This year’s Book Industry Study Group annual meeting, held virtually April 23, focused on issues around book publishing’s impact on the environment, the continuing effect of the pandemic on the supply chain, and the industry’s response to both.
The program opened with a keynote by Sheri Aldis, chief of publishing at the United Nations, which focused on the need for “global cooperation” to address sustainability and on the role of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), a set of 17 interconnected objectives based around science, economic development, and social well-being considered necessary to create a decent standard of life. Among the SDGs are (1) no poverty, (2) zero hunger, (4) quality education, (5) gender equality, (7) affordable and clean energy, and (13) climate action.
SDGs, Aldis said, are the foundation of the UN’s publishing program, and they “align with the values of the publishing industry across the supply chain. Books are a verified source of knowledge and publishing supports several key SDGs.” Aldis’s presentation quoted UN general secretary António Guterres, “We need to turn the recovery [from the pandemic] into a real opportunity to do things right for the future,” he said, in support of the view that the disruptive effects of the pandemic now offers book publishers an ideal opportunity to shift to sustainable policies.
“The book industry has stepped up to support the SDGs”, she said, citing the impact of books on education and literacy, improvement in diversity, disability access, and gender pay, as well as sustainable business/production practices, including recycling, ink, paper and packaging practices and a host of efforts across the publishing supply chain to produce environmentally friendly books. She also urged publishers and other vendors to sign on to the SDG Publishers Compact, a list of 10 commitments designed to accelerate sustainability in publishing. The compact has about 100 signers, is growing “across all levels of publishing,” and is looking to boost the number of participants.
Green Book Alliance Update
The session also featured Sustainability in Practice, a presentation on The Green Book Alliance, a joint effort by BISG, BookNet Canada, and Book Industry Community, the organizations that develop supply chain standards in the U.S., Canada, and Britain, respectively. Established in 2020, the GBA is an effort to “promote information sharing, joint planning and research, events and other sustainability initiatives,” including creating a central source for environmental information, hosting global green book supply chain events, and developing a green global supply chain award.
BISG executive director Brian O’Leary outlined some of the results from a survey on sustainability in the book market conducted by BISG in December 2020 and January 2021: 90% of respondents have a policy on sustainability, most respondents were considering the need to reduce their carbon footprint, and half of the respondents ask trading partners questions about their environmental policies and plans.
BIC executive director Karina Urquhart, said the GBA is reaching out to the “entire supply chain” to get involved. “Any vendor in publishing is encouraged to join,” and she acknowledged a need for the GBA to recruit more retailers to the effort.
During the session “Future Proofing Your Staff”, a panel featuring Kate Danser of Princeton University Press and Randy Petway of LinkedIn, offered examples of what small and large firms are doing to adjust to work during (and after) a pandemic as well as the human-focused need for staff sustainability. The two outlined how their companies offer staff a variety of “wellness policies” that include extra days off, shutdown and rest up weeks, no-email and no-meetings days. Both cited the importance of staff feedback to design company policies and Petway emphasized, the need for executive’s to make a genuine effort to encourage reluctant staff to “take advantage of offers of time off.”
During the Innovations in Paper, Ink, and Process presentation, Paul Randall of Hewlett Packard (in the U.K) outlined ways publishers can reduce their carbon footprint, among them, the importance of print on demand technology and the need to print books “closer to the point of demand.” He added a short exchange on the concept of “book miles” (the environmental impact of book distribution), and visualized the environmental scale and impact of unsold inventory—he cited a publisher that scrapped $100 million worth of unsold titles, which represented 500,000 trees and enough energy to support 10,000 homes for a year.
Award Winners and an Amazon Warning
At the close the annual meeting, BISG presented its annual awards. The Sally Dedecker Award for Lifetime Service was presented to Maureen McMahon, president and publisher of Kaplan Publishing; the Industry Champion Award was presented to Connie Harbison, director of authority control at Baker & Taylor; and the Industry Innovator Award was presented to Andy Hunter, founder of Bookshop.org.
Accepting the Innovator award, Hunter acknowledged the challenges of 2020 and said in 2021 the book industry is facing a turning point, outlining a bracing vision of Amazon's ever-growing dominance of the book market and closed with a passionate appeal to buy books from a local bookstore—instead of Amazon. “It’s been a wild year,” Hunter said. “Bookshop sold $70 million worth of books, earned almost $14 million for independent bookstores, and earned a few million more for affiliates, like BuzzFeed, instead of for Amazon. Now those affiliates link to BookShop.org.”
“Amazon is likely selling close to 60% of all new books, and may be selling 80% by 2025,” Hunter continued, “unless we all make a concerted effort to reinforce innovation wherever it pops up, and especially when it pops up in local independent bookstores. Independent bookstores are more than retailers, they’re passionate community advocates for books on the ground. They keep books alive in their communities and a moving force in the culture.”