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20 March 2023

Valuable insights on ‘Green Book Selling’ at Rise Booksellers Conference

On 19 March, European booksellers gathered to discuss current issues in the book trade. With best practices from different countries, including those on sustainability. Mathijs Suidman of CB was one of the speakers.

An interesting discussion on 'green book selling' unfolded. There are gains to be made in sustainability and it is important to see the right nuances. In every country, sustainability issues revolve around two topics: overstocks and returns.

This is partly due to the growing focus on 'carbon counting'. In the UK, for instance, there is already a Carbon Calculator for the book trade. This allows you to calculate per title how many kilograms of CO2 it takes to make one copy: one kilogram on average.

Mathijs talked about what is already being done in the Netherlands in sustainable book production and distribution. Among other things, about the role Print on demand can play in this. Joining Mathijs in the panel discussion on 'green book selling' were Amber Harrison of the Folde Bookshop (UK), Minna Kokka of Suomalainen Kirjakauppa Oy (bookshop and publisher in Finland) and Meryl Halls, Managing Director of the Booksellers' Association in the UK and Ireland.

We list the key insights from this conversation below:

CO2 emissions in context

That one book represents one kilogram of CO2 requires a broader view. For example, in comparison with other consumer goods: a reader spends many hours on a book and thus 'consumes' that kilogram of CO2. Moreover, the book and reading have an important social value. And the residual product has value as waste paper. We should also be aware that a digital book also has environmental pressures.

Overstock versus overstock

The panel discussed that one overstock is not the other. There is overstock that arises because publishers produce too many: books that do not make it to bookshops but remain in warehouses. In addition, overstock can occur when bookstores clean up stock in their shops to make room for new titles. Preventing the latter overstock is challenging. After all, it is a 'fact of life' that not all products sell in a shop.

Preventing the former stock is easier, for instance by opting for smaller print runs that can be made up quickly via Print on demand. Preventing overstock that stays in warehouses is thus a priority, as it does not harm the market/store.

Dealing smarter on returns

There is no way to prevent books not being sold in a shop. But we can deal more sustainably with what happens to these books afterwards. The word 'return' suggests that the book has to go back to the warehouse it came from, but that is usually not a sustainable solution. Too often, these returns do not leave warehouses.

There is obviously nothing against clearing stock in shop, but how and where to go can be more sustainable. Think about selling the book at a lower price in the shop or at a local book fair, to the local library, food bank or having it processed locally as waste paper.

There are still gains to be made on the topic of sustainability and the Rise Booksellers Conference has made it clearer how and what. In the Netherlands, industry association GAU is organising a symposium on sustainability on June 6th.

Look for CB's sustainability initiatives at cb.nl/en/green.