The Post-Paperback Era: How Letting Go Of The Paperback Could Salvage Biodiversity On Earth

Ereader VS Books

Let us begin with an anecdote: young Timothy – who has been gifted a £10 Waterstone’s voucher (again!) by aunt Doris for Christmas – wanders aimlessly through the plethora of literature at his local bookstore. Yes, young Timothy is experiencing the perpetual quest for that perfect read. Oh, the nostalgia! “Do hurry up, Timothy. One has Pilates at five,” shouts Penelope – his mother. Minutes pass; hours even. It’s a futile pursuit, and Timothy departs with nothing. “There was just too much to choose from,” he cries. Quite the paradox. Some may say cliché.

Indeed, we are living in the era of mass consumption; a period of superfluous diversification, and perplexing variety. And yet, even amidst this influx of capital assortment, natural biodiversity is, hitherto, the most diverse paradigm on Earth. Indeed – to quote Rochelle Strauss – ‘If every known species on Earth were a leaf on a tree, this tree of life would have almost 2 million leaves – humans, just one leaf on this tree of life,’ (Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life). De facto, scientists estimate that there are indeed 8.7 million species on Earth. I digress. Candidly speaking: despite representing less than 0.0005% of life on the planet, anthropogenic activity is, quite astonishingly, responsible for 85% of the Earth’s environmental degradation.

Let us give reference to the eco-friendly spectrum. On the barren extremity of this eco-friendly continuum, we have commercial fishing, agriculture and air transportation, which are widely identified as environmentally damaging industries. And the affluent extremity: “The book industry, perhaps?” affirms John Smith. On the contrary, sir! You see, the book industry is guilty of ‘greenwashing’ – an unethical technique that exploits the climate-friendly revolution, through the use of eco-friendly signifiers – a green book cover, perhaps – which, to your average consumer, (quite rightly) signifies an eco-friendly product, or manufacturing process. Quite the fallacy. Do read Greenwash: Big Brands and Carbon Scams (Guy Pearce, 2012) for articulation on this rather intriguing subject matter.

Now, deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate. The National Geographic reports that swaths the size of Panama are lost each and every year. Let’s be candid here: we must collectively establish eco-friendly rituals, if we are to sustain biodiversity on Earth. Ergo, for avid readers that means converting to eBooks. Yes, comrades unite. The post-paperback era is upon us. One must divulge.

Reading is indeed a classic art. And cynics may argue that eReaders diminish the classical ritual of reading – our habitual triggers. We all have one. Perhaps it’s those precious few moments we spend admiring the ambience of a fresh paperback. A morsel of 85% Green and Blacks. Or (a personal favourite) lounging near the ocean periphery, with nature’s very own soothing soundtrack, as one delves through the pages. Yes, the art of habitual reading – oh the joys!

But we mustn’t sacrifice these simple pleasures. To the contrary, eReaders can actually help to improve our reading experience. It gives us a free hand to savour every bite of that Green and Blacks, and eliminates the annoyance we feel as we protect our pages from the heavy seasonal breeze. And the immediacy inducing scent of a fresh paperback? Well, there’s a solution for that, too. There are several paperback fragrances on the market, which duplicate the very smell that many crave – just as sweet, just as musty! Simply spray the perfume on your e-book cover. And yes, there are paperback-style covers available, too. You see, we needn’t lose the very pleasures that entice us to habitual reading, but if we don’t act now we do face losing our trees.

One does understand. We’re treading on provocative territory, here. Biodiversity is, hitherto, a taboo subject; for many it remains a foreign concept. And that’s because, in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a relatively modern discourse. Biology professor, David Ehrenfeld, confirms this viewpoint. He comments, “Two or three decades ago, the topic [planet sustainability] would not have been thought worth discussing, because few scientists or laymen believed that biological diversity was – or could be – endangered in its totality,” (Biodiversity). And many continue to perpetuate this disparaging ideology today. Now perhaps it’s time to offend a few people: anthropogenic activity is destroying the Earth; humans are the only species to eradicate the very planet that sustains them. This isn’t fear-mongering – it’s factual. The book industry has one of the highest carbon footprints in the world. In the U.S. alone, publishing organisations are responsible for the harvesting of around 125 million trees, per year. Why is this increasing, when we now have access to a virtual athenaeum?

