Reedsy's Guide to Sustainable Publishing
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One solution to publishing’s paper problem is simple: ebooks. Making your book available on digital platforms such as Amazon’s KDP immediately cuts out the issue of paper creation and paper waste. Readers can have thousands of books at their fingertips without having to worry about how to dispose of those books afterward. Plus, without the need to ship books from the press to the warehouse, and from the warehouse to the stores (and, in the case where copies are returned, back from the stores to a pulping facility), you can drastically reduce your book's footprint.
One quick way to determine if sustainability is on a publisher’s mind is to look at their website and see if they discuss any environmental policies. Many of the Big 5 publishing houses and their imprints are undertaking environmental commitments, such as Penguin Random House’s commitment to reach climate neutrality by 2030 and their use of 100% sustainably sourced paper , and you can find these listed on their website. A publisher advertising a focus on sustainability is a good sign that they are aware of the issues at hand.
Several big and small factors contribute to the ecological footprint of the book publishing industry, and it can feel overwhelming to look at on a large scale.
While the production of paper for book printing has significant environmental implications, several other factors within the supply chain can increase the environmental toll of getting a book into the consumer's hands.
Environmentally-minded authors should also factor sustainability into who they choose to work with. A company’s commitment to good environmental practices can definitely be borne in mind when you’re deciding who to work with, and how to work with them.
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If you want to make your book available in physical form, you can do a couple of things to mitigate the impact. As discussed earlier, big print runs are a major problem from an environmental standpoint. While indie authors are unlikely to print as many initial copies of a book as a traditional publisher would, minimizing the risk for major surplus, bear in mind that every little bit helps in terms of waste reduction.
One massive concern within the traditional publishing industry is the overproduction of certain titles, leading to waste. Large publishers have the budget to create high-volume initial print runs of their titles if they want to. Whilst this can be good for consumers as it makes it easier for readers to get their hands on a copy straight away after a release, this tactic is also a calculated risk that doesn’t always pay off.
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