Shorter print runs

Only 2% of the world’s paper is used in publishing books, a percentage that is more or less stable.

And yet the number of books being published each year is getting higher and higher.  In fact, it is estimated that between 2006 and 2010 the number of books published in the UK has tripled.

So how can both concepts be true?  How can it be that we have produced three times as many books as we did four years ago, and yet have not used any more paper?

The answer is that book runs have collapsed.  Whereas twenty years ago the average paperback run was around 20,000, now it is a tiny number that is almost impossible to calculate since most publishers are using print on demand.

What this means is that the publisher doesn’t build up a stock and then ship the stock out to bookshops.  Rather the publisher just prints copies when orders come in, and sells them on direct to the person placing the order.

Bookstores are reporting that each year they sell less.  Of course, when a major chain like Borders closes, then other stores like Waterstones pick up the sales a little – but only for a while.  The number of sales through bookstores is going down.

Of course many sales are now online with Amazon being the key retailer here.   Amazon will stock most books – although the publishers have to give Amazon a staggering 60% discount if they want Amazon actually to hold stock (rather than simply list the book and wait for an order – which they say they will fulfill within a month).

The average non-fiction book in the UK is now estimated to sell about 300 copies – which means that for every blockbuster surrounding a TV series, there are hundreds of books that never sell more than half a dozen copies.

But it’s not true that it is getting harder to sell books even though the latest research suggests that one in four adults in the UK does not read a single book in a year (presumably including not even reading a recipe book or a car manual or a football annual or a fashion book or….).

What is happening is that books are becoming more and more niche.  Whereas 30 years ago if you wanted a paperback book on British history you would probably have been able to get one on a period of British history (the 20th century, the Tudors, the Anglo-Saxons etc) but nothing much more defined.  Now, if you were so minded, you could probably find a book on life in north London between 1900 and 1914.

In fact the digital revolution has meant more and more books about more and more specific issues.   But because the print runs are so small, the amount of paper that is used is much the same.

But what has increased is the amount of storage space required.  Most publishers keep four or five copies of each book they publish, and leave it at that.  Since the number of books being published is increasing so rapidly they end up storing more and more and more books.

Which is where we come in.

Based in the West Midlands, we can securely store your company’s documents.

There’s more information on our website or give us a call on 0800 783 9516.


The problem with sheep

When the Domesday Book was written in AD 1086 it was written on parchment (paper not being known in Britain at the time), and it took somewhere around 700 sheep skins to make the parchment.

Fortunately we tend not to use parchment these days – if we did the 250,000 odd books published in the UK a year would need 175,000,000 sheep.  According to the Daily Telegraph, in 2009 there were 30 million sheep. The Telegraph noticed this because it was protesting at the time over the fact that they all had to be tagged.

So, if we used all our sheep up we would still only be able to publish about 2% of the books that we currently publish, if we used parchment.

But we would need far more storage space, since parchment is a lot thicker than paper.

Paper actually emerged in Europe sometime around the 12th century, so in effect the Domesday book came 100 years too early to save the sheep. The next revolution took another 800 years to happen.

Although the digital revolution was supposed to remove much of the need for paper, this hasn’t really happened – which is why we have such a need for storage space.

But what we do now have is the option of tree-free paper which is more eco friendly than traditional paper and which is made from agricultural residues (such as straw and husks) and fibre crops such as bamboo, hemp, jute and flax.  Non fibre sources for this paper include calcium carbonate.

Of late there has also been the development of wood-free paper which is created from chemical pulp made from pulpwood (not technically a wood, despite its name as most of the lignin is removed and separated from the cellulose fibers during processing).  Wood-free paper is not as prone to yellowing as paper containing mechanical pulp.

But still, the paper has to be stored – and that’s why we are here.

There are more details on our website or give us a call on 0800 783 9516.