Truck driver shortages, widespread port congestion, and skyrocketing container costs are among the biggest challenges facing the book industry supply chain for the rest of the year and into 2022, panelists on a July 6 BISG webinar looking at freight and shipping issues agreed.

Book International’s v-p of global business development David Hetherington said that, in all his time in the book business, he has never seen such pressure building in the supply chain as is happening now. He predicted that things could get worse as more buying shifts online and more packages need to go directly to consumers’ homes.

Hetherington, along with Ryan Forbes of Readerlink and Susie Scally of the international logistics firm Meadows Wye, also agreed that now is not the time for publishers to negotiate with trucking companies or the major delivery services. The lack of freight capacity is a real issue, Forbes said, and companies don’t need to yield on price. It is estimated, for example, that there is now a truck driver shortage totaling to 60,000. Trucking firms are also having difficulty sourcing large trailers to move books, Forbes explained.

Scally focused her remarks on the international markets, noting that while it is difficult getting timely shipments out of China, “congested ports are everywhere.” Complicating delivery times, Scally added, is that even when goods reach a U.S. port, the infrastructure isn’t in place to speed shipments to domestic locations. Observing that shipping companies have managed to jack up the price of containers, Scally said that publishers need to deal with the reality that the cost of transporting books is extremely high and that they need to be ready to “pay the bill” and not bicker over price. Scally added that she doesn’t see the costs of containers ever going down to pre-pandemic levels.

All three speakers also said that it is important for publishers to see what is happening in the publishing supply chain in the context of the entire American economy. The U.S., Forbes noted, is working through a year’s worth of pent-up demand that is intensifying competition for shipping and freight services among all sectors, Forbes said.

The three speakers also agreed that publishers need to make adjustments to their supply chains. “While challenges are significant, many are surmountable—but changes to the supply chain are mandatory,” Hetherington said.

Making some suggestions on how the business should adjust, Hetherington said publishers need to look more closely at the benefits of domestic digital printing, emphasizing that publishers—given the escalating costs of shipping and freight—should pay more attention to lowering the total cost of ownership rather than unit costs. He also urged publishers to shorten their supply chains as much as possible, and suggested that publishers ship to customers directly from their manufacturer whenever possible.