Books overboard! Supply chain headaches leave any publication at sea | Editing

Last year’s supply chain crisis caused a stir in the book publishing industry – literally.

In early January, a large transport ship from Taiwan was stranded in the mid-Atlantic, its arrival in New York Harbor delayed by port congestion. Severe weather – huge waves and strong ocean winds – knocked over 60 containers at the sea. Another 89 containers were damaged as the ship rolled in the waves.

Inside the containers were two highly anticipated cookbooks slated for release this spring: Turkey and the Wolf by New Orleans chef Mason Hereford and Dinner in One by New York Times columnist Melissa Clark.

“The good news is that there were no serious injuries, as can happen in these situations. But the bad news is that the books could be in a cargo container at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean” , wrote Hereford on instagram, saying it was “the most hilarious thing of 2022 that happened this year”. Both authors have pushed back the release dates of their books to later this year.

The loss of books in stormy seas seems almost an all too apt metaphor for the strain and chaos the coronavirus pandemic has inflicted on the publishing industry as it struggles to deal with supply issues, paper shortages and an increase in demand.

The effects of the crisis have been considerable: even Donald Trump weighed in, to complain to Fox News about delays in printing more copies of a photo book of his presidency, titled Our Journey Together, which is printed by Donald Trump Jr.’s publishing house.

According to Trump, the book’s printer told him, “Well, we have a problem: we can’t get paper. We can’t get ink. We can’t get glue. We can’t get leather for the covers.

While these issues are new to Trump, the publishing industry has been struggling in its supply chain for months, affecting release dates and the availability of new titles.

Hachette UK chief executive David Shelley warned in December that supply chain issues “most extreme” challenges he had seen in his career.

The pressure on the book industry’s supply chain coincides with the surge in demand for printed books during the pandemic. Sales of printed books in the United States have been at the top 8.9% in 2021 compared to 2020 which was already up 8.2% compared to 2019.

While increased sales are generally good for the industry, book printing capacity has declined over the past decade. A major US printer closed in 2018, while two others have significantly reduced their book printing operations in recent years.

“It’s a long-term trend to see reduced capacity in print,” said Brian O’Leary, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, which has analyzed industry supply chain issues. . “This loss of capacity has been an issue since 2018, long before the pandemic…but there has been continued consolidation and declining capacity.”

Printers have been unable to meet growing demand from publishers because investing in new printing machinery is expensive, and it is unclear whether demand for printed books will continue to grow.

Paper has also been harder to come by, O’Leary said. Mills have reduced their production of paper for books and magazines, instead using pulp to make more cardboard, packaging and other more lucrative types of paper. Whereas buyers once had the upper hand in the paper market and could order as much paper as they needed, paper mills now tell printers how much paper they can give them.

The shortage of paper has, in some cases, visibly changed the size of the books. Different grades of paper will determine the thickness of a book. A Twitter user in September posted a picture of two copies of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, one significantly thinner than the second although both are the same price.

Some books, especially those that require a lot of color like cookbooks and art books, are usually printed in Asia, where the printing cost is cheaper. But like many industries trying to ship goods across oceans, delays abound.

Major ports on both coasts have been jammed for months, with dozens of ships floating offshore waiting to dock and unload their containers. Containers piled up on the docks, leaving a lack of space and a shortage of containers, as there was a shortage of truckers. Warehouse storage has also been rare due to labor shortages in warehouses and businesses stockpiling products to meet demand.

Book publishers expect this series of supply chain problems to continue this year.

“We must anticipate continued disruption in 2022. We are working hard to improve our ability to receive and ship our books faster and [keep] more reliable schedules,” Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch said in a company-wide statement. E-mail Last year.

Supply chain clogs have been particularly difficult for independent booksellers across the country, who have had to encourage customers to be patient with titles that are out of stock or whose releases have been delayed due to the supply chain. ‘supply.

“It made things a little more stressful just because things always change at the last minute now. A lot of books have very long publication deadlines, and we just see a lot of books having their publication dates pushed back,” said Colleen Callery, marketing and communications manager at Books Are Magic, an independent bookstore in Brooklyn.

A woman walks past the Books Are Magic bookstore in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Some books have had their release dates pushed back multiple times, causing “domino effects,” affecting pre-order campaigns and events.

Callery said customers have been patient and the bookstore’s sales have not been affected, in part because of campaigns encouraging readers to shop at independent bookstores.

In a statement to The Guardian, Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, said many independent bookstores have seen demand increase in recent years.

“2020 and 2021 have been tough years for so many businesses, and independent bookstores have been no exception, struggling with significant cost increases and uncertainty, but their recent sales have been encouraging,” he said. said Hill.

Independent booksellers have started changing the way they order books, Hill said, predicting which new titles will be popular, investing in titles they want to promote and reserving copies in case inventory runs low. Booksellers also recommended more backlist titles — books that aren’t considered new releases — to customers, encouraging them to buy books they already have in stock. At least it’s too late for these to get lost at sea.

About Joey J. Hott

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