I need sustaining just to get me past these sorts of complaints, which make me go weak at the knees.

Much of what Tom Corson-Knowles is saying at PRnewswire is true enough in detail, but put it all together and it can’t really justify the headline “Book Publishers and Book Lovers are Destroying the Planet”. (This piece was linked to by The Passive Voice, eager as always to pass on any story which appears to show publishing is a poor light.) Mr Corson-Knowles claims “that around 10 million of the trees that are killed to create books die in vain each year, because the books end up getting destroyed instead of being read.” Well, of course it’s true that publishers print too many copies of lots of books, and that most of this unsold inventory gets pulped. But this problem of excess inventory is really yesterday’s news: publishers’ inventory control is much tighter today that in the past, and print runs are way down, with more frequent reprints if a book takes off. But what’s a publisher meant to do in a world where you can get orders before publication for a million copies of a book? Say that their customers are nuts and print only half a million? In so far as the problem of excess inventory still exists it only affects a tiny proportion of books: most titles are getting preorders for quantities in the hundreds, not the millions, so there’s no need to overprint. You just don’t see headlines saying “Author X’s latest garners 650 preorders”.

It may also be true that somewhere in the world, say Indonesia, forests are being chopped down faster than they can regenerate. But the American paper industry has gotten its act together on this one, and for every tree chopped down for paper-making another tree is planted. It’d be nice not to chop down those 10 million trees, except of course for the 10 million little seedlings who’d never get to start their journey to treedom.

It’s also true that paper making consumes lots of energy and gives off fairly obnoxious by-products. Here again environmental controls plus self interest have led the paper industry to immensely reduced emissions. But paper-making isn’t unique in using energy. Almost anything we do consumes energy, and it’s NOT an argument in favor of ebooks to say that “Printing books is environmentally expensive”. Creating, transmitting, and reading an ebook is also “environmentally expensive” in almost exactly the same way. It’s just that the energy consumption is going on in places which you can’t see. Do you know for a fact whether any of the juice you put into your iPhone or Kindle is coming from coal-generated power? I’m no expert, but I have seen analyses suggesting that the ebook business consumes more energy that paper books do. It doesn’t really matter whether it uses more, the same, or less: the point is that energy cost does not attach to one side of the equation only.

Even more confusedly “If a bookstore can’t sell its copies, its entitled to request a full refund from the publisher. However, shipping books is expensive. So instead of sending the books back, bookstores often rip the covers off and send only those back to the publisher as proof that the book has been taken out of circulation. Those damaged books are often pulped: ground up, mixed with certain chemicals, and recycled into paper for other uses.” Again this isn’t altogether wrong; it’s just wrong in detail. Booksellers don’t “often rip the covers off and send them back” — this procedure happens with mass paperbacks only, and is based upon the calculation that a cheap paperback is worth less than the cost of shipping it. And of course, as anyone who’s bought one of these knows, books with their covers ripped off are not always pulped: all too often they are sold off cheap to customers who don’t mind cheating the author and the publishers who have already given credit for these rip-offs. It is true that the right to return unsold copies is the bane of our business. We have to do something about this, and I believe that the economics of it will force us to. But as long as we believe that people will buy Fire and Fury if it’s there, but will forget about it as soon as they leave the store, this is a very difficult cure.

TCK Publishing, Mr Corson-Knowles’ company, proudly states that they use print-on-demand technology to eliminate the waste of unsold books. Who do they think developed POD? Certainly not TCK Publishing! Oops, it was those very publishers who are out to destroy the planet.

Now of course all TCK is trying to do is put their best foot forward. Maybe the scare headline was put there by PRnewswire. But these sorts of things exaggerate a reality which is actually fairly anodyne, and allow the commentariat to pile on in absolute irrelevancy.