With a public hearing set for June 17 on proposed 25% tariffs on $300 billion of goods—including books—imported from China, the publishing industry is gearing up to make its case to exclude books from the tax. The Association of American Publishers is taking the lead and has requested to make a statement at the hearing. It is working with publishers and other industry members to mitigate the impact of the tariffs as best they can. Lui Simpson, v-p, global policy at AAP, said that the group “will be working in every venue we can” to convey a multipart message.”
One aspect of AAP’s argument to exclude books is that not doing so would interfere with the free flow of information and knowledge, something that is baked into America’s ideals, Simpson said. “Books have social value and are crucial to the exchange of ideas,” she noted, adding that the tariffs could also interfere with religious rights in the U.S., since they apply to Bibles.
From an economic standpoint, Simpson said it is likely that the publishers impacted by the tariffs will pass on some of the costs to booksellers, schools, libraries, and nonprofits geared toward improving literacy. She added that increased book prices could damage the independent bookseller revival.
The ABA has also submitted a request to make a statement at the June 17 hearing. CEO Oren Teicher said ABA will work closely with the AAP to ensure that the book industry is “heard loudly and clearly on this matter.”
No one can put an exact dollar figure on the amount of books manufactured in China, but all agree that it is substantial; illustrated books and books that require handwork, for example, are almost all produced in China. Tyrrell Mahoney, president of Chronicle Books, estimated that about 90% of Chronicle’s books are manufactured in China. “It’s scary,” she said of the looming tariffs.
Chronicle is looking at its supply chain for options, but Mahoney noted that if the tariffs are imposed, it would be difficult to make major shifts quickly for what could be a one-time, short-lived event. She, like every other publishing executive PW spoke with, said that the uncertainty over whether the tariffs will actually be enforced (President Trump has been known to change his mind on certain issues) and when the tariffs will take effect makes it especially difficult to develop a firm plan.
That uncertainty is also affecting Hong Kong–based export printers. Alice Fan, overseas sales manager at Magnum Offset Printing, which does high-end illustrated titles for the U.S. market, said that with the U.S. and Chinese governments changing their minds about tariff negotiation and execution, she finds that “no one really knows the next game plan.”
The AAP is also arguing that if imposing tariffs on books is, in part, meant to bring printing jobs back to America, it won’t work. Publishers and printers agree that there is not enough capacity in the U.S. to absorb much of the business that is currently being done in China.
An executive at a print management company in Hong Kong showed just how hard it could be to move printing from China to any new territory, be it the U.S., Hong Kong, or elsewhere, on short notice. Ken Kong, managing director of Jade Productions, said he looked at moving some business to Hong Kong from China but found it largely impractical. “We reviewed this option but found that only paperbacks are possible within the current price range,” he noted. “Handwork-intensive publications such as children’s books are totally impossible to move back to Hong Kong, since the required workforce, skills, and capacity have long gone.”
One person who doesn’t believe that Trump will blink over imposing the tariffs is Ray Ambriano of Meadows Wye & Co., an international logistics company specializing in the publishing industry. He was at BookExpo last month advising clients that they should prepare for the worst. Ambriano said he has talked with sources in China who doubt that the Chinese government will quickly back down from tariff threat, pointing to the fact that it is discouraging its citizens from traveling to the U.S. as a sign of its determination to see the trade war through. He added that though publishers might get some books excluded from the tariffs, he doubts that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative would exclude all book categories.
Ambriano speculated that the tariffs could begin to take effect one week after the June 17 hearing. AAP’s Simpson thought it would take somewhat longer. She noted that the long list of items the USTR needs to review before making decisions on which products to exclude is likely to slow things down.
Whenever the tariffs come, ships that are within five days of arriving at an American port won’t have to pay them, but all other ships at sea will, Ambriano said. He has advised clients to make sure that any tariffs they pay are only on the cost of the actual production of the book, not on freight and shipping charges. He also said that publishers should be on the lookout for transhipping, in which a ship from China goes to a third country before sailing to the U.S. Such a maneuver is considered fraud, Ambriano noted.
Booksellers and wholesalers should also be careful about accepting shipments from any country of books produced in China. For example, if a U.K. publisher had a book printed in China and shipped to its home office, then reshipped it to the U.S., the recipient would still need to pay the tariff.