Demand for Physical Books Meeting Sustainable Standards

Every book lover knows the debate: physical books or ebooks? A study has now shown that the majority actually still prefer physical books. In the age of rising environmental awareness, however, this means that book printers have to make books sustainable.

In a new survey commissioned by the renewable pulp and paper manufacturer Stora Enso in March 2022 among 2400 book readers and listeners in the UK, France, Germany, and the US were questioned on their reading behavior and handling of books. The goal of the survey was to gain insights into whether the market would stay that way in a post-pandemic world.

The study discovered that more than half of the people who read books still prefer physical books. Ebooks and audiobooks are rather unpopular among reading fans despite our digital age. The study also found that many people took the pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home request as an encouragement to start reading as a regular hobby.

“People have begun rediscovering reading, partly prompted by the pandemic,” Jonathan Bakewell, VP Office Paper Segment of Stora Enso, says, “where many were tethered to their screens all day for work or school, then didn’t want to take them to the sofa when it was time to relax.”

Physical Books Are Sustainable For Many Reasons

With sustainability and environmental protection being top of mind to many, it may sound a bit out of place to use physical books instead of digital alternatives. Many readers assume that ebooks are more sustainable. However, ebooks require energy to be produced and used. Of course, physical books also consume energy and CO2 in their production, but once they are on the bookshelf, they are their own carbon storage.

The survey also noted that most books are reused over and over again. Indeed, respondents majority said they keep books they have finished reading and do not dispose of them elsewhere. Nearly one-third give finished books away to lend or donate, and another one-third sell the books. Only the remaining five percent throw the books in the trash. Reusing items in this way helps the environment, too.

Apart from this, the surveyed readers also said they are willing to spend more money on sustainably produced books. This suggests that there is an indirect interest in the decarbonization of the industry, which the book printing sector should definitely take into account.

“The book industry certainly feels as if it has accelerated its requirement to go green, especially since the lifting of lock down restrictions and ‘business as usual’ returning.”

explains Lisa Faratro, director of environment and sustainability at book printers the CPI Group in Printweek, who presented the study in an article.

Less Scope Three Emissions, but Pay More

Companies like Stora Enso are already exploring opportunities for more sustainable book production. They are placing a focus on what are known as Scope Three emissions. These emissions measure the carbon dioxide emissions of an organization along its entire value chain, including the proportion of emissions from suppliers and consumers caused by their activities.

“Knowing this, the next question for Stora Enso and our customers, is how we can best meet this demand for carbon neutrality as an industry,” Bakewell says, adding “Offsetting is something we only consider when we have carbon emissions that are currently unavoidable. And of course, we are always looking for ways we can avoid emissions now and in the future as options open up.”

Book buyers should be aware that a more sustainable and lower-carbon production will naturally increase the price of books. Books have only become 15% more expensive in the last 20 years. The constant inflation and the more environmentally friendly production will make them more expensive in the long term.

The Future of the Book Industry Will Lie in Multiple Formats

But that shouldn’t be an obstacle for true book lovers. After all, they are less concerned with the price of a book than with its value. It’s not just about enjoying what’s written and using it to imagine foreign worlds. It’s also about treating the book as a work of art. For instance, a book with a beautiful cover, as part of a large collection, simply looks fancy. For some people, books are as much a part of a cozy interior as a pretty picture. Books create tangible moments through their feel and smell. And passionate readers will surely spend a little more money on precisely this sensory experience if it means that the earth can be protected as well.

Encouragingly, as already noted, most respondents show openness to spending more money on climate-neutral books, because after all, they stick to physical books instead of switching to digital alternatives. So in the long run, the book industry will stay multi-format, and sustainable books fit perfectly into that concept.

What about you? Do you prefer to read analog or digital? And would you pay attention to whether your books were produced sustainably?

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