Why Are We Still Printing Books?

I love books, it’s a fact. A fact that my bookshelves attest to.

Since childhood I was told that books were things of beauty and learning, to be cherished, respectfully handled at all times and never abused. A book’s spine was to be treated with utter reverence, a book was never to be set down open on its beautiful pages, that broke its spine.

Being responsible for a book’s broken spine was not on my list of things to do.

Largely the message got through, books are good m’kay? I understood, I appreciated that and what’s more it stood me in good stead throughout my childhood. Aside from an incident with a fountain pen cartridge and a school text book, which left me practically paralysed with fear for three days, I’ve been good to books and, in turn, they’ve been good to me.

The whole books are important thing was a message received and understood, and finally in my late teens I became a voracious reader. I’d moved past the resentment of being given Treasure Island over Lego as a child, my love for books had blossomed.

It started with Ray Bradbury. God, Ray Bradbury. The man single-handedly made me love reading. The places he took me with his short stories, the pictures he painted in my mind, I will never forget a single one. His words stretched out across time and took me from the dust bowl to Mars, from the veldt to lighthouses on wind swept, rain soaked prominences.

After Ray came Douglas Coupland. Wow, did he speak to me.

In 1994 Personal Computer World reprinted a short story, which had previously originally appeared in Wired, called Microserfs and it blew my mind. It introduced me to the unique writing style of Douglas Coupland, a writing style that really appealed to me. One of the best books ever written is his; Hey! Nostradamus.

This waxing lyrical about my love of books and the effect their authors had on my adolescent mind is quite obviously designed to (mayhap, over) compensate for the bit that’s coming up, the bit about my desire to get rid of all books.

The Book Industry Is Bloody Wasteful

Trees are cut down, pulped and bleached, the resulting paper is printed, bound, boxed up, put in to lorries, driven and flown across the world then put into air conditioned buildings where they remain until sold, to people who’ve driven there. If they remain unsold, they are put back into lorries and sent to be pulped.

What a waste of energy for something that’s origin – more often than not – begins inside a computer as data, data that can be sent across the world in nanoseconds, to be read anywhere, by anyone, rich or poor, instantly. Digitally speaking a book is a tenth the size of one single MP3. I can’t think of any other industry that is so wasteful and ripe for this digitisation.

Focussing on the smell and feel is perhaps understandable to a certain extent but is simply just nostalgia, there is no need for books to be printed anymore. Buying and consuming books digitally is not akin to the Nazi’s book burning as some seem to feel rather it’s a progressive step forward, a means of moving towards an egalitarian society where information and story telling aren’t limited by greedy middlemen artificially inflating the cost of learning without adding anything of value.

It bewilders me that my most ecologically concerned friends are always the first to assert that books must come in this wasteful form simply because of their feel and their smell. Yet these same people bang on endlessly about global warming, buying eco friendly everything and recycling properly. It’s arch hypocrisy.

Let’s stop this waste. Paper as a medium for the transfer of information should have died long ago, join me, buy a Kindle, forget about the smell and the feel. Focus on the words.

After all, isn’t that what you read books for?

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