Dead Tree Publishing’s Bad-For-the-Environment Math

Many industries have built-in inefficiencies that some don’t want to see fixed, for there’s money to be made in these dark zones. For instance, say your team adopts new technology that improves efficiency. Some might fear that change because greater efficiency can lead to fewer billable hours, at least in the short term before more work can be brought into the system. It’s faulty logic, but that doesn’t make it go away.
Wired UK paints the print media industry as one with mass inefficiencies and a willingness to live with them in an article titled, “All the news that’s fit to bin.”

Retailers are typically irritated if more than 5% of the goods that reach their outlets fail to sell. Many magazine publishers, by contrast, remain content if 40% of their products are returned unsold by retailers.
The industry has a name for managing this mountain of waste. It’s called reverse logistics.
In the words of one dispirited editor: “We’re talking about an industry that prints millions of magazines every month knowing that it will end up pulping 40% of them.
“God help us when someone works out the carbon footprint involved in this. All it would take is a couple of activists, some data and a little bit of coding to blow the lid off the whole thing.”

The waste exists because it’s relatively cheap to produce additional print copies once the presses are up and running. Even though a smaller percentage of a given print overage will end up selling, due to the limited costs of the overage, the publisher still profits.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.