A May 4 webinar hosted by Ingram Content Group addressed supply chain challenges, logistic delays, inflation, the role environmental impacts play on consumer shopping preferences, as well as how accessibility is increasing the reach for e-books and audiobooks. Participants included Rob Grindstaff, director of sales operations and product development for Ingram's Lightning Source; Ruth Jones, director of global sales and digital services at Ingram Content Group UK; and Gina Walpole, the senior services manager for Ingram Content Group UK.
Panelists noted that troubles with the supply chain persist. Problems include a shortage of materials, increased freight prices, and port congestion. All of this is putting a strain on publishers as it becomes more difficult for them to accurately predict demand and, consequently, supply for a given title. It was pointed out that paper mills are operating at full capacity while some are shifting production from producing paper to packaging. Labor shortages persist across the logistics supply chain—and are predicted to carry into 2023. All this is resulting in rising costs.
Customer buying habits are also changing, panelists said, not only as a result of inflation, but because of a growing awareness of the need to support companies whose values align with the customer’s own—be they about ethics, equity, or environment.
One solution the panelists offered to several of these issues was Ingram's own “print in market” (i.e. print-on-demand) solutions, which had various advantages over offset printing from speed to market to having a lower carbon footprint. The panelists noted that Ingram could serve markets in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and the United Arab Emirates, and are planning to expand operations to South Africa.
Another trend to note is the year-on-year increases in digital sales. This has been aided by several advancements in the industry, from increased discoverability due to better metadata management to the growing awareness that e-books have a far lower environmental impact than print books. Text-to-speech is improving and A.I. narration—Google now offers 35 voices for narration—is expanding the audience for audiobooks by making them more accessible.
Ruth Jones may have summed up the session best when she remarked that many people are wondering when publishing will get back to normal, but she noted there is too much change in the market right now for anyone to feel much sense of stability or predictability. She pointed to such new trends as the growth in everything from the use of digital library services—with the Toronto Public Libraries seeing the largest number of downloads last year, at 9 million—to ever increasing competition for readers’ leisure time from streaming services. “People talk about there being a ‘new normal,’ but I’m not sure we will ever get to that.”
Jones added that the key going forward for publishers was to remember that the book supply chain is digital even if the product is not. Dynamic global markets require “agile engagement” and while discovery and social engagement can drive sales, publishers still need resources and tools “to manage these effectively and at scale.”