Monday, May 20, 2024

Could Books Be Going the Way of Fast Fashion?

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As the social media appetite for new books grows, has publishing turned into fast publishing? Is it time for us all to start renting, borrowing, and thrifting more when it comes to books?

Books might be one of the oldest forms of entertainment, but they are showing no signs of falling out of favor anytime soon. Right now, books are all the rage on TikTok (#BookTok has more than 90 billion views). And last year, research suggested that young people in the U.K. read 25 percent more books in 2022 than the year before. But, while more people reading is, without doubt, a good thing, it does have a downside. Like all enormous industries, books have a significant environmental impact.

The world of publishing is speeding up

Every year, up to one million new book titles are published through traditional publishing houses, but, when it comes to the amount of books hitting the market every year, this isn’t the full picture. The self-publishing market is also on the rise, and in 2021, data suggested that around 2.3 million books were self-published. This is great for those looking for new and exciting books to read, but it also represents a problem. The market is already over-saturated with new titles, and with help from social media, it’s speeding up.

Suffice to say, TikTok’s reach when it comes to books is gargantuan. According to Circana BookScan, the sales of more than 100 #BookTok popular authors reached $760 million in 2022. Inspired by this success, last year, ByteDance (the company that owns TikTok) announced that it would be launching its own publishing company, 8th Note Press. Any brand that goes viral on TikTok is virtually guaranteed to be a success. Just look at Shein, an ultra-fast fashion brand that has been widely criticized for its impact on the environment and human rights, and yet still continues to thrive. In 2023, research suggested that Shein is the most popular brand on TikTok for fashion hauls videos.

woman reading
Photo courtesy Les Anderson

The parallels between fast fashion and publishing have not gone unnoticed. “Fast fashion refers to the process of clothing manufacturing that moves from production/design to stores quickly to keep up with current trends,” writer Sherene Yang recently wrote for the Campus Times.

“These pieces are often cheap and low-quality, sent to retail stores with the hope of selling out quickly thanks to current trends,” she added. “This same approach emerging in the publishing world, thanks partially to #BookTok, could lead to diminishing book quality when writing and edits aren’t able to reach their maximum potential.”

Yang was concerned largely with diminishing quality, but this could also worsen the publishing industry’s existing detrimental environmental impact. Already, 320 million books end up in the landfill each year, where they will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, like methane and carbon dioxide. On top of this, the book industry also fells billions of trees for paper every decade. 

How to read, sustainably

There are so many benefits to reading. It can help to boost creativity, enhance writing and language skills, help us to understand and learn about the world, and it’s good for our mental health, too. But when it comes to helping the environment, it’s vital to take a step back from constantly buying new.

campus library
Photo courtesy redcharlie

Of course, not all new books are printed on paper. E-readers are more popular than ever, and they don’t require trees or ink. They can also hold many books at a time, which significantly reduces waste. But they aren’t perfect. These are also often thrown in the landfill. In fact, research suggests that more than 80 percent of electronic waste is not recycled. That said, Amazon, which manufactures Kindle e-readers, does offer a recycling program, through which it covers all of the costs associated with shipping and recycling its devices.

But, if you prefer to hold a real book in your hands, there are ways you can do this more sustainably, too. Instead of buying new, consider visiting a library to borrow books (and you can also donate some of your old books, too). You can also opt for publishers that use recycled paper and only print small, on-demand runs to minimize waste, too. And when you’re done with them, recycle, participate in a book swap with friends, or you could even get crafty (maybe a book headboard speaks to you?). Just whatever you do, don’t throw that old copy in the trash. 

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