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12. Wordcatcher Publishing and Sustainability: 2021 and Beyond

This is the last in our 12 Days of Christmas series of posts detailing how Wordcatcher Publishing Group Ltd plans to meet the ten commitments it signed up to as a signatory to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact.

Here at Wordcatcher, we are deeply committed to sustainability, in every sense of the word. We understand that, without serious climate action and a transition to responsible consumption and production, there is a chance our children will not have a planet to call home.

This is why we’ve taken decisive action. In 2020, we joined the Independent Publishers Guild’s Sustainability Action Group and recently attended its second meeting via Zoom. We were encouraged to see the big strides large publishers like Cambridge University Press have made.

That said, we are a small organisation with under 300 titles. This creates additional barriers, but also allows us to be more dynamic in certain areas.

One key theme raised at the recent Sustainability Action Group meeting was print on demand. Since 2012, when Wordcatcher’s founder, David Norrington, operated as Onion Custard Publishing, we have always followed a print-on-demand publishing model, rather than the print-lots-of-books-and-hope-they-sell version.

Bigger publishers are now moving in that direction, but they can still have huge quantities of stock stuck in distribution warehouses and the supply chain. This causes significant wastage, especially if the books end up damaged or otherwise unsaleable. This model typically involves sending masses of stock to booksellers on a sale-or-return basis. This means that, if a bookshop cannot shift a copy, it makes the journey back to the distribution warehouse (often via the bookseller’s own warehouse), meaning more road or air miles, with all the greenhouse gas emissions that entails.

Whereas traditional publishers might have a print return rate of hundreds, (or thousands) of copies due to this model, here at Wordcatcher, print on demand means we see print returns of zero. We sell books on a firm sale basis, reducing the risk of printing books that might be sold. The only returns we see are if there has been a print error, and this generally affects single copies only. The fact is that traditional print runs assume this wastage will occur.

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Print books: returns are our worst enemy

We recently announced that Wordcatcher has become a signatory to the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals Publisher Compact. We have posted about our plans to get involved with the ten commitments Compact signatories make when they join.

But, it’s all very well signing up to voluntary codes and talking about action. We are most interested in taking action. Like other small publishers, we are placed to deliver quick change, and look forward to having discussions with like-minded business owners, whatever their size, and whatever their ambitions for changing our industry. Together, we can help make the world a better place.

This is a call to action for publishers large and small to learn from each other, and to share best practices in developing more sustainable workflows. It’s also a call to authors and other contributors to work more sustainably too.

In case you missed it, here is yesterday’s post about the tensions between our ideals and the practicalities of committing to a scheme like the Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact.

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12. Wordcatcher Publishing and Sustainability: 2021 and Beyond

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