind a paywall. This will obviously restrict the ways in which one can reach an audience. And improved search results will mean fewer people seeing the need to go beyond Google. But interestingly, the point of differentiation for paid content will be clearer. There is a very simple message we can sell to our subscribers. Pay and you will get what AI doesn’t see. Paid subscription is gathering steam in many areas. This may accelerate it further for those of us who write what we hope is valuable non fiction content.

Report Show Audiobook Market Still Growing But Differ on Incomplete Details

If that’s enough new-fangledness and doom for you, fear not. Here’s some comfortingly familiar good news. The Audio Publishers Association’s latest report suggests the audiobook market grew by more than 10% for an 11th year, with revenue in the format hitting an estimated $1.8bn in the US in 2022.

This contrasts with the American Association of Publishers’ latest Statshot report, which has the digital audiobook market at 10.4% of a $28bn total book market. This report rates that as just a 2.6% rise. But that puts it within touching distance of the 10.8% that digital ebooks occupy. And contrasts with ebooks’ 8.5% decline.

Of course, readers who’ve spent any time at all in these parts will know that these figures are all incredibly problematic as they fail to account for a huge number of indie sales. That is one reason why ALLi launched its Indie Author Income Survey.

“Our SelfPub3 Campaign is all about authors making a living, and part of that mindset for any author is to keep an eye on market data to help them make good business decisions. So this update on audiobooks reminds us to ensure we have our works available in as many formats as possible, because clearly there's a constant and growing interest in audiobooks, even though we know indie sales are often missing from the mix. And our Indie Author Income Survey is about to make even more analysis public and be included in the Big Indie Author Data Drop (BIADD) in just a couple of weeks' time, launching at the Self-Publishing Live show in London. The BIADD report will include data from many industry sources to give real insights into what's happening in indie publishing. Watch this space!” Melissa Addey, ALLi's Campaigns Manager

Could carbon labelling be coming to print books, and other top #selfpub news stories for #indieauthors, in one quick read, by #ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway @agnieszkasshoes #digitaleconomy #publishingopenup Click To Tweet

Author: Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40


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