Several booksellers are reporting concerns about their holiday inventory, after being told by publishers' sales reps to order wisely for the season. The reps have warned that publishers may have a difficult time keeping hot sellers in stock.
"A major challenge is that publishers are having trouble keeping books in stock,” said David Enyeart, manager of Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minn., adding that a lot of publishers are telling booksellers to "order up."
According to various sources, reps have been warning booksellers about potential shortfalls for at least a month. The holiday crunch stems in part from long-running difficulties for publishers and printers have faced in obtaining paper at reasonable prices. As far back as the spring, publishers have been closely watching paper prices and supply with tariffs on paper looming. Although the tariff threat has largely passed, paper supply has not dramatically increased.
Several publishers contacted by PW said they have been juggling their print runs, delaying some reprints to ensure new frontlist titles get shipped on time.
“Printing capacity has become a much bigger issue lately,” said the head of a mid-size independent publisher who asked to remain anonymous over concern that booksellers would be wary of ordering books that might be out-of-stock. “And shortages of coated paper are a problem as well.”
This executive noted that his company has a four-color book it believes will be a big holiday seller and, in order to ensure it could reprint the title, it had to book paper and printing time in advance. “We’ve had this issue with our four-color gift books for the past several months,” the publisher noted.
While more traditional single color trade book haven’t been affected as much by the paper crunch, the publisher noted, those books too, have gone through cycles with tightness in the printing turnaround time, forcing the company to watch inventory levels very closely to try to anticipate demand for reprints."
Matt Baehr, executive director of the Book Manufacturers’ Institute, said the industry is, across the board, "seeing issues around paper. There is limited supply, which is in turn driving up prices.” Moreover, Baehr said, the overall capacity of book manufacturing in the U.S. has changed, with some of the biggest player having either closed or consolidated.
“Add in the demise of Edwards Brothers Malloy and or the first time in over a decade, supply and demand are close to in-balance," he explained, adding that evidence is mounting that this holiday season "demand is significantly exceeding capacity." Ultimately, Baehr went on, this could "make it difficult to get books to market in a timely way.”