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Publishing Bottlenecks: 2021 Book Shortage - WRITE|PUBLISH|SELL

It’s been all over the news: the publishing industry is careening towards a book shortage in the final quarter of 2021. And the ripple effects might last much longer than that! But what does it mean for authors?

What is a book shortage?

It’s true: Ingram and Bookazine (the biggest wholesalers out there in the US) have been letting their clients know to expect major supply chain disruptions going into the busiest season of the year.

What’s behind this book shortage?

Shortages: lumber, paper, truck drivers, the actual trucks to put books into, warehouse staff, retail workers…you name it, there’s a shortage.

Manufacturing challenges: two major US-based printing houses dealt with bankruptcy and shutdowns during the pandemic. What’s left is running at partial capacity. So the overall capacity of US-based book manufacturers is lower than it used to be, and it’s stressed beyond belief due to the issues with the global supply chain.

Worldwide supply chain issues: complex print jobs (cookbooks and picture books) are often done in China anyway, and with US-based print capacity collapsing and China facing the same shortages as the US market is, it’s leading to major delays and skyrocketing costs.

And, to top it all off, the pandemic continued to juice book sales: print books were up year-over-year by 18.5% in the first half of 2021, according to Publisher’s Weekly. So demand has never been higher for what’s becoming a very limited resource.

But I’m launching my book soon!!!

There will be delays – expect them. Allow for extra time to get physical copies of your book, and move your launch if the print window looks too tight. If you’re hoping to launch your book any time in the next few months, you need to get your final files in and order those print books. If you’re planning on ordering books for live events through IngramSpark, it’s taking up to 6 weeks for books to arrive. Since you can’t order books through KDP until the book is live and published, you can either choose to order books at retail immediately upon launch, or plan your in-person event several weeks after your official launch date. (Or order books through another outlet to have available for launch.) One other option is to encourage your audience to pre-order their books and bring it to the event so you can sign it there.

If you’re self-publishing and opting to do a print run, choose a US-based printer to do the job, so you don’t have to deal with the more complex global shipping issues.** This does not apply to most self-published authors who are using Ingram and/or KDP for Print on