Granted, there are many out there from an alternative school of thought. Yes, the extraction of non-renewable resources, and the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, are factors that require pragmatic consideration when evaluating the pros and cons of eReader devices. But, in fact, many plausible studies have already done so – and quite objectively, too. Cleantech – a global, environmental research organisation – inferred that for every 144 books purchased, the Kindle produces approximately 168 kilograms of CO2; hard copies, however – 1,074 kilograms. Rather astonishing by any standard. But it doesn’t end there. Terrapass – a carbon offset organisation – reported that, on average, the carbon emitted in the lifecycle of a Kindle is fully offset after its first year of use. And there are other – rather valid – elements to consider, too.

There are a number of environmental costs involved, pertaining to the manufacturing process (illegal logging is a colossal issue here), printing, transportation, and the disposal of physical copies. Many books end up in landfills, and are often too problematic to recycle. And here’s some provocative statistics: 25-36 percent of books are returned to the store or publisher, contributing further to the burning of fossil fuels. You certainly wouldn’t be wrong in saying that the publishing sector produces more than its fair share of pollution.

Now, there are many who (quite neurotically) speak of this eBook versus paperback conflict. And this needn’t be the case. We have to let go off this one-or-the-other ideology. eBooks aren’t the antithesis of paperbacks. On the contrary, they both have their niche. Let’s be pragmatic, though. In an ideal world, both platforms would be converged to create a more diverse reader experience, whilst sustaining biodiversity on Earth. One has a plausible suggestion: increase the value of public libraries. Yes, libraries. Oh what a thing of the renaissance – or so it seems. For too long now libraries have been severely marginalised, due to government spending cuts and (rightly or wrongly) cultural shifts. Ideally, individuals could frequently visit libraries for books they are likely to read no more than once – fiction, perhaps. And use their Kindle (or other) platforms for more frequent, demanding reads. Existing books could be donated to libraries – as opposed to landfills – who are currently facing issues with supply. This does require a collective effort. But it is our duty to sustain the very planet that supports us, if we want it to support our grandchildren, too. Libraries offer a credible, sustainable solution. In plain English: borrow and return. It’s a constant (re)cycle.

One must intentionally digress, here. Overpopulation is a huge, contemporary issue. Paul Linkoa cuts a fine statement: “The worst enemy of life, is too much life.” Indeed, one calls this the human flood. What comes with this human global increase is arguably a growth in readers and, consequently, writers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this era of incessant, mass entertainment. But, please note, our implemented method could be. Right now we have the choice to alter our reading format, but one forecasts that years from now this may not be the case. A virtual athenaeum (as one calls it) could very well become a legality, as scientists predict that tropical rainforests could very well be wiped out as functioning ecosystems in less than a century. In fact, many argue that the publishing industry is partially responsible for the imminent extinction of the wild panda. Surely, the obliteration of biological diversity on Earth is intrinsically wrong, no?

In economic terms: a higher demand for ebooks, means a lower supply for paperbacks. One agrees – it is a challenge, yes. But we habitual readers are often touted as an intelligent bunch. Indeed, Madame/Monsieur – to reference Ghandi – let us be the change we wish to see in the world. The perennial thistle that appears in the thaw, even.

And one final reverie: the virtual athenaeum, in and of itself, is a marvellous and versatile platform. Innovative, too. And, you could say it is innovation that defines the post-paperback era.

Do vocalise your perspective – we mustn’t be placid with our views.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Located near the ocean periphery, Riviera is a Health Innovations Coach; model; and correspondent in the discourse of nutrition, oceanology and surf performance research.

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35 Comments

  1. Carla Hughes
    0

    Very thought-provoking article. I was a hard sell when it came to electronic books, but I love my Kindle now. If it’s something I want to have signed by the author or treasure and hand down to my kids, hardcover. Otherwise I love Ebooks. They don’t make a huge mess in the corners of my house.

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      Thank you for reading, Carla. It took a long time for me to appreciate the eBook, too – but isn’t it great? On a personal level, I find it much more efficient and convenient. I think it’s plausible that you retain hardcovers for sentimental value; I imagine it adds more value to the book, and the reader experience. As a minimalist, the de-cluttering aspect – in addition to the environmental offsets – is perhaps my favourite reason for converting to eBooks.

  2. Ray Tate
    0

    I use to detest the thought of eReaders and e-Books because I love my books. I love seeing all the books I’ve read and collected.

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      Ray, I have many friends who share your pleasure for the paperback. But I’ve learned to appreciate the eBook, despite my initial apprehension. And as Carla mentions above: it really helps to de-clutter our home environment.

