Why Permanence Matters to Me

I love books. There's nothing like the experience of cracking open a brand new book and spending a lazy Saturday reading all day. My favorite places to spend an afternoon are the library or a bookstore. I am that person at the flea market digging through a bin of old books, looking to purchase a piece of history. I have books from my childhood and my mother's childhood that I enjoy sharing with my children. I hope to pass on my love of reading, and these books, to my grandchildren.

Recently, I discovered an organization called "Permanence Matters". I was surprised to learn that many of the hardcover books that I've bought recently will likely not be around for me to pass to my grandchildren. It seems that in an attempt to save money, some publishers are printing hardcovers on low quality "groundwood" paper. In fact, according to Permanence Matters, more than half of the books on the New York Times bestseller list are now printed on this inferior paper instead of what is known as "freesheet" or "permanent" paper. To clarify, the issue of permanent versus groundwood paper is separate from discussions about acid-free paper (virtually all books are printed on acid-free paper these days anyway so it's not an issue anyway). Groundwood paper is made by a mechanical grinding process which leaves components such as lignin in the paper. Lignin is what causes the paper used in mass market paperbacks and newspapers to go yellow and brittle after a few years; the paper also tears more easily because the fibers are shorter.

When I purchase a hardcover book, I expect it to last for a long time. To me, that is really the point of spending the extra money. The frustrating thing about this situation is that there is no way for the average consumer to know what type of paper a book is printed on at the time they buy it, and even if publishers were to start noting in the opening pages the type of paper used, most readers are, as yet, unaware of the problem so wouldn't know to check before buying.

I would love to be able to pass some of my children's books to my grandchildren, and it makes me sad to think that those books will likely end up in tatters before my children reach adulthood. Not all children's books will end up being reprinted in the future. Therefore, my grandchildren may not be able to enjoy the stories that their parents loved so much in childhood.

I love to share books with people, and this decision by the publishers (which saves about 10 cents per book in paper costs) is going to influence my book buying. Sharing books connects people because you can learn so much about a person by his choice of literature. Don't you love the conversations you have with a friend after sharing a good book? "What was your favorite part? Which character did you identify with the most?" If the hardcovers I buy are at risk of falling apart after a few years, or after a few readings, I'm going to be much more cautious about buying them as, for me, much of the pleasure of buying a book for myself is being able to share it with my friends.

Permanence MattersIf you'd like to know more about this, visit "Permanence Matters" and find out how to get involved. At a bare minimum, surely publishers should commit to noting on the book's copyright page what sort of paper has been used? And those that use Permanent Paper could proudly display the Permanence Matters logo - then we consumers would be able to make an informed decision. Because really, that is what this issue is all about: giving the consumer full disclosure about the durability of what we are buying.

What do you think is a good solution for this problem? What do you expect when you buy a hardback book? Will poor quality influence your purchasing? Will it influence your book sharing? Would love to hear your thoughts on this!

April Freeman in Middle TN.

Thanks for the excellent blog! I am 75 years old and grew up on books, thanks to my mother and the support of my father, neither of whom went to high school. Didn't have to back then since 8th grade graduates came out literate. I think publishing in America... is dismal. To put it in nice terms. Little or no interest in challenging or bringing a reading population up. Mostly they play to who they think makes up mass consciousness and will pay. Will pay. That is their bottom line! What a sorry anti-literary country America has become, partly because of the low-minded money-grubbing publishing industry! Richard Lee Van Der Voort, M.A.
# Posted By Richard Lee Van Der Voort | 10/14/11 7:37 PM
I think the book market slowly but surely is developing from a physical to a digital book product. For me personally I still love a great hardback book copy but I believe that in a few generations this "old" way of reading the written word will be obsolete.
Technology is the key to the future in many ways - and maybe a book in a paper form will be as rare as a vinyl release of a record these days.

Best Regards

Morten from http://ratemybooks.com/
# Posted By Morten | 10/17/11 12:21 PM
I also think that the publishers should be willing to let the consumer know what type of paper the book contains. I love books, and would really hate to see them disappear in favor of electronic readers. But sadly, I can see it coming. Not one of my grandchildren loves books or reading like I do. They are far more comfortable with anything electronic, especially video games. That said I received an e-reader as a gift, but I really don't enjoy reading it as much as I do a physical book.
# Posted By Loretta | 10/26/11 12:07 PM
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