Turning Over a New Leaf at BookExpo

At its annual trade show, the book publishing industry seemed intent on finding ways to use less paper and shrink its carbon footprint

At BookExpo America, the book publishing industry's annual trade confab that took place in Los Angeles over the weekend, green was the hot new color. The trade show typically draws around 30,000 editors, booksellers, publicists, agents—and authors looking for a moment in the limelight. On May 30, a half-dozen workshops considered such topics as "Climate Change and the Book Industry" and "Buying, Packaging & Publishing Green Books: The Publisher's Perspective." The gathering's keynote address that morning, "Green Is the New Red, White, and Blue," was delivered by New York Times writer Thomas Friedman, whose forthcoming book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, looks at the impact of the combination of climate change, globalization, and population explosion. And there were plenty of advocates for environment-friendly e-books, including Amazon.com (AMZN) founder and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, who spoke about his Kindle e-book reader to an auditorium packed with several hundred conventioneers.

At one workshop, "Environmental Trends: Where Does the U.S. Book Industry Stand Today?" Tyson Miller of the nonprofit Green Press Initiative described the dimensions of the book industry's transgressions. The production of one book results in 8.85 pounds of carbon emissions, he said. (It could be worse: The carbon footprint of one package of disposable diapers is 50 pounds; for one Apple (AAPL) Mac laptop, the damage is 1,290 pounds.) And with 25% of all books failing to sell, and being returned from retailers to publishers, the increased use of recycled paper could make a difference. Already publishers have raised their use of recycled paper, from 2.5% of paper used in 2004 to 13% in 2007. As a short-term goal, publishers supporting the initiative are aiming for 30%. This would result in a savings of a billion tons of greenhouse gases, said Miller.

Friedman likewise bewailed the damage humans are doing to the environment—but he saw a silver lining. Since September 11, he said, America seems to have lost its ability to confront major world problems. But the three crises he described offered a new and necessary mission. "The best way for the U.S. to get its groove back is to take the lead in helping the world grow in a cleaner way," he said.

The Many Possibilities of E-Books

Bezos didn't dwell on the environmental benefits of the Kindle, instead emphasizing how the device both improves the experience of reading and facilitates acquisition of even hard-to-obtain titles, such as the hot-selling What Happened by former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

But digitization has numerous enviro-advocates. For several years, e-books have accounted for a minuscule percentage of all books sold—around 1%. At the moment, other e-products seem more promising. For instance, several publishers either have already begun or are about to begin distributing their seasonal catalogs via e-mail only: Public Affairs, the Perseus imprint, already does so, and Harvard Business School Press and HarperCollins among others have plans in the works.

Another huge use of paper: the advanced reading copies, or galleys, that are printed in the millions and sent out ahead of a book's publication to reviewers and retailers. Net Galley, a venture under development by Rosetta Solutions, intends to streamline and green-up the process via the use of digital galleys. A pilot program is under way with 500 forthcoming books from publishers Bloomsbury USA, Hachette Book Group, Sourcebooks, and St. Martin's Press. Any reviewer invited to join by one of the publishers can go to Net Galley's Web site, indicate the galleys desired, and download them. Rosetta CEO Ted Treanor says the effort has several virtues, including a boost for the environment. "The industry is feeling a little guilty about wasting so many trees." But Treanor also says the use of digital galleys can help the distressed book industry increase its profitability and improve its economic model by cutting down on waste and giving publishers a better sense of what books a reviewer is truly interested in.

Toasting Turner

Of course, environmental concern was hardly the only show in town. Upon entering the Los Angeles Convention Center, BookExpo attendees were immediately bombarded with messages about the fall season's books. Two bewigged men dressed as Old Testament prophets hawked an apocalyptic religion title. Giant banners flaked for such titles as fantasy novel Darkscape: The Rebel Lord and Call Me Ted, the memoir coming in November from ex-media mogul Ted Turner.

Turner was feted on May 30 at a gala party held at the Beverly Hills mansion of CNN talk show host Larry King. Although Turner didn't say a lot about the book, which isn't yet available either in paper or digital form, he did let on that he hopes to address the leadership vacuum that he feels exists in America today. "There's a whole chapter on integrity," he said.

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