  3. Interesting. Shared with friends.

  4. Lawrence Wagner
    0

    I choose Paperbacks, get them when I can, and if it’s either a stand-alone, a book in a series and I already bought one of the books in paperback. I buy an eBook if I can’t get the book at my library and I don’t feel like I want to buy the price of Paperbacks or Hardcovers, or if I don’t know if I’ll like it enough.

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      Lawrence, it’s great that you’re using library resources. Not many readers do, these days. For me, I much prefer the eBook for those books that I’ll likely read more than once – I don’t have to worry about maintaining their condition or storage. And most eReaders allow you to view your notes and highlights, which is a huge time saver.

  5. I’ve “converted” to e-edition of books years back. Strong study to support this Riviera.

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      Thank you, Steele. It’s nice to see that many others are using the eBook platform, too. It really does make all the difference to the environment.

  6. I’m going to email this to some friends. We were just debating over this topic. I agree with your viewpoint.

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      Yes, do share. It’s comforting to know that there are people out there who share this school of thought.

  7. Jessica Koroll

    I’m very happy to finally see someone covering this topic. It’s possible that I’m just not spending enough time in the right internet circles but, whenever I see the paperback vs. e-reader debate spring up, issues of conservation and the effects that consumer trends have on the environment are noticeably absent. It’s definitely a topic that I think readers should consider more closely.

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      I concur, Jessica. The environmental factors just aren’t being touched. Perhaps that’s why I wrote this article: conservation – or rather it’s implications – are more important than ever. It’s great that you share this school of thought. And I hope the article gave you some clarity on the topic.

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      I concur. Perhaps this may change as consumers become more aware of how their buying habits impact the natural environment – I forecast sustainability will be a common topic come 2020.

  8. Ewan Wilson

    An interesting and well informed article; you’ve certainly done your research. Like many of the others who have commented here, I’ve slowly come round to the eBook format, although I do still have a preference for the tactility of the bound book. Admittedly the environmental impact of my reluctance to relinquish paper editions is not something I’d given much consideration to, but it’s certainly something to think about.

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      Thank you, Ewan.

      I think that’s the case for many others, too. Perhaps this may change as consumers become more aware of how their buying habits impact the natural environment – I forecast sustainability will be a common topic come 2020.

      I completely understand your touch sense preferences. This is where borrowing from the library comes in useful, for myself!

  9. Like the other commenters, I always assumed I would hate reading on a Kindle but have come round to eBooks very quickly. I think there’s a lot of sentimentality surrounding bound books and people will always think that they prefer being able to turn the pages and hold something more weighty in their hand. However I find it much easier to carry my Kindle round and do love that it remembers my place for me when I spend a lot of time forgetting where I am in paperbacks. The only problem is that when researching papers or looking for a specific bit of information, you really need something printed so it’s easier to flick through.

    I do wonder what the environmental impact of the Kindle and other eReaders might be, and whether it has the potential to be as great as the impact of bound paper books? Even if its carbon imprint is offset within a year, are there not other factors such as the electricity used in downloading new books and charging the device? I’m not very knowledgeable on this at all so it would be interesting to see how big of an impact that makes.

    Great article!

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      The Kindle does have an environmental impact. But it does appear to be the lesser of two evils – to be cliché. E-readers tend to download material almost instantly, and so I imagine those costs are (somewhat) negligible, when we factor the transportation costs of hard copies.

  10. Great article. I’m on the fence, personally – I adore my Kindle, but could never ever let go of my treasured paperbacks. Can we just have both, please?

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      You can, indeed, Amie. After all, change begins with awareness. I advocate a 70/30 method.- some balance is key.

      Thank you for reading.

  11. I wonder whether e-reading devices could pose their own ecological problems in the future, though? Most of them run from electric power, which is not guaranteed to be green, and all of the plastic and metal that goes into building them, and which will need to be processed for recycling or will end up in landfill in the long run, can’t be much better than using renewable plant life. Then again, I suppose that you can fit many more books into the concentrated space of an e-reader than you can do with paper printing… I think I’m still a little on the fence, but in general I do love my e-reader as a handy device which saves space and money!

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      I imagine, as with any technological device, there are future implications for the environment. But – and I say this with jest – if we continue anthropogenic deforestation, chances are we wont live to tell the story.

      Post scriptum: e-books are very cost efficient, aren’t they?

  12. Thought provoking piece…I still haven’t succumbed to the e-book loving the whole look and feel of the traditional paperback. Another thing to feel guilty about?

