I wonder what book lover hasn’t ever gasped wishfully at the sight of age-old libraries, subconsciously associating their beauty with the harmony among the book spines. Harmony, because even if those books were individually designed to please the eyes of a certain era’s reader and not necessarily made for a particular book collector or library, overall one cannot ignore the fact that those literary pieces (often pieces of art on their own right) sit on the shelves in perfect friendship with each-other. They hardly itch to grab all the attention of the onlooker.
Not so in modern times. Look for example at the shelves of my own, average in appearance home library.
The most you can say about these publications is that the publishing industry operates with certain standard book size categories, across the world.
Other than that, they all (except, perhaps, plain textbooks) are fiercely competing with each other and my eyes for that maximum attention. As if the worth of the contents of a literary work, or rather the successful message conveyance of it really depended a great deal on the cover, so the first impression.
You see all the colors of the rainbow and much more on a single arm length stretch of bookshelf, only broken up into a complete, messy and irrevocable disharmony.
Of course, me as the library owner could walk all my books to a bookbinder and ask her or him to do a wonder and reestablish a sense of harmony among them akin to those seen at venerable places. However this would only provide me and my book lover visitors with the illusion of harmony, with a faux superficiality that does not extend beyond the outer cover, replacing or glued to the original hard or soft cover of a certain edition.
My dream is very different. So different, in fact, that it challenges the way we conceive of book publishing as such. But that’s why we are here – to reconceive. And – as a disclaimer – I am not about to advocate for e-publishing this time around. Let’s just remain in the realm of the good old tangible, bendable, lickable(?), smellable Gutenberg Galaxy, but…
Here’s a scenario, not at all outlandish. In fact I am determined to carry this out either as client of the desired entrepreneurial enterprise or the co-founder of such.
So, hereby I am officially looking for potential dedicated partners, who can match these ideas with business savvy and capital.
Let me give you my example, because that’s what I feel the most passionate about – naturally. I came to the realization that my ecological household cannot bear much longer with toxically manufactured books on the shelves – that is if we, Cheryl and I, care about the authenticity of our principles, and we do -, yet I want to be able to continue enjoying the company of physical books in our house. A chronic tension, but there is remedy for it.
First of all, I am going to select through every book I already own, and all the scrutiny applied, I am going to be left exclusively with those works that have true meaning, value to me and my family, with my toddler age, however rapidly growing child in mind.
Whoever the author may be, from the antique Greek times to our present contemporaries, I want to be able to take any of their work and in my typically 1 copy, non-salable limited edition to reprint it (or have it reprinted) in a way that is completely customized to my ecological and aesthetic likes. From cover to cover, through the spine, the paper and ink from the first letter to the last.
This would mean either taking the favored earlier edition, and true to the sample just copy that design, however by using solely those materials (inks included again) that fit my personal eco-conscious principles, or not being design dependent (because e.g. it’s a novel or poetry with no graphics added, only the plain text), simply reprint the text in the font style and size of my choice.
And to do all this rightfully, as well as lawfully!
I can imagine a handful of publishing hubs opening their doors worldwide, say one per continent in the beginning and grow from there into something more region specific. These centers would still be highly connected to each-other, acting as a network that shares the same sustainability standards and technological know-how all the way through.
They would have a few dispersed secure servers storing the “style data sheet” of each customer anywhere in the world, so that any publishing center of the network could access the information with the same ease. When a client places the order of a book, she or he is automatically being directed to the publishing center that falls geographically closest to the residency of the author (or its rights heir)of the chosen book. This is for the practical reason of better overcoming potential language barriers and to smoothen the official process of the copyright transfer. Personally I believe in no copyright policy, which does not mean no royalty. Within the range of affordability to the client, cutting out the sluggishness of conventional publishing companies, the client, me, should be able to receive the hard copy of the desired work in no longer time than what it takes to order a book from an Amazon warehouse or to get my book back from the bookbinder’s workshop across town – wherever applicable, see below.
In the appointed publishing center of this network any trained employee could retrieve my library’s style information and merge that with the design ideas of the new order, for the overall harmonious appearance of the library to be assured.
And now let me describe the ecological part to this highly customized printing system.
Paper: primarily organically grown and unbleached hemp of different finenesses and texture, organic (even color grown) unbleached cotton, unbleached cellulose from sustainably managed forests. No recycled paper, unless it comes exclusively from within the standard system of this network – take it as elite recycling, or rather recycling with great responsibility.
Inks: this will take a great deal of experimentation, but I have good faith in the extract of different walnut species (e.g. Juglans regia or J. nigra). Soy ink would only be acceptable, if it comes from provenly GMO-free organic production, but because of its controversy, might not be one of the top choices for ink source. Coffee grounds from pure organic sources are also welcome, as are any organically grown dye plants or sustainably obtained (e.g. through responsible, small scale operations) natural mineral pigments that are non-toxic in any step of their preparation for ink.
Binding: use of no synthetic (that is petroleum based, nanotechnology or GMO-sourced) materials. Organic hemp, flax, cotton threads, organic glues, rustfree, non-corrosive, non-toxic metals for staples, wires and such. For covers – beyond the materials discussed in the paper section – organic textiles woven into durable cloths, naturally cured leather from organic animal husbandry – no endangered species accepted.
Packaging: minimalist approach, using only organically sourced natural materials that went through the shortest necessary processing to achieve desired durability. I imagine it would typically be thin yet strong cardboard of unbleached cellulose pulp. Glues and printing inks as described above.
Shipping: using solely green energy. Overseas by sail boats harnessing even higher elevation winds and direct solar energy. True, this slows things down, but for one thing speed should not be the most important concern of clients in this system, plus one can alleviate a lot of inconveniences by just planning ahead. Speed could also be partially made up for in the ground transportation segment of a book’s travel. This would be primarily rail, using electric traction and factoring in 100% green electricity source for what it takes to move the book from point A to point B. The client then can choose to pick up the book from the closest train station in person or have the book delivered by fuel-cell or electric vehicles where applicable. Hopefully more and more international parcel service companies are going to include fuel-cell or electric delivery vehicles into their fleets shortly.
But please do not regard shipping as such the focal part of my essay-type post, because I myself didn’t. Focus on absorbing the novelty in this kind of developing one’s sustainable library.
I welcome any related questions or concerns, to help take unsustainable and toxic books off the shelves of an ecological home the soonest possible. Ironically, if you do try to lead an ecological lifestyle, looking around in your home, you may well find that the heaviest and/or the most numerous objects harmful to your health are books – the very sources of information that try to help you live an ecologically sound life in the first place.
I want my child to be able to safely put any of her books (and mine) in her mouth – when so it happens, therefore I believe the future of the book publishing industry is in eco-customization. How about you?