Paper or Plastic

Books – so innocuous and lovely, such a comforting heft in your hands as you turn the pages. They are not SUVs. Who would suspect them of contributing to the poisoning of our environment? A nifty gadget like a kindle may seem more suspect. But there are a wealth of factors to tease apart.

The impact of the book industry is not small. A study by the Green Press Initiative and Book Industry Study Group found that in 2006, the US book industry consumed 30 million trees, and had a carbon footprint equivalent to 12.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide (8.85 pounds per book sold). On the other hand, one e-reader requires the extraction of 33 pounds of minerals, while a book made with recycled paper consumes less than a pound of minerals. The negative health impacts of making an e-reader is approximately 70 times greater than that of making a single book. Calculations are hampered by lack of transparency from e-reader manufacturers, and all of these approximations depend on a dense net of variables: is the book used, will it be lended, will it be recycled, do you read at night while using electricity?; how long will you keep your iPad, will you share your electronic books, will they truly take the place of paper books, will you recycle your device – and, if so, what does that mean? Recycling these devices is a tricky business, and many of them are sent to China, for example, and dismantled by children in dangerous working conditions.

Depending on whether energy use, global warming, or human health is measured, an e-reader “breaks even” with respect to the environmental costs of paper books at 40-100 books read on the device.

I feel that buyers of both books and e-readers alike are not motivated in their purchases by a concern for the environment. People who love books may be excited or even swayed by knowing a book is sustainably published, but their choices are likely more heavily weighted by other factors (I think about trash and recycling more or less constantly, but the first time I thought of these matters was while researching this blog). Folks who buy e-readers don’t want to lug books around, and they love new technology. It is up to publishers and device manufacturers to care about the environmental impact of the products they make. That said, the fact that the Green Press Initiative and publishers like Ooligan are opening a dialogue will change the way people perceive the paper in their books; articles in the New York Times such as “How Green Is My iPad?” will spread knowledge and concern about the many toxic dangers in the lifecycle of an e-reader. And on a hopeful note, the book industry has dramatically increased its use of recycled paper, from 5% in 2006 to 24% in 2010. The electronics industry is attempting to decrease its use of toxins and to improve working conditions throughout its chain of production.

But are we comparing apples to oranges? In ten years, everyone will have an e-reader; books will certainly not disappear, but the environmental impact of their production will likely be small. Perhaps rather than asking, Paper or plastic?, we should ask, How will we address the wastefulness of our society all across the board?

iCook: The Digital Age of Cookbooks

On a chilly Thursday night in October, a group of fabulous people met at the Historic Old Church in Southwest Portland to discuss food writing in the publishing world. Transmit Culture, a series of discussions centered on the various elements of publishing, gives Ooligan Press and writing students alike the opportunity to engage in an earnest dialogue with seasoned professionals of the industry. This particular panel discussion, focusing on food writing and publishing, was moderated by PSU’s Diana Abu-Jaber, professor of Creative Writing, and a former food writer. Panelists included Breanna Goodrow, senior designer at Timber Press, Marnie Hanel, a writer for The New York Times and Vanity Fair, and Greg Mowery, a cookbook publicist and founder of Greg Mowery Public Relations.

The panelists commented on the importance of photography and illustration in the food writing world. Greg Mowery said, “It’s an advantage that fiction just doesn’t have,” and he’s absolutely right. Cookbooks have become somewhat synonymous with picture-books for a variety of food enthusiasts. It wouldn’t seem quite right to open up a cookbook and solely be confronted with cold blocks of text; you might feel appalled by the book for its false advertising. You often pay not just for the writing, but also the photographs collectively in a cookbook. In fact, the appearance of a photo directly correlates to a person’s decision to spend their money on the recipe. Mowery continued, “It’s no longer a reference book. People want to create replicas of the pictures they see, they want to use it for more than instruction.”

Design is absolutely fundamental to the cookbook and food writing world. “It’s overtaking the traditional text,” confirmed Breanna Goodrow. As a senior designer for Timber Press, she notes that what customers want is not only a book full of food ideas, but a product that itself is beautiful. The demand for a design element seems to be reflective of the quality of the text; in a world where print photography is an expense that is often too difficult to come up with, what will this mean for the future of food writing?

Greg Mowery had some interesting insights about the digital future and what this means for cookbooks. The rise of tablets, smartphones, eBooks, and publishing platforms such as Cookbook Cafe, present a dimension to food writing and publishing that has yet to be fully tapped into.The transition of photography and design to the digital screen can be amplified and continually improved upon. Our culture of consumption has never been so ripe. Think about your last meal, chances are you probably posted a photo of it on Instagram. Think about the cookies you made for your girls night last week, you probably got the recipe off of the social networking site like Pinterest. Social and digital media have evolved in tandem with photography and the visual arts. The connection of food and the digital world are already inseparable; food and food publishing are specifically rooted in the concept of sharing. Not only does this concept make sense, but we can expect the evolution of foodie culture to exponentially continue along the digital surface because of that very fact. Photography is just as vibrant on the illuminated screen of an eBook or a tablet as it is on the glossy pages of a print book, and now it’s even more interactive to boot.

