Thursday, January 29, 2009

A green comment on the rise of self-publishing

The NYT had an excellent article yesterday about self publishing ("Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab", Motoko Rich), showing that while traditional publishers are struggling with the slowing economy, self-publishing companies are doing very well.

According to the article nearly 480,000 books were published or distributed in the U.S. Alone, up from close to 375,000 in 2007 (figures are from the industry tracker Bowker).

So POD self-publishing companies such as Blurb, Author Solutions, LuLu and others are flourishing, which is great news, but is it also good news for the environment?

Well, the basic answer is that POD is an eco-friendly printing system in comparison with the regular printing system that produce a lot of waste - in 2006 more than 1 billion books, or 25% of the books produced, weren't sold and some of it ends eventually in landfills, not to mention all the wasted resources (as well as costs). When you print on demand, there's no such thing and you always sell what you print.

Self-publishing is a a small niche - according to the article, Author Solutions sold a total of 2.5 million copies last year, which is a fraction of the total number of books sold (around 3 billion books). Still, it's a growing niche (Author Solutions represented according to the article 19,000 titles in 2008, nearly six times more than the number of titles Random House released last year) and a one that will get more and more attention, and therefore we hope to see more and more self-publishers who go green and adopt eco-friendly practices, including greater use of recycled paper.

It's true POD is not for everyone and it also has its disadvantages, but all in all I'm happy to see it growing and I think it benefits the whole industry by making publishing a more open and creative industry. I also hope to POD will contribute to make publishing more eco-friendly.

Raz @ Eco-Libris


Norma said...

I agree with you that POD printing is an eco-friendly way to print books,because only books requested are printed, instead of having excess inventory that doesn't get sold.

However, I also read the NYT article and have several problems with it and with your post.

First, is terminology. The so-called "Self-publishing" companies are really subsidy or vanity presses. The subsidy companies are flourishing; the authors are not.

The average number of books an author would subsidy publishes is a couple dozen. The subsidy publishers are flourishing because they charge the author to publish their books.

The term "self-publishing company" is a made-up term. Self-publishing, by definition, means the author publishes her own book through her own publishing company. In order to do that, the author must own the ISBN number, which is the book's ID.

Now, the self-published author can choose to print offset or by print on demand. (POD.) They go directly to the POD or offset printer.

BTW--traditional publishers are beginning to use POD technology as well.

For a complete article on the differences between traditional, subsidy and self-publishers, read my post from an article originally published in The Independent Publishers Association.

justin locke said...

i had an interesting environmental insight from a local indie bookstore . . . he pointed out that part of the waste of big publishers is in the shipping costs. I print my books in lowell, ma, and pick them up myself (takes a few trips in my honda!). compare that to books printed in asia, shipped to LA, railroaded to NY, trucked to distribution centers in Reno and NJ, remainders shipped back . . . as opposed to truly self published books that make just one trip from the printer then another to the customer.

Anonymous said...

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"The e-mails do nothing to undermine the very strong scientific consensus . . . that tells us the Earth is warming, that warming is largely a result of human activity," Jane Lubchenco, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told a House committee. She said that the e-mails don't cover data from NOAA and NASA, whose independent climate records show dramatic warming.

Bookwhirl said...

Your article is very informative. I learned a lot from your point of view.

Anonymous said...

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