Since the beginning of the pandemic there seems to have been a new shortage of something or other almost monthly due to the interconnectedness and globalization of our economies – well, and of course job security and social distancing as we know the COVID-19- Virus spreads. From chicken to equipment to work / study from home, most people are affected by supply shortages in one way or another, and the publication is no different.
While this topic has really increased in 2019 and 2020, the paper shortage was an issue even before the pandemic. In a 2019 interview with Forbes Magazine, Lee & Low Books‘ Director of Production and Manufacturing, said this problem was cyclical but that this cycle (which is now expected to last through 2022) is unusually long. He referred to consumer habits, technology, politics (Trump’s tariffs) and economics.
The tree farms that were used to print books in the US are now more often sharing customers with packaging companies as consumers demand more sustainable (and recyclable) alternatives to plastic. As magazines are bought less (a customer is asking for paper of similar quality to book publishers) and sales of printed books decline over time, factories are less willing to devote time and space to the paper they need. My paraphrase is a simplification, and the interview in its entirety is worth reading. It’s not just about trying to be more sustainable.
Paper mills have been throttling production for years due to a lack of demand, then the pandemic hit & production was cut back even further. Demand has grown much faster than expected and paper mills simply don’t have the raw materials or the manpower to keep up.
– Tubby & Coos (@tubbyandcoos) September 13, 2021
I find the supply chain issues that have arisen due to Covid kind of fascinating. This thread is about why it is getting harder and harder to buy books. God knows, if Covid showed us something, how badly we need books. https://t.co/AGt9HfOq5T
– Ashley Nicole Black (@ ashleyn1cole) September 14, 2021
Enter 2020 where nothing has gotten better. We started the pandemic by buying up the toilet paper, do you remember? Toilet paper was also not the only increased demand for paper last year. In 2020 alone, book sales rose to an eight-year high due to the pandemic. Between the folks reading (or at least buying) racism after last summer and the general need to take refuge in a book while stuck inside, books were in great demand last year. This year, too, the trend continues despite printing pressures, as many printing companies have died out in recent years.
There is also the problem that the shipping element of the supply chain deteriorates. Shipping costs are rising due to increased demand, along with the workers in docks and warehouses being quarantined due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Throw in the Suez Canal problem (which happened TWICE) plus a lack of wood (which also exacerbates housing problems) and you have more stress on the industry.
As with most problems, not everyone felt this to be the same. Smaller stores have less bargaining power over larger retailers (and Amazon) because they don’t have as much stock and can’t discount books even though prices rise.
For authors, the âsaferâ the author is, the more likely it is that he will get more progress and numbers on first prints. Safer usually means that they are already famous, generally faced with fewer barriers (white, healthy, “decent”, etc.), the topic is recycled or just very trendy, etc.
This caused a stir last year when Barack Obama published the 700+ pages A promised land. As the first book (of two) after his tenure as the first black president, the demand for his book meant priority over others not only in marketing but also in print. Even his book required him to keep a dying paper mill running for two more months and to print 1/3 of the books in Germany. The publisher tried to dust off the criticism by saying that the impact Obama’s book had on the marketplace was no different from other books in high demand. Not smooth, but it shows that the inequality is noticed and undeniable.
Folx didn’t go mad until late realizing that we’ve had a paper shortage in the publishing industry for * at least * a few years (and a cost hike that affects pricing). And don’t even get me started with tariffs! I blame Drumpf.
– signed a 12 year old production editor https://t.co/eJOT9CFjlZ
– Jenn Baker (she / she) – Offline (Sept. 2021) (@jbakernyc) September 22, 2020
Why is that important?
Why am I giving you all this damnation and darkness now? Because if you want to guarantee that you will get a book in time for holidays, birthdays, or just when the book you want comes out, now is the time to buy it. Books that are out of stock now typically take six to eight weeks to replenish.
Even if you don’t care about getting a book before 2022, it still matters. Given the tension in the supply chain, pre-ordering books is now more important, especially for first-time authors and marginalized communities that are already receiving smaller first-edition editions. The pre-order tells the publishers that there is a demand for the book. This can then lead to more books for the first edition and a larger marketing budget.
Also, as this TikTok explains, it ensures that workers in independent bookstores are paid during the holiday season. You also quote that Forbes Item showing rising freight container costs, shortage of truck drivers and the cost of warehouse real estate.
let’s talk #Supply chain ! thanks to @printbookstore @Kutysv @annasproul and @maririskreizman for great tweets pic.twitter.com/eqCW5be6Xt
– Blue stockings (@bluestockings) September 13, 2021
Earlier this week, fantasy writer SA Chakraborty went live on a stream to answer questions about the upcoming. a The Silver River: Stories from the Daevabad Trilogy (from March 2022), as it will initially only be available digitally. Chakraborty said if the book goes well there is Power be physical pressure. Citing the paper supply issue, she said it could take months to be confirmed.
If you’re looking to buy a physical book before or early 2022, get it now. Avoid Amazon (and other big companies) by buying from places like Bookshop.org, Thrift, or your local indie seller.
(Image: Canva and Ksenia Chernaya from Pexels.)
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