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      Guilty, no. But, one hopes you’re doing extra recycling of household waste and travelling via foot, (I jest!)

  13. I’m sorry, but using the ecological argument to praise ereaders over print books is preying on people’s superficial understanding on the issues. The fact is, the printing industry has become extremely efficient during the past century – they plant 3 trees for each one they use, and paper is 100% recycleable – as opposed to something like 30% of the materials used in electronic devices.

    You’re doing a lot of damage conflating deforestation with logging for paper, and only exacerbating people’s misconceptions when you present it in the binary terms of ereaders vs paper books.

    People also conveniently dismiss the immensely greater amounts of fuel and resources used to produce and run ereaders, and nobody seems to want to confront the fact that many materials used in ereaders and other devices come come troubled countries under damaging and dubious circumstances.

    I have an ereader, and I read print books, and I can see benefits to both – but as far as sustainability is concerned, paper books are the better option right now.

    http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2010/04/14/going-paperless-not-green-and-tree-friendly-you-think
    http://www.ecolibris.net/ipad.asp
    http://www.printisbig.com/_assets/PrintIsBig.png

    • Riviera Handley
      Riviera De TyTy
      0

      Johnny, I’m sorry you feel that way. Note: there is no agenda in my article, I’m simply articulating credible research. The information you’ve posted above is that of an ideal world – but, as you know, such world doesn’t exist. I suggest you visit a credible source – Green Peace Initiative, etcetera – for some objective facts and figures. On the contrary to the data you’ve posted, may I add.

      Thanks for reading.

      • The only study you reference is a cleantech study – this was not done by an independent research department, cleantech’s job – and it says this on their website – is to

        ‘help business leaders make strategic decisions involving cleantech innovation through the i3 Platform, the most comprehensive, vetted, up-to-date source for insights into companies, investors, financing and relationships across the clean technology ecosystem.’

        They are a financial and business institution. I cannot find any info from the Greenpeace Initiative though, maybe I missed it.

        All I want to say is that ereaders have a massive, unredeemable (recyclable) impact on the environment, and while paper isn’t free, it’s still a lot better than ereaders. People seem to just ignore how bad ereaders and other devices are for the environment.

        Sorry if I sound aggressive, I don’t mean to, and after all, we are both concerned about the same problem, just disagreeing on the causes.

  14. I just cannot let go of the feeling of a paper book in my hand; the smell, the physical turning of the pages, the dog-eared, highlighted pages. Just can’t.

  15. Nicole St. Onge

    This was a very interesting piece. The argument makes a great deal of sense, especially since environmental conservation has become a spotlighted issue in recent years. While I do believe in saving the world and protecting what’s left, I admit that I do enjoy the feel of having a physical book in my hands, rather than something such as a kindle or a nook.

  16. Commendable article. However, one must refocus attention from one environmentally damaging product to another. With the advent of e-readers, especially from a basic kindle to the graphic candy of a kindle fire, what is the environmental impact of e-readers being thrown in electronic landfills?

  17. Helen Parshall

    I was reluctant to embrace the ereader at first, but it’s grown on me so much. Thanks for an incredibly thought provoking piece!

  18. Yes, ebooks are fine and all(for now). I primarily use mine for online fantasy and science fiction literary magazines, short stories, or books that are plain garbage and not worth having a print copy.

    But I must ask you this question. Let’s say for the next two to three hundred years nothing has a print copy. Everything is electronic, either on Kindle, Nook, or online. However, answer me this.

    What happens when the power goes out? When the Internet goes kaput, when everything is hacked, virus infected, and deleted. Everything that was ever online or on e reader, deleted. No power, no electricity, no gas, no nothing. Everything gone!

    Historians will then wonder, what happened in those few centuries of history? No textual evidence, just architecture and toys. A huge gap. A blip in the algorithm. Think of Ai Khanoum and that region’s history, fragmented, filled with tons of holes. Barely anything left. History will be entirely lost in those centuries with no one ever knowing what happened. A true dark age.

    Physical print writing is one of the greatest prides of our literary cultural heritage. There should always be a print copy, no matter what. We can use it but we should not rely on it. Let us not depend on something that is intangible.

    That’s my opinion on ebooks. Your argument is valid. I would hate to see the rain forests go poofy. But we should not just abandon an art form that has been around for 5,000 years.

    That is my opinion, my argument, and my fears. Lovely article though.

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