Sustainability has become a hot topic in publishing in the last few years. It’s not surprising. As industry practices go, the life cycle of the book has a pretty eye-watering impact. From the deforestation and water usage of paper mills to the outsourcing of printing to presses thousands of miles from warehousing or retail, to the production of single purpose electronic devices, our industry is coming to grips with a lifetime of bad habits. And today I look at developments in sustainable print on demand.
The Society of Authors launched its Tree to Me campaign encouraging authors to ask searching questions of their publishers and suppliers. And the publishing industry has responded with various initiatives such as the cross-organisation Sustainability in Publishing Taskforce. Individual firms also have sustainability policies, such as this from Penguin Random House.
But everything else the book industry does pales in comparison to the practice of returns. The overprinting, returning, and pulping of millions of books annually adds damaging impact at every stage of the process.
For some time, I have been reporting on the difference that print on demand can make to this impact. It’s not just the fact that there are no returns. It’s the way that books can be printed closer to their end consumer…..
Of course, this comes at a cost. Print on demand with its print runs starting at a single copy is far more expensive than the mass outsourced mass print run. This is something those of us know who have winced at the profit we are left with after trying to accommodate bookseller discounts for print copies. As the industry and governments become more concerned with squeezing every last ounce of carbon from their systems in the chase to meet targets, inevitably regulation and taxation will lower these differentials. But another thing that will help is more widespread adoption.
Mensch switch to sustainable print on demand
In the past week, we have seen another step towards that wide adoption process. Mensch Publishing has announced that it will be moving to a print on demand only model. They will be using Ingram’s print on demand facilities to fulfil their orders. Mensch are a small publisher in the scale of things, but this seems to be a step in the right direction. I'll be monitoring how this new model pans out, and whether any other publisher follows their lead. Of course I'll keep ALLi followers updated.