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Update: To view the complete Twitter transcript from the January 22, 2010 #FollowReader TwitChat on Sustainability in Publishing, just click here.

While the focus of the book industry, the media, and the book blogosphere for practically the last year has been decidedly digital, there are some pretty important but overlooked issues that are well-deserving of some air time/print space/ web real estate. Perhaps one of the most important of these issues is the environmental impact of the book industry, and what some folks are doing to lessen that impact and make publishing more environmentally sustainable.

In an effort to help bring some awareness to the issue, #FollowReader today will be devoted to the challenges of publishing in an environmentally sustainable way. Here are just a few facts (courtesy of Green Press Initiative) for your consideration:

  • The U.S. book industry uses approximately 30 million trees every year. Many of these trees are from old growth and endangered forests.
  • The paper industry is the fourth largest industrial source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Books and newspapers release greenhouse gases thought their lifecycles, with paper using almost half of all industrial wood harvested and contributing to almost 25% of landfill waste.
  • Globally, scientists estimate that deforestation is responsible for 25% of human caused greenhouse gases.
  • When trees are cut to make paper, they cease to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. In addition, greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere when either unused plant material decays or is burned for energy at the mill.
  • As a result of these emissions and those associated with soil disturbances at the site of harvest, it can take up to 25 years for a newly planted forest to stop being a net emitter of greenhouse gases and hundreds of years before it stores the same amount of carbon as an undisturbed forest.

What’s more – publishing with recycled paper is not entirely eco-friendly in and of itself, and publishers (and readers) have to consider the long-term impact of using recycled paper in their printed books. Many recycled papers break down quickly and find their way to landfills sooner than higher quality papers. [Note from Kat: turns out I was not exactly right about this – different types of recycled paper have different durability. See my comment below].

Think ebooks are the eco-answer? Think again – the production of digital devices, batteries, and the energy required to power “the cloud” – those all have an impact on the environment.

So, what IS the answer, or ANSWERS? What can YOU, as a reader do to make a positive impact on sustainability in publishing?

Well, we’ll begin to explore those questions today on #FollowReader with some very knowledgeable guests:

Melissa Klug (@PermanentPaper)

Joining us from Glatfelter Paper, will be Melissa Klug (@permanentpaper), Glatfelter’s Director of Marketing, Printing & Carbonless Papers Division. Glatfelter has been involved in the manufacture of paper products for books since the late 19th century. Today, they work with most major publishers, including Random House, Simon & Schuster and Penguin, along with many other publishing companies, to supply paper for primarily hardcover trade books, but also many of the higher-end paperback book segments.

Environmental responsibility is a hallmark of Glatfelter, and all of their products are available with chain-of-custody forest certifications. Their paper mills utilize biomass from waste products of trees for system-wide energy as well. In addition to her marketing duties, Melissa is also responsible for Glatfelter’s Permanence Matters initiative, which is designed to educate and activate the literary community to actively and consciously choose higher-quality, long-lasting paper for books.

Melissa Brumer (@ooliganpress)

We are incredibly impressed by Portland State University’s student-run Ooligan Press, whose OpenBook Series is being produced as sustainably as possible – with a focus on paper and ink sources, design strategies, efficient and safe manufacturing methods, innovating printing technologies, support of local and regional companies, and corporate responsibility of their contractors. As such, we are delighted to have the pleasure of not one, not two, but THREE really smart Ooligan women joining us:

Melissa Brumer (@ooliganpress) and Janine Eckhart (@JanineEckhart), are founding managers of Ooligan Press’ Sustainable Publishing Initiative at Portland State University and co-authors of the book Rethinking Paper and Ink, an investigation of the sustainability in the publishing industry.

Also joining us from Ooligan – Natalie Guidry (@ooliganSPI) who manages Ooligan’s sustainability group this term and is currently managing the production of the second edition of the incredibly information-filled (and free as downloadable PDF!) book, Rethinking Paper and Ink.

(an aside: I think I really love the word Ooligan)

Kelly Spitzner (@green_press)

Joining us from Green Press Initiative will be Kelly Spitzner (@green_press), GPI’s Communications Coordinator. Kelly works to increase issue and program visibility in the mainstream/trade presses. She’s also working to increase accessibility and support to the industry and advocates through social media. Kelly got her start in the exciting world of publishing at a small company creating fresh resources for kids, teachers and families—positive hip hop anyone? And, she most recently worked on the 2008 Presidential Election, which brought her all over of the country, educating and organizing voters around environmental issues, among other things.

Green Press Initiative is committed to advancing sustainable patterns of production and consumption within the U.S. book and newspaper industries and within the paper industry at large. GPI also advances policy innovations related to paper and climate change and recycling and incubates pioneering new strategies for market transformation.

Green Press Initiative’s work has helped to bring about a six fold increase in recycled fiber use in the U.S. book industry—that’s a reduction of over 1.4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 3 million trees per year!

Nick Rufillo (@BookSwim)

And last, but certainly not least – we will be joined by Nick Ruffilo (@bookswim) from BookSwim.com – an online book rental company that rents books the way Netflix rents movies.

