Harry Potter, a robust elhi schedule, some big books and late ordering have created, in the words of one publisher, "the tightest printing situation in several years." The squeeze has not yet resulted in delays of any major titles, but it has kept production managers at many trade houses juggling schedules to keep important titles from slipping. In some cases, publishers have had to delay printing of midlist titles to ensure that all major frontlist books get out on time.
Penguin Group USA president David Shanks said capacity seems tightest for hardcovers. He said Penguin has "moved around" some reprints to make sure frontlist books aren't delayed, and put pressure on its printer to "make sure they live up to their contract." "We've had some minor delays, but no major disruptions," said HarperCollins spokesperson Lisa Herling. Random House's Stuart Applebaum said the publisher is aware that capacity is a bit stretched, but that Random hasn't encountered any major problems.
The situation is a bit trickier for some smaller publishers. Michael Kerber, president of Red Wheel/Weiser, said he has had trouble finding press time to up print runs for a couple of books whose orders have been heavier than expected. Sourcebooks president Dominique Raccah has had a difficult time trying to move up the printing for a five-book series from October to September. "It's hard to move five books in a market that's already crowded," Raccah said.
Sourcebooks is looking to accelerate the publication of the series at the request of a major account, and publishers noted that late ordering by the major chains has caused them to delay putting in their final print runs until as late as possible. "The chains are trying to keep their inventories as lean as possible, so they wait until the last minute to finalize orders," one publisher said.
Other reasons cited for the press crunch include what could be called the delayed Harry Potter effect. To avoid conflicts with the 13-million—copy print run for Half-Blood Prince, many publishers delayed printing until after the mammoth run was completed, which effectively moved the bottleneck from early summer to late summer. Publishers holding back some of their biggest books for the second half of the year is another cause. And the big year in school adoptions has also kept printers busy with textbooks.
In its recent report for the second quarter, Banta Corp. said that sales in its book group were up 8%, a result of the combination of higher demand from educational publishers and increased paper prices. Ed Lane, head of the book group at R.R. Donnelley, said demand has been very strong. "This year seems to be the perfect storm, with high demand across all our segments," Lane said. "We're running 24/7."
The sudden squeeze on press time, after a number of years of overcapacity, has at least one publisher thinking about moving some printing offshore. Sourcebooks' Raccah said in the future the publisher will look to complete projects earlier so it can have the option of using overseas printers. The current press crunch "is very frustrating," Raccah said.