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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

The future of publishing(?)
July 1, 2010 - 7:14pm

One of the little things I like about the National Research Council's recent report on the future of agriculture is the way it's published and priced. You not only get what you pay for, you pay for what you get.

Want a bound copy plus a PDF? That's $76.50.

Just the bound copy is $58.50 if you order it on the web.

Just the PDF? $50.00.

A PDF of a single chapter? Download it for $4.10.

And you just want to read the thing online? That may be a tad inconvenient, but you can't beat the price. It's free. Up to and including the full report with all appendices.

Such a pricing scheme -- directly related both to product and to cost of production -- is rarer than I used to think. If you pay attention to unit prices in the grocery store or the Walmart, you've probably found that the largest package isn't always the best deal. (You've probably also found that the "units" they price by are neither consistent nor entirely logical, but that's another conversation.)

In this Internet age of ours, lots and lots of perfectly good information is available for free. (At least in terms of marginal cash cost to the consumer.) So a non-zero price for information per se can be off-putting. But a book, or a PDF that you can print into a book, that's something additional. And the fact that you could have gotten it for free (but chose not to) makes any pricing almost inherently acceptable.

Of course, I also like the fact that the pricing at least loosely correlates to the amount of greenhouse gas produced. Printing and shipping information is inherently inefficient/energy consumptive. It's especially so when the printouts go to large numbers of people, most of whom use the info only rarely (if at all). This pricing (implemented by the National Academies Press) sends a lot of right signals.

One of our sustainability successes here at Greenback is that we've gotten the campus community (as a rule -- there are still a few dead-enders) to use emails and web pages instead of hard copy for on-campus information sharing. (Event promotion and "general interest" announcements are typical.) Most folks don't attend the events, don't read the announcements, haven't for years. Putting the info on the web both saves paper/energy and decreases the faculty/staff aggravation factor from internal junk mail.

Somewhat similar, although politically more sensitive, has been elimination of our campus directory ("phone book", although for students it hasn't included phone numbers for years). Everything that used to be published in the directory is available, easier to find, and more up-to-date online. The only exception is some ads from businesses targeting students, and the advertising revenue never covered the full cost of publication, anyway.

Sometimes, change isn't all that hard.


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