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Innovation at Earth Policy Institute

I had dinner last night with an old friend, Lester Brown, who founded the Worldwatch Institute and more recently started a new organization, the Earth Policy Institute (EPI).

I knew I would get some ideas for our sustainability project, but I hadn’t realized that Les would make me consider a new approach to our publishing and distribution. He has published some 30 books with W. W. Norton, the most recent being Plan B 2.0, Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. That’s a new edition of the 2003 Plan B, and he’s just been to China to promote it and to receive the equivalent of the Chinese National Book Award.

Here’s the publishing innovation: Norton provides EPI with copies as they want at a very low price, and Earth Policy sells the book on its website in substantial numbers. EPI also offers the book, in chapters, free downloading. Get that? Free downloads of a book that EPI is selling at list price and that Norton is selling through all the usual channels.

This is Web 2.0 thinking. Les says it’s very successful. They sell a lot of books, Norton does nicely, and the work they’re doing is far more widely and globally distributed than it would ever be otherwise.

Is there a lesson here for Berkshire Publishing?

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