High shipping costs, skyrocketing paper costs, and labor issues wreak havoc on book publishing schedules.
More than a year into the pandemic, supply chain issues, including those affecting books, are going nowhere.
Earlier this year, news feeds across the country were filled with images of a massive bulk carrier, the Ever Given, awkwardly stuck in Egypt’s Suez Canal.
The 700-foot-long ship was stuck in the channel for six days, hampering shipping around the world. Billions of dollars worth of goods pass through the 120 miles of this waterway daily.
Once the carrier was released and no longer dominated the news, most people probably didn’t give it much thought. However, about a month later, Compliance Week Editor Jacklyn Jager described the incident as a catalyst for disruption that would eventually affect almost everyone, including book publishers.
“The temporary blockage of the canal has created a domino effect of global supply chain disruptions, exacerbating already congested ports…and distribution centers…straining container ship shortages; and delay shipments,” Jager wrote.
Jager predicted that these effects would “impact the production and manufacture of all kinds of consumer goods.”
Fast forward to now, when – reminiscent of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic – the Costco Product Warehouse reinstated purchase limits on key items including bottled water, cleaning products and toilet paper.
Grocery stores manage higher costs by raising the prices of various items like meat, poultry, fish and eggs, due to shortages of raw materials and other ingredients and labor. Labor shortages have prompted some chains to cut hours, while many industries struggle to find volunteer workers.
Freight, labor and paper issues
Publishing supply chain challenges are ongoing. The impacted authors post on social networks.
“Authors! Be aware of supply chain issues, but don’t panic,” @SueCampbell tweeted.
“Sorry everyone. You’ll still be able to pre-order…to make sure you get one in time for Halloween. This world, everything is connected,” illustrator Oliver Jeffers wrote on Facebook of the release. a book.
Existing supply chain problems have been exacerbated, not only by the blockage of the Suez Canal in March and increased consumer demand, but also by more recent shortages of everything from paper to available space. on cargo ships.
“The scarcity of shipping containers combined with overcrowded cargo ships and port congestion all impact the ability to respond [book] delivery dates,” says Andrew Smith, senior vice president and publisher at Abrams Children’s Books.
Smith says “Abrams needs to adjust and delay on-sale dates for some of the [its] titles this fall and [that] much of the book publishing industry experiences the same conditions.
Many publishers’ book release dates are delayed because “the [COVID-19] The pandemic has caused massive disruptions to international shipping and domestic freight,” said Brian O’Leary, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, during a webinar in July.
That’s in part due to capacity reductions at some origins early in the pandemic, which resulted in shipment backups, O’Leary said.
“Soaring consumer demand has resulted in congested shipping lanes, increased travel times and a number of other significant impacts on the freight and shipping market,” O’Leary added. . “Incoming international shipments are also competing with domestic shipments for increasingly scarce trucking capacity.”
Part of this growing demand comes from the book industry. Print sales increased nearly 19% in the first half of this year, according to Weekly editors, compared to the same period in 2020.
But freight, shipping and increasing product demand aren’t the only issues facing global and North American supply chains. Manufacturers in various industries across the country are struggling to keep up with consumer demand due to lumber and labor shortages.
Paper shortages are partly due to rising costs of raw materials needed to produce paper, such as wood pulp. The data shows a 20% increase in the price of wood pulp compared to last year. Additionally, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the cost of paper has increased more than 14% since 2020.
The lack of workers to print and fulfill orders is also a concern, as some printers and manufacturers have been affected by the Delta variant or, like many employers across the country, are struggling to find workers.
In April of this year, there were 9.3 million job openings in the United States, according to Forbes. Although the precise reasons for the so-called labor shortage are unclear and multifaceted, it is difficult to predict how and when labor shortages will ease.
Smith says Abrams takes “extraordinary measures” to get his books delivered to customers.
“We are closely monitoring the situation on a daily basis and working with inventory, sales, editorial, marketing and advertising teams to ensure a smooth coordination of the release of our books,” explains Smith.
Librarians: stay informed, communicate with users
Smith is also keenly aware of the impact book supply chain issues are having on libraries.
“These supply chain constraints are also impacting distributors serving libraries, and they likely will continue,” Smith says. “But we are working diligently to ensure as little disruption as possible so that books eventually reach school and public libraries to coincide with adjusted on-sale dates.”
As for what librarians can do, Karen Jensen, Youth Services Librarian, says good communication is key.
“Connect with all library staff, share articles about what’s happening with the supply chain…and its impact on libraries,” suggests Jensen.
This can include letting staff know that book dates are pushed back and release dates are fluid. Jensen also recommends giving library staff talking points they can turn to when patrons have questions.
For example, staff could apologize for any delays or confusion and explain that there is a global supply chain issue that is affecting how quickly the library gets its book orders.
Jensen follows many authors and publishers on Twitter and frequently sees announcements that book release dates have been pushed back.
“Sometimes it’s as little as two weeks, sometimes up to six months,” she says. To those working in collection development, Jensen advises, “Some books may get pushed back so far that your order is canceled.”
To stay on top of delays, she recommends downloading and saving order lists for easy cross-referencing and tracking what titles are coming in and how long it takes.
Overall, the unprecedented nature of this disruption is a big part of what drives Jensen to believe that keeping library staff well informed is paramount.
“I’ve worked in libraries for a long time…and I’ve never seen anything like it on this scale,” says Jensen, adding, “What’s going on with supply chain right now, and how it affects our libraries, is the kind of knowledge you absolutely need to share” to alleviate confusion and empower staff.