Chris Anderson: Are dead-tree magazines good or bad for the climate?

I’m very glad it’s Chris Anderson who wrote this post today. As it’s from Chris, the author of the Long Tail and executive editor of Wired Magazine, perhaps he won’t be written off as some right-wing wacko for putting forth the radically un-chiche suggestion that print magazines (Wired, at least) may actually have a smaller “carbon footprint” than the magazine’s website. Again, that’s Chris — executive editor of Wired and former holder of lofty editorial positions at The Economist and the journals Science and Nature, and the best selling author of one of the most influential books about economics published in the past decade — who is making this argument. Not me.

I know, I know. What Chris is saying in this post is obviously wrong — I mean it’s obvious that magazines on paper are worse for the climate than the same content distributed via the web, right? Apparently not so obvious.

I hope Chris’ post will serve as launching pad for a big debate. I hope it does because even really smart people who publish print magazines have convinced themselves that magazines in print are green no-nos.

For example, last April, I noted on this blog that in all of the official announcements about the shuttering of the magazine version of InfoWorld, “benefitting the environment” was never mentioned. However, that didn’t stop Ted (who I apologized to later for calling Tom) Samson from writing an editorial on “magazines vs. the environment” (which is, in some ways, a counter argument to Chris’ post) that attempted (in my opinion, at least) to add some after-the-fact green-spin to the IDG decision. (After my post, Ted responded.) In the new book, Print is Dead, a similar argument is made (I’m posting a longer review later). My friend, Steve Rubel, recently posted some pro-digital, anti-print suggestions that take for granted that print is less green than “consuming” the same content using digital devices.

Sure, it seems logical that “dead-tree magazines” have a bigger “carbon footprint” than magazine content distributed via the web, but is it correct?

I’m glad it’s Chris and not me who is stepping forward to provide my answer.