Publishers should not be threatened by the illusion of harm that the digital cookbook poses to print. The transition of cookbooks and food writing to the screen of a tablet or a laptop won’t render the print copy extinct, but it certainly will offer consumers an entirely different cooking and reading experience. Like other forms of writing, a print audience will remain steadfast.  As Mowery mentions, “Cookbooks are kitchen accessories and go-to-gifts that demand a beautiful physical print form, but the digital age ushers in an opportunity for publishers and writers to experiment as well.” Emerging trends such as quarterly magazines and regional cookbooks can benefit from the switch of print to digital, saving publisher and writers money, time, and even stress.  The world of cookbooks has never been so accessible, or exciting as it is now. Charge that iPad and dig in!

The Battle for a Digital Pricing Model that Works Part 3: The Dark Side of the Force & A New Hope

By Rebekah Hunt
The book industry has been slower to evolve than other industries. The big retail chains, who had undercut the already wobbly industry’s prices on paperback books back in the 1980s, are now seeing the same thing done to them by the burgeoning digital market and Amazon.com. Advancements in e-reader technology such as the Kindle and the iPad make the transmission of print media in digital form far more practical and attractive than ever, but the industry has yet to develop a good standard for continuing to profit from the sales of these new kinds of media, as evidenced by the suit filed by the Department of Justice regarding ebook pricing.
Of course, where there is instability, there is vulnerability. One of the primary dangers presented by the lack of a good pricing model for ebooks is piracy. Despite the January 2010 unveiling of the ominous findings from research group Attributor, which showed between 1.5 and 3 million daily Google searches for pirated ebooks; the threat of ebook piracy may be more of a moon than a Death Star.
According to electronicbook-readers.com (see previous blog), “…there are a large number of consumers who are unwilling to pay the current price for ebooks, and they are willing to pirate those books rather than do without. Consumers who feel their needs are met are much more willing to part with their hard earned money than those who are frustrated with companies who simply no longer seem to ‘get’ them and their lifestyle.”
However, they go on to say, “What [publishers] do not realize is that piracy is only a problem when industry does not provide consumption models wanted by particular classes of consumers… The decision to allow her Harry Potter series to be distributed in electronic format is expected to net JK Rowling over 100 million in revenue and has probably cost her triple that amount due to her previous reticence toward ebook distribution.”
Rowling’s resistance to making her golden goose available in ebook format is the stuff of industry legend, demonstrating the entrenched backwardness and misunderstanding of the market that is a major impediment to the progress of book publishing. However, as stated, even Rowling was forced to capitulate to the demands of the market.
A New Hope: The Market Evolves
“The publishing industry… is where the music industry was seven years ago,” electronicbook-readers.com says. They advise that publishers adopt a similar strategy to the music industry and “…ignore piracy of ebooks on non-commercial sites and focus on producing content and connecting with their readers. If digital distributors were to start looking at digital piracy as a business deduction similar to advertising and charity donations and [focus] more on delivering content consumption models that encourage everyone to participate, they would discover a method to survive the massive disruption to their industry that technology has created.”
They encourage the publishing industry to look at the success of Netflix and Napster when developing new models for future business practices. “Such a move early in the fledgling ebook economic model,” they say, “would turn massive numbers of potential pirates into happy consumers paying monthly subscriptions who in turn become a new revenue stream to authors and distributors.”
For book publishers, ebooks integrated with other media are the way the market is going, and pricing models must evolve to meet the need. International publishing conglomerate, the Penguin Group, is extending their reach far into the electronic market. A recent article from appleinsider.com reports that Penguin expects their ebooks to grow from 4 percent to 10 percent of their sales next year, and they will also introduce a series of interactive ebooks for the Apple iPad.
Penguin CEO, John Makinson attributes this to the compatibility of the iPad with the company’s business model. The features of the iPad that are attracting publishers such as Penguin, fit the market trend toward integrating multimedia experiences with books in order to get consumers interested in books again. Makinson states that it is Penguin’s intention to take full advantage of the iPad’s capabilities, saying, “…we’ll be creating a lot of our digital content as applications, to sell on app stores in HTML, rather than as ebooks.” Makinson admits uncertainty concerning the success of these new strategies, however, reflecting the apprehension apparent throughout the publishing industry that the market is still in a precarious position.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog, the Return of the Jedi (an ebook pricing strategy that works)!
 
Image by Maximilian Schönherr. Used with permission under  the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.