How It Works: Holiday Supply Chain Issues

Hello readers,

You may have heard us already talking about the holidays, even though it’s only September. None of us want to hurry Spooky Season along, and we’ve all been craving the fine aesthetic of autumn just as much as you have, but we do have some bad news. The book supply chain is…uh. Broken. Even more than last year. So while you’re celebrating Halloween, we urge you to think ahead a little bit to Hanukkah in November and Christmas in December, and order n o w . 

When we say “the supply chain is broken,” what we mean is that every aspect of book supply–from paper to printing to shipping is some kind of messed up. It’s weird to wrap our heads around, so we’ll try our best to break it down for you.

First, there is a paper shortage. This has been going on for a while, but it’s really come to a head during the pandemic. Demand for all kinds of wood is very high right now, so there is a delays in getting paper-making materials, and a high cost in obtaining them, too. Thanks to the pandemic, there have been workforce and production cuts at paper mills, and changes in staffing for safety purposes. And of course, there’s been disruption in supply from overseas paper mills for the same reasons, plus the exponential rise in shipping costs (mostly from Asia, which have almost tripled). So the cost of paper has increased and the production of paper has decreased, which means the first step of book production and supply is a little borked.

Second: Printing. Printing books has always been a weird guessing game–how many copies do publishers order for a first print run? How do they estimate how well the book will sell? Do they over-order in case it sells well?–but during the pandemic, the guessing game has even higher stakes. The higher cost of paper and shortage in paper production means books are more expensive to print. And there is a huge shortage of workers at printing presses, thanks to the pandemic. The September to November stretch is always the busiest for new books, so work is going to increase at the printers, and they just don’t have the workforce to keep up. Plus, a few of the major printing presses closed over the last few years, so there is more work at fewer places.

And then of course, there are shipping and warehouse problems. Worker shortages exist here, too, which means everything is moving a little slower than it used to. Dockworkers end up in quarantine a lot, which means shipments from overseas are delayed, and there are truck driver shortages, so shipments are taking longer to get across the country, too. The cost of international shipping has increased and the post office is swamped and understaffed, too, which is all just sort of a confluence of awful.

There are issues in every part of the supply chain. It’s not just one disruption, it’s a whole bunch of little disruptions (or a whole bunch of big disruptions), which means delays in getting books printed, delays in books getting shipped, delays in books getting onto our shelves. If we sell out, it might be six to eight weeks before we get restocked.

So please–please–order now. Start thinking about what gifts you want to give and order them now so you can make sure that the wrapped rectangles are ready to go come your holiday. We won’t be able to guarantee any books arriving in time for Christmas starting probably in November. So if you want a specific book for a specific someone–order it now or in October. Even if it’s not out yet–pre-order it now so we know how many to order. Stash them in your closet and be one of those ridiculously prepared people who finish their present shopping before Halloween. We applaud those ridiculously prepared people and hope that all of us can emulate them this year.

If you have any questions, you can always email us at info@oldfirehousebooks.com. If there’s anything about the book industry you’d like us to explain or be more transparent about, let us know. If there are any books you’re concerned about not being able to get, hit us up now. We’re here to help and make your holidays as smooth as possible–even if that means thinking about the holidays a little earlier than normal.

Thank you so much!
Happy reading!
–the Staff of OFB

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