An internet Entrepreneur since the tender age of 14, Nick is currently BookSwim’s Chief Technical Officer and resident wunderkind. And, Nick is not JUST a techie – he has some literary blood in him as well: Nick is co-author and founder of the webcomic/comic book ‘Amazing Super Zeroes, and his favorite book is Jorges Borges’ Labyrinths.

Quite the lineup, eh? So – get your questions ready!

To start things out, I’ll be asking our panel a few questions of my own, including:

  • How do we define sustainable publishing?
  • What are the biggest polluters/environmental issues in publishing?
  • What publishers are doing a good job/making advances toward sustainable publishing practices?What other industry players are doing a good job (booksellers, printers, paper manufacturers, digital device makers, etc.?)
  • Is e- really more environmentally friendly than paper and ink?What are some of the biggest misconceptions about sustainability as it relates to the publishing industry? What are some of the environmental costs of digital publishing?
  • What can readers do to help shape the way the industry approaches sustainable practices?

Please make a point to follow our guests on Twitter:

Melissa Klug (@permanentpaper)
Melissa Brumer (@ooliganpress)
Janine Eckhart (@JanineEckhart)
Natalie Guidry (@ooliganSPI)
Kelly Spitzner (@green_press)
Nick Ruffilo (@bookswim)

The fun begins at 4pm ET (or 1pm PST).To join the #followreader Twitter conversation today, here’s what to do:

1. 10 minutes or so before 4pm ET, log in to Twitter or whatever interface you use (we recommend Tweetchat.com).

2. To follow the discussion, run a search for #followreader.

3. I’ll announce about 10 minutes ahead of time that we’re going to begin. And I’ll introduce the guests.

4. I’ll start by posting a question.

5. To post to the discussion, make sure that the hashtag #followreader is in each tweet.

NOTE: TweetChat.com refreshes quickly and automatically loads your hashtag when you are in the discussion.

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pretty book

Paper?

Is it just me, or have you noticed that there are some bookish types who like to pit electronic against paper as if it’s an either/or proposition? And have you also noticed that more often than not, discussions about utilizing new publishing technologies, quickly become polarizing arguments where one must supposedly choose: paper or plastic? Consider, for example, the Green Apple Bookstore videos poking fun at the Kindle — funny? Yes. silly? Yes. But, many a truth is said in jest, and a lot of people seem to think digital means the demise of the paper book.

I just want to say, for the record that: e- does not stand for “evil.”

Nor does it stand for “enemy.”

For anyone intent on finding enemies of the book, they need look no further than the traditional publishing model which goes something like this: Over-saturate market with hundreds of thousands of titles printed in paper, a few of which will be blockbusters, the rest of which will be returned to publishers. Repeat (until the money runs out).

You know that place where there are lots and lots of unsold, unread paper books, and lots and lots of out-of-work book industry folks? We’re so there.

ereader

or Plastic?

So, why demonize digital when digital appears to be a really viable part of the solution? And why suggest that any one format will ever be the solution? The way I see it, the only real solution is to have many solutions all working simultaneously to make available a diversity of content, a diversity of distribution alternatives, a diversity of formats and pricing, and even a diversity of features. Oh, and paper books are a part of this many-solution solution.

This same many-solution solution is a solution where publishers print POD if conditions call for it; gigantic print runs should that make sense; and lovely gorgeous full color hardbound books with gilded edges if that’s what the market demands — Yup, all of these options are part of the solution.

Paper is fabulous. Lots of people love it. Some swear by it. Heck, some of my best friends even sell paper (@permanentpaper).

Other readers love reading on plastic, and will have it no other way. Though, even they can not agree with one another on the best format or delivery mechanism for their electronic literature.

Many of us like to read different ways at different times. Sometimes we find it most pleasurable to read paper books– all manner of paper books: board books, pop-up books, mass market, hard cover, picture books, trade paper, (why, I’ve been known to read cereal boxes and I don’t see those going e- any time soon) — and sometimes we like to read ebooks – we will read them in a car, we will read them at the bar. We will read them on a Kindle, on a nook, on our computers, on our iphones, on our Play Stations — no doubt someone somewhere right this second is reading an ebook on their television.

And that’s okay. You see, one need not eschew the hand bound letter press book in order to enjoy a digitally delivered novella via their iphone. Theoretically, we can have it all.

Consider Follow the Reader’s sponsor, NetGalley. NetGalley allows professional readers and industry folks to read the book in digital form, prior to its paper debut, thus saving the costs – both financial and envirornmental, that would otherwise be spent on printed ARCs, galleys, and BLADs. For those reviewers who prefer the printed version of an ARC, publishers can offer that via NetGalley,  as well. In this case, the e-option can work beautifully alongside the printed paper book. Everyone goes home a winner. And that’s just one example where a digital version of a book is not necessarily a substitute for a finished paper book, but offers an alternative solution for the reader’s specific needs or preferences.

So, stop worrying about the death of paper books. Digital doesn’t mean the end of paper. It just means more opportunities for more readers to read “books” in the ways that are best suited to them.  And, by the way, I know I’m far from alone in believing the form of a book should fit its purpose and/or a reader’s preferences, and that there’s room for all kinds of books to live together peacefully.

Because, a book by any other name is just as sweet.

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