Of all the arguments in defense of e-publishing, there’s one that’s been tossed about rather flippantly, namely that E-books are eco-friendly. It’s almost always mentioned as an aside, and so I’m not altogether surprised that I’ve only now caught wind of what is a shockingly offensive aspect to ‘traditional publishing.’ What does surprise me, however, is just how well this secret has been kept.
Pulping and Dumpstering
Proving that there’s no shortage of creativity when it comes to coining sterile terminology, the (traditional) publishing industry has come up with the terms pulping and dumpstering to refer to practices that would make Ray Bradbury blush. A staggering forty percent (one of the smaller numbers I’ve read) of all books on the market are returned to publishers. Of those returns, sixty-five to ninety percent are pulped, categorically destroyed with complete disregard for the forests that were sacrificed to create them. Even if they’re recycled, the fact remains that trees were killed without ever serving a greater purpose.
Publishers aren’t the only offenders. Big chain bookstores regularly assist in the paperback book massacre, cutting costs by sending publishers the covers to their unsold products (books cost money to ship), while taking it upon themselves to dumpster the rest. And these are just books. Here’s one eye-opening statistic regarding magazines:
“Almost 3 billion magazines on newsstands are never read – 4.7 billion magazines are delivered to newsstands each year, but about 2.9 billion of these are never purchased. That’s enough magazines to circle the Earth 20 times if placed end to end.” – greenopolis
There are alternatives. Small publishers have been embracing print on demand, independent bookstores have much higher sell-throughs (rates of sale) and enterprise authors are beginning to offer books directly through them. That’s to say nothing of e-publishing, which circumvents the wasteful process altogether.
Many readers are reluctant to convert to e-books simply because they prefer the feel of a classic paper-bound book. They (rightfully) appreciate the effort that goes into crafting a single, tangible product from which knowledge is born and imagination fed. But if the industry doesn’t reciprocate that love and respect, why defend them against a revolution that could save books forever?
You can’t have your cake and eat it too.