Clean Magazine Publishing by 2050

While most industries struggle for a path to carbon neutrality, the publishing industry has a clear way forward with clean magazine publishing.

clean magazine

I find myself publishing digital books, magazines, and newsletters as I have transitioned away from print over the past decade. I wish I could say that I made this transition to help the planet and slow global warming. Sadly, that was not my motivation. I do believe that digital publishing is the future and that print publishing is the past because the economics of digital publishing are far superior, and the user experience is simply better.

As a digital publisher, my most significant expense is labor. As a print publisher, my highest cost was printing, postage, and shipping.

As a digital publisher, my books, magazines, and newsletters are available to a global audience on a myriad of devices, including computers, tablets, and phones. The websites that host my publishing endeavors include not only the current product but every book, magazine, and newsletter issue that we have ever produced under that brand. I’m keenly aware that 80% of our content engagement in any given month is with content other than the current most recent issues. Our websites are vast digital media libraries that grow and evolve the way libraries should grow and develop over time. I’ve always believed that content is knowledge and that knowledge should be accumulated and not thrown away after first consumption.

Let me also state that I am a science and engineering guy who believes that global warming is real. If we do not slow it by embracing the guidelines of the Paris Climate Agreement and moving toward clean magazine publishing, our children and grandchildren will suffer greatly. At a minimum, we will lose vast coastal areas to rising tides, and destructive weather patterns will harass our descendants for generations.

We are now capable of producing digital magazines and newsletters that are linear, periodic, portable, and finite. The perfect digital magazine and its associated magazine library is also searchable, browsable, and offers users a multi-media experience that can include text, photography, audio, and video. Getting started on the path toward clean magazine publishing by 2050 is something every publisher can work toward right now.

Nearing the close of the last century, Harvard’s Professor Theodore Levitt famously said that “The railroads are in trouble today… because ….they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business.” The publishing industry must not make the same mistake, we are in the information business, not the printing business.”

Dirty little secrets

At face value, the publishing industry cuts down millions of trees. It generates tons of carbon dioxide gas every year to support the manufacturing and distribution of books, magazines, and newspapers. Industry professionals also understand that we cut down more trees and generate more carbon dioxide to market our subscriptions via direct mail, invoices, and renewals. For magazines specifically, our newsstand distribution channel has degenerated to a point where it’s acceptable to shred two out of every three copies we manufacture and distribute.

The digital alternative

Digital books, magazines, and newspapers do not consume paper and petroleum. They do consume electricity to power the creation, storage, and distribution of our content via the World Wide Web and a myriad of email broadcasting systems. After a decade of experimentation, Mequoda and its partners now publish several all-digital properties that not only rely on electricity for manufacturing and distribution, but also for all forms of marketing. Email lists are beginning to grow, and website traffic is now available along with effective targeting mechanisms to handle all of our marketing needs. The faster we as publishers grow our online audiences and cooperate to market our books, magazines, newsletters, and newspapers, the quicker the marketing ecosphere will become 100% digital and clean.

Two dependencies

Our clean magazine publishing future depends on two other industries that we should be monitoring, writing about, and assisting in any way possible. The energy industry must shift away from fossil fuel to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal power to generate the electricity we need to power our business. We are also reliant on the computer industry to manufacture all the devices used to distribute our content, including the computers, tablets, and phones used by our consumers, members, and subscribers to access our content. The information technology industry needs to be efficient in manufacturing, distributing, and recycling the hardware we will all need to make our carbon footprint zero.

Innovation required

Bill Gates was recently interviewed by 60 Minutes on the topic of climate change and the billions of dollars he’s investing to come up with innovative solutions that will help a myriad of industries attain carbon neutrality by mid-century.

He points out that we as human beings will need to innovate as we’ve never innovated before if we’re going to solve this problem and save our planet and our children’s future.

Methane produced by cattle farming in the United States is responsible for about 14% of greenhouse gas production. Methane is much more damaging than carbon dioxide. Thus Gates is investing in companies that produce food products that are meat substitutes to avoid the production of methane gas.

As the publisher of Food Gardening Magazine, I do feel compelled to point out that a plant-based food source goes beyond eliminating methane gas and actually consumes carbon dioxide and produces oxygen for the planet. Once again, I wish I could tell you that I launched Food Gardening Network because I wanted to do my part for the environment. In reality, I supported the launch because my team loves gardening, good food and felt the topic was underserved. My father often told me it was better to be lucky than smart, and I continue to believe him.

Lucky and smart

If we as human beings are going to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century, we will need to be both lucky and smart. As publishers, we can change our business practices and embrace clean book publishing, clean magazine publishing, clean newsletter publishing, and clean newspaper publishing.

All of the technology and business processes required to make the publishing industry clean are available now. We simply need to have the willpower to embrace them as we transition away from trees and petroleum consumption to power our industry.

And while this is powerful, even more powerful is the sharing of content and knowledge that our industry can undertake to help others believe that climate change is real, embrace the things we as humans need to do to control it, and celebrate all the small victories that must occur on the path to carbon neutrality.

I hope you will join me and all of my colleagues in what must be the most important endeavor of our professional lives.

I would love to know your thoughts about what we can do individually and as an industry to evolve towards all-digital publishing and what we can do to help inform our audiences about what they can do to slow global warming and save our planet for the generations to come.

Please share your thoughts on moving towards clean magazine publishing by 2050 in the comments below.


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