Notes on a Green Read


A few of our more techie readers might be be wondering why my recent post on five creative ways to be a green bookworm didn’t mention e-books. Ahh, e-books. They’ve been touted as the Next Big Thing for about a decade now but while online music has developed into a massive global industry, e-books are really yet to take off.

The concept is that you download books in digital format and read them on a handheld gadget – about the size of an MP3 music player – such as Sony’s E-book Reader. I can see it might be appealing if, say, you travel a lot and don’t want to weigh your luggage down with heavy books. The idea has gained more traction since the launch of Amazon’s Kindle (currently only available in the U.S.), but it’s still pretty niche. I didn’t mention e-books for a specific reason – I’m not sure that they are actually all that green, at least not for most people.

It’s true that they don’t use paper and that unsustainable paper usage is one of the biggest environmental problems in the publishing industry. The technology is particularly useful for literary agents and publishers – some are now accepting manuscript submissions from authors by email and downloading them to their Kindle without ever printing them out. The devices also use less electricity than you might think because they are not backlit. The issue comes with the life cycle of the devices themselves. As far as I know no one has done the research to tell me how green an e-book reader is when you take into account manufacture and disposal of the devices.

I doubt that these things are built to last – after all, how many people do you know with an outdated or broken iPod or digital camera lying around at home, or someone who has had to return one to the store? E-books might be part of a green future but right now, for most people, it’s more likely they’ll just add to the world’s growing e-waste problem.

If you care about the environment, I believe it’s worth thinking twice before you buy your next gadget. If you can’t give up your gadget habit altogether, the best solution is to go for integrated devices that serve more than one function. For example, many of you might have an iPod or another MP3 music player already. If so, have you thought about audio books? You can buy audio books as downloads (so no manufacturing and shipping of CDs) from online retailers such as Audible or you can download free podcast fiction.

An increasing number of authors are offering their work in the form of podcasts as a way of marketing themselves to new and existing readers. offers full-length novels in all genres as free podcast episodes, and many authors offer free short stories in MP3 format from their own website – such as science fiction author Cory Doctorow with Craphound. Search a feed reader such as iTunes or check out free audio short stories from one of the many podcast fiction magazines such as Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, Variant Frequencies, Drabblecast and Voice of Tomorrow.

Image: stephmcg