Sarah Hoyt wrote an excellent post here, where among other things she discusses how an executive order mandating the amount of recycled content in paper killed off the Mass Market Paperback and perhaps the binge reader that were the consumers of MMPBs, because we were addicted, to reading:
Welcome to the Year of Go Big or Go Home
Being the weirdo that I am, and because I didn’t believe it, I actually went looking for the executive order in question.
Actually there were three of them:
Executive order Eo 12873 and then the original order was amended twice, Eo 12995 and 13101. Each order increased the amount of recycled paper in paper the government was required to purchase. The reason was that the early 1990’s were the height of the “we’re running out of landfills scare and recycling, especially of paper, was seen as common good. In the 1990’s this garbage barge, unable to find a place to unload was the symbol of how we were failing because we didn’t recycle enough.
so recycling paper was a good thing. Actually, no, it isn’t. There are some good reasons for this. Paper is broken up cellulose strands held in a mash and some king of binder until its dry. The problem is that you have to bleach the paper if it is made from pulp and if it is made from recycled paper, you have to get rid of the ink. That is more expensive than bleaching pulp.
Here’s a video on making paper from pulp.
and another one.
Here’s paper from recycle paper.
The Old adage about the not being a free lunch applies.
Ok, so how did a an executive order for the government requiring the purchase of paper with recycled content effect books and newspapers. The problem here is that in order to have the recycled content paper available there has to be somebody making the stuff, and if you are the government, everybody has to make the stuff or the government would have to have its very own paper mills and supply stream for every kind of paper. That would be rather expensive and I imagine that some Georgia congressman would scream more than a bit. So the conclusion is easy. The EPA mandates the recycled content for everyone. The consumers won’t notice and won’t be able to do anything about it, will they? Sarah’s experience is a lot like mine in about the same time period, the late 1990’s
Also, since recycling paper is more expensive, within a month it took the cost of printing your common, run of the mill mass market paperback from $5 to $8. I was a new-mother at the time, and those $3 put most newly-printed mmpbs out of my reach. I went from buying a couple a month to buying maybe one very three months, and I had to have heard of the author before. The distortions caused by this killed the careers of a lot of mostly mmpb writers — those who write for the story addicts — and also caused distortions that included the rise of the goat gagger (books of more than 250k words) and making hard cover the most profitable format for the houses.
The late ’90’s was when I more or less stopped buying MMPBs and fewer books, mostly limited to authors I already read. That was also the time that I really discovered used books stores, non fiction and book sales. None of which helped the mass market paperback, which has been dying slowly ever since. It may be that the three dollar jump was a leap too far. Good bye B&N and hello, book off.
Of course there was another casualty in the paper price jump, The local newspaper. My dad and I were talking about the jump in paper costs and out of the blue he said, “the paper price jump killed the local newspapers. We went back and forth about it and when we added the consequences up, he was right. I know, the smart people say that the internet killed the local newspaper. The thing is that the local newspapers were dying before Craig’s list and before the internet became as universal as it was, and they were dying because of paper costs and then desperate need to cover those costs at fifty cents a paper. Very people are going to pay more for that for a local paper and if paper costs twice as much, but you can’t charge twice as much the paper is going to get smaller and less interesting and there is less advertising space for things like classifieds and pretty soon you can’t afford a full time local reporter and your local paper gets bought out by Hearst or Gannett.
All this because a president signed an executive order and nobody in the government cared enough to think about what happens when something is doubled in cost at the stroke of a pen. When I was in Georgia in the early nineties, there were tree farms for pulp all over the place. With the market for pulpwood and wood chips smaller, all those trees have to be used for something. The greens have an answer for that too. Here it is:
We pelletize the trees and ship the pellets to England so they can be burned.
And readers, we don’t matter anyway.