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The Current Book Publishing Model is Bad For Our Planet. Here’s What We Can Do Instead.

The level of waste our book supply chain produces each year is environmentally unfriendly and inefficient to a fault. Some readers have embraced the convenience of ebooks, but the majority of readers still prefer the familiar feel of a paperback or hardcover book in their hands. There is just something comforting about the smell of the paper and turning the actual physical pages of a book versus staring at yet another screen. 

But what if we could apply digital technology with the tangible aspects of a book? What if we could satisfy the needs of those who prefer the accessibility of an ereader AND those who prefer hard copies of books? What if this could be done while reducing waste, saving money, eliminating costly shipping fees, supporting your local economy, and selling books worldwide? It is possible, and the solution already exists. 

Here are 3 ways the publishing industry can change:

  1. Stop Marking Books as “Returnable.”
    The publishing industry uses about 32 million trees to print books each year. And one of the most costly and troublesome practices in publishing is an outdated return policy that doesn’t just use up natural resources unnecessarily but affects profits for both publishers and authors. An estimated 25% of books are returned to publishers each year for a full refund. So, in essence, we’re printing many more books than we need, and this is a drain on our natural resources.

    Not only is the practice of returnable books terrible for the environment, but it hurts the publisher’s bottomline as well. This has a trickle-down effect on what they are able to pay authors in advances and royalties. While even corporate publishers with deep pockets struggle to maintain these losses, it can be devastating for an Indie publisher.

  2. Increase the Digitization of Books.
    Many publishers already use a digitization method where authors and publishers can provide a link to the digital files of their paperbacks and hardcover books on various booksellers’ e-commerce sites. When a customer purchases a book through that site, the order goes to a digital print partner who then prints and ships the book to them.

    This print-on-demand technology is offered by Ingram Content Group and is already being used by Indie publishers to gain access to selling their books in traditional retail environments without the risk of costly book returns. Unlike Amazon titles that are still dismissed by many as “vanity publishing” and are only available on one site, Ingram’s book catalog is acknowledged and accepted by traditional retailers around the world.

  3. Embrace Espresso Book Machines (EBMs)
    But what if there was an even better way to buy books inside one’s local bookstore while eliminating shipping costs and supporting local? There already is.

    An EBM is a machine that allows any business with a dedicated Internet connection and a 10×15 ft. space to become a bookseller of both local and international paperbacks. Millions of different titles in a variety of languages are available and can be printed and bound, right before your eyes, in a matter of minutes. EBMs can also track payments to publishers and content owners and use the highest encryption standards to ensure data safety and integrity. Books are only produced after purchase. With no shipping or returns involved, the EBM matches supply with demand.

How’s that for an eco-friendly, local-supporting all-in-one publishing, printing, distribution, and bookseller POS solution? All it would take for publishers to take advantage of the technology would be to design their books with EBM-friendly dimensions. And, of course, more booksellers need to offer this option in-store.


Written by Kim Staflund.

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Kim Staflund
Kim Staflund is the Publisher at Polished Publishing Group, a hybrid publisher that combines the best aspects of both vanity and trade publishing into a model that can help authors to retain copyright ownership while also producing professional trade-publisher quality books. Kim is also the author of How to Publish a Book in Canada, How to Publish a Bestselling Book, and the recently released book, Supply Chain 20/20: A Clear View on the Local Multiplier Effect for Book Lovers.


Kim Staflund is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.