Yeah, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that, I could afford that Tesla I’ve been eyeing. (Who am I kidding? I could afford that Galactica full series DVD set I’ve been eyeing.) Seriously, it’s a lament that I’ve heard many times, from friends, family and potential customers. But when it came up on Facebook recently, I was recommended to check out Createspace to solve the printed book dilemma. I’ve decided to try it—but before I did, I had to do something important: Find a way to rationalize it.
Createspace (owned by Amazon.com) is a partial solution to the high cost of printing copies of your cool novel. Instead of expensive mass printing, leaving someone (possibly the author) with a hole in their wallet and boxes of books with no place to go, Createspace will print them on-demand, one at a time, and ship them directly to the customer. Individual books will cost more than mass-produced paperbacks… but they will be on paper, something so many people still demand.
Now, although this may sound like an ideal solution to many, it isn’t one to me. Why? Because I still believe, in every fiber of my being, that we need trees more than we need paper. The environment takes a significant hit from every piece of paper manufactured, and not just from trees cut down:
- Felled trees take habitats away from local animals and can no longer prevent erosion or fix carbon from the atmosphere;
- Said trees need to be transported to mills, generally by diesel-belching trucks and tractors;
- Incredible amounts of drinkable water and valuable electricity are required to pulp wood;
- Bleaches and other chemicals are used to give paper its color and texture, said chemicals generally being dumped with the used and dirty water into the local ecosystem after being used;
- The machines that do the milling work need to be serviced, which requires oils and other chemicals that also end up dumped into the local ecosystem;
- Newly-created paper must be driven to printers, requiring more diesel-soot-belching trucks;
- Printers print onto the paper, often with oil-based inks, using machines that need oils, solvents and other materials for servicing;
- Printed materials must be delivered to customers—trucks, again (though, at this stage, many of them are driving on standard gasoline, dumping carbon monoxide into the air instead of diesel soot);
- After customers read the product, they may dispose of it, often immediately, resulting diesel trucks transporting them to the dump, more content in landfills, or releasing of some of the toxic chemicals used in printing the product if it is burned.
This is why I have supported e-books since I discovered their existence, way back in the 1990s. Though e-book readers (either dedicated or not, as you can read e-books on cellphones, tablets, computers and laptops too) must be manufactured, indeed taking them through many of the steps illustrated for paper manufacturing above… they have the distinct advantage of being able to hold hundreds, thousands, even more, of books, magazines, comics, newspapers, brochures, pamphlets… pretty much anything that you could print. The economy of scale is obvious, and more than compelling enough to merit a preference for e-books if you value the ecology of this planet.
Now, understand that I came from the same book world that everyone else came from, and I was more avid than many, though not as avid as some. I had shelves and shelves of paperbacks—hardbacks took up too much space—and boxes and boxes of books that didn’t fit on my shelves. But as a fan of science and science fiction, I also had an appreciation of the benefits science and technology granted us, and I saw the emergence of digital book formats and e-book readers holding thousands of books as that advantage, in spades. I took to them like any other sci-fi fan would take to Captain Kirk beaming into their living room and offering them a ride on the starship Enterprise. (Don’t wait up, Mom.) E-books were the book format of the future, and I was ready to take full advantage of it today.
Until now, I have been fully comfortable with offering my novels as e-books exclusively, and avoiding their mass-production in paper form. Yet, I’ve always been cognizant of those who outright refused to read my books, specifically because they were not on paper. And these numbers include members of my family and (most of) my closest friends, including those who count science fiction as a favorite genre. (Yeah. Science fiction readers. Foregoing the latest and greatest technology for reading. Honestly, I still don’t get that.)
(And speaking of parantheticals, I admit I’ve often suspected some of them use the lack of printed versions as an excuse to avoid reading my books… being that they have their doubts about the quality of any book I could write, because they know me. One of my friends said as much to me at a party. Ah, alcohol, you bitch.)
However, I find that I cannot ignore some other facts; one, that my novels aren’t selling well, mainly due to lack of effective promotion; two, that various independent authors have told me that printed books can be very effective promotional tools; three, those same authors assure me that customers are willing to buy them even at the higher prices that Createspace must charge; and four, that Createspace makes the books available, but doesn’t actually print anything until customers order them, thereby minimizing the above-illustrated waste stream of printed matter as much as possible.
And so, given the evidence and anecdotes at hand, I’ve decided to give Createspace a try, starting with one of my best novels, Verdant Skies. Once I’ve okayed Createspace’s proof copy, I’ll make it available to the public, consider sending copies to promoters who shy away from e-book content, and any other venues in which I can use the books to promote myself.
For me, this is purely a promotional experiment. I’ll get no particular pleasure or pride out of seeing my work in paperback form, being that it’s a medium that no longer impresses me. But if printed books sell, lead people to my other books, and generate a significant income from book and/or e-book sales, then I can’t in good conscience ignore them. I’d still rather people bought my novels as e-books… but I’ll swallow my personal preferences and make my entire catalog available, if there’s a clear demand for them.
And that, after all is said and done, is the issue: Whether I can promote the books well enough to generate demand. Having printed books is not a sure road to success; we still have to see what I can do with them.