PollutionStare Down On PollutionSusty Living

Surge in Paperback Books In A Digital Era: An Unsustainable Oxymoron?

How paperback books leads to an increase in global warming

paperback vs ebookebook vs paperback. potentash.com 2015

So I was having a light conversation with a friend of mine on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, after he uploaded a post on Facebook about how he enjoys reading Paperback books, in contrast to eBooks, which he believes slows his reading pace. As you already know (or not), the world celebrated International Literacy Day on the 8th day of September 2017 and I am one of the fellows out there who still believe that our global reading culture needs a facelift, as some school of thought has argued that the proliferation of social media channels has actually declined the reading culture of so many people out there ― especially the youths. But to put this into perspective, it might interest you to know that a UNESCO “Global Monitoring Report on Education for All (2006)” showed that;  “Countries with the lowest literacy rates in the world are Burkina Faso (28.7%), Niger (28.7%) and Mali (33.4%). The report shows a clear connection between illiteracy and countries in severe poverty, and between illiteracy and prejudice against women.’’ You can get the latest report (2016) here for more insights.

Every year, I set a reading target for myself; this target sums up the estimated amount of books that I plan to read in that particular year.  In 2015, I read a total of 34 books, that’s an average of approximately 3 books, a month ― too small right? Yea, I know. The key to setting these targets lies on the assumption that I must do everything and anything possible to break the previous year’s record, and most times I don’t; thanks to procrastination, my friends and of course, social media ― Twitter.

The purpose of this write-up is not basically to revamp the reading culture (at least not in its entirety) or to reshape how we view social media, but to raise awareness on the effects of the production and consumption of paper print books can have on the environment.

Number of books sold in USA and UK in 2014-2016

In an article by Forbes which published data from Nielsen BookScan ― which process data on about 85% of the print market in over 5 countries. They reported that about $571m worth of paperback books were sold in 2015, an increase when compared with $559m sold in 2014 ― in the USA alone. What does this mean? It meant there was an approximate 2% increase in the total number of paper books sold from 2014 to 2015. So let’s assume that the 2% increase in sales is maintained or constant, that means that in 2016 and 2017, approximately $582m and $594m would have been sold respectively. Don’t forget, this is just the United States of America and not the entire world.

The data is also true for the United Kingdom which also showed the same trend of an increase in the consumption of paper prints books as the year goes by. In 2015, the Publishing Association also noted that printed books surged from £2.74bn to £2.76bn. I.e. an increase by 0.7% of 2014 total sales of paper prints. So if we maintain the same 0.7% across the board as we did for the USA, we will arrive at a total sale of £2.78bn and £2.80bn for 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Very interesting data.

I bet if we research more on other countries like those in Africa and Europe, the results will not be different. The global sales of printed books are booming like never before and the concomitant effect on the environment is mostly ignored. This singular human activity has resulted in the planet being overburdened; with millions of trees being felled and other natural resources going into the general publishing value chain without being replaced. A smart country like Dubai, last year made an announcement that brought joy to my soul. In that statement, the Crown prince of Dubai reiterated the fact that the world needs to pay more attention to the environment and that come 2020, all government transactions in Dubai will go paperless, as the government is already making plans to use blockchain technology to improve and cut over 100million paper transactions annually. You can read more on that here

Now let’s look at another interesting data.

Market share of books globally.

Currently, printed books occupies roughly 85% of book total sales and market share globally, while eBooks managed to hold on to a declining percentage of just 15% ― virtually all independent research showed that young folks prefer paperbacks to eBooks (Maybe they find the crinkle of the pages of their paperbacks enticing as they read through it or maybe they enjoy the feeling of owning a physical library stocked with current and medieval books, I guess we’ll never know).

The number of trees used to manufacture books.

So I took my research to another level to find out how many trees goes into the production of paperbacks ― as this will throw more light on what I have been trying to prove and probably help my readers to domesticate the points that I have been trying to make. This time, I limited it to the USA as they house the world biggest publishers.

According to Eco-Libris ― an environmental blog that encourages people to take responsibility for their actions and go green by planting a tree for every book they read or purchase. They reported that more than 30 million trees are cut down annually for virgin paper used for the production of books sold in U.S alone. Now let me ask an honest question, how many afforestation practices or actions can account for felling 30million trees every year. Mind you, most trees (if not all) are perennial plants and take years to mature.

To conclude this research, I came across an interesting data, though I couldn’t trace the original author of the statement, the origin of the data pointed at Green Press Initiative (GPI). It says that according to GPI, the U.S. book and newspaper industries combined require the harvest of 125million trees each year and emit over 40metric tons of CO2 annually; equivalent to the annual CO2 emission of 7.3million cars. Yes, you saw that; SEVEN MILLION, THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND CARS!  Does that not sound disturbing to you?

It sure does to me.

It might also interest you to know that this article and its research were limited to just books ― Paperback and EBooks. So I will like you to take a mental picture of trees and other irreplaceable natural capital that goes into the production of Newspapers, pamphlets, posters, complimentary cards, wallpapers, etc. and tell me if we are actually meeting our end of the bargain of leaving the world in a better shape than we met it, especially now that we continue to witness a world of unending storms, hurricanes, floods, landslides, erosion and other natural manmade disasters.

I will leave you to reflect on that.

In conclusion/Moving forward

In as much as it will be very difficult and highly impossible to adjust to an eBook-only system, we can make a personal decision to #StareDownOnPollution by tasking ourselves or setting personal goals like the one that I currently practice; that is, for every 5 books purchased, at least 2 must be EBooks. This will position you as an eco-friendly and disciplined individual and also, among those who are walking the talk for a better future.

Achievable right?

Sure it is!

Eric Anidiobi
Anidiobi Ejiofor Eric holds a degree in Project Management. He is passionate about leveraging sustainability in ensuring that a project reflects the triple bottom line. He generally writes at the crossroad of Sustainability in Project Management, Startups, Business Strategy, and Education.