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July 8, 2009

<< Tasting Menu | NEW LIBERAL ARTS: The PDF >>

Swimming Out Of The Death Spiral

And now for a note on the dark side of printed books: Michael Jensen, Director of Strategic Web Communications for National Academies and National Academies Press, collects and analyzes data about global warming and ecological collapse. At the AAUP meeting in Philadelphia, he presented “Scholarly Publishing in the New Era of Scarcity,” an argument that the combination of financial and environmental necessity compels university presses to move away from printing, shipping, and storing books and towards a digital-driven, open-access model, with print-on-demand and institutional support rounding out the new revenue model.

(I’m posting Part 2 of Jensen’s speech - the part that’s mostly about publishing - here. Watch Part 1 - which is mostly about the environment - if you want to be justly terrified about what’s going to happen to human beings and everything else pretty soon.)

This is one reason I’m kind of happy that we didn’t print a thousand or more copies of New Liberal Arts. We can make print rare, we can get copies straight to readers, we can make print more responsible, but mostly we have to make print count. And - of course - share the information with as many people as possible.



Contrary to most assumptions, internet use is not the environmentally benign experience you may think.

Slate wrote about this summary on relative environmental impacts of reading on paper versus reading online:

A study by the Royal Institute of Technology in 2007 (that I wrote about then but can't offhand find online) found newspapers were slightly worse for the environment than internet use, mainly because of carriers driving. But magazine, delivered by postal trucks that were running anyhow, were less harmful than the aggregated costs of electricity, energy and materials needed to put information online.

The graphic found here ($file/G076_eng_08.pdf) suggests that the longer it takes to read something, the less advantage online shows (which makes sense). Thus books could well be the exception to your assumption. (Kindle etc probably changes the equation dramatically since they are read offline).

P.S. I wish I knew how to embed links in this. Sorry.

I can't follow these links right now (when I get to my PC I'll edit your comment so they hyperlink) but I think book publishing (especially academic publishing) deals with a very different set of issues than newspapers, especially involving storage of books, which in some cases turns out to just cripple presses.

And after the book is shipped and sold, then it costs money to store again. Libraries, university libraries, can get or raise more money to buy books, but they can't conjure up any more space for them.

The paper's also more expensive - the presses ship all over the country/world, while a paper mostly ships locally - it's a whole other thing.

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