Do you like to give or receive books as Christmas gifts? You might want to order them a bit earlier this year. Book industry pundits warn a string of supply chain issues ranging from paper shortages to chaos at ports and lack of available truck drivers could conspire to ruin a lover’s Christmas of books.
While readers around the world spent more time at home last year, sales of printed books in the United States rose 8.2% from January 2020 to December 2020, according to the NPD Group, with skyrocketing sales in non-fiction, adult fiction, juvenile and adolescent categories.
Candice Huber, owner of Tubby and Coo’s Mid-City Bookshop in New Orleans, already sees it now. Books that used to take two or three days to arrive now take up to eight weeks to get to his store.
She had heard of delays due to supply chain disruptions, but was unsure what other factors were making it increasingly difficult to restock her store. After doing some research on her own, Huber took to Twitter on Monday to share what she had learned from suppliers, and it all starts with the shortage of wood.
“When you think of a wood shortage, you don’t immediately think of books or whiskey,” she said. “Most people think of construction,” Huber said in an interview with Yahoo Finance.
Lumber shortages pushed the cost of lumber to a record high of $ 1,686 per thousand board feet in May, according to the North Carolina State College of Natural Resources. The overall cost increase was 406% from May 2020, up from $ 333.
These shortages have also pushed up paper prices considerably. The New York Post reported this week that prices for paper, pulp and corrugated board were 18.1% higher last month than in August 2020 and 1.6% higher since July, based on Bureau of Labor producer price index. The surge in paper prices is also compounded by the increase in e-commerce during the pandemic, Business Insider reported.
Problems also exist beyond product shortages. During a webinar hosted by Brian O’Leary, Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group in July, O’Leary and several panelists outlined the various shipping and freight issues leading to supply chain issues, including overcrowding in ports, drastic increases in shipping costs and a shortage. freight drivers.
“We have a full year of pent-up demand making its way into the US supply chain,” Ryan Forbes, logistics and transportation at Readerlink, a book industry distributor, told the webinar, highlighting the serious shortage of freight drivers.
Even when international shipments reach our shores, Forbes said the lack of drivers is a key part of supply chain failures. He explained how a retired group of baby boomer drivers aged 55 to 57 are not being replaced by younger drivers. When COVID started, driving schools were forced to downsize, Forbes said, either capping enrollment at 40% to 50% or shutting down completely, making it difficult for new drivers to get started.
“Carriers literally turn down business. It’s not about opening the checkbook and saying we’ll pay you more … The carriers come out and they try to recruit drivers, and they find out they can only get 10-15% of those. recruitments goals. “
David Hetherington, vice president of global business development at Book International, said he has never seen this kind of pressure on the supply chain before, and an increase in online orders only makes it worse. shortages and demand problems.
Huber typically places orders as needed, filling the shelves with the most popular books as they sell out. This fall, she won’t have that luxury.
“What I have to do right now is make decisions about which books will be released in the last quarter of the year and basically predict if we think a book will sell a lot and if we will need it for another. the holiday season, ”Huber said. .
An example, according to Huber, that booksellers are already worried about the number of copies they will be able to obtain from the collaboration of former President Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen, “Renegades: Born in the USA”. The biography of the former president, which appeared last fall, was the best-selling book of 2020, according to Publisher’s Weekly.
“Normally we would just order copies and if we all sold, we would order more. But we can’t do it now. Once you’ve sold, you’re out, and I have no scheduled date when things will be back in stock. If a book is out of stock, we just can’t get it.
Huber can’t stress it enough: pre-order all the books on your list. If you miss her release, she said, a little patience is key.
“And it’s not just the books right now either. This goes for retail in general, ”she said. “Be flexible and be prepared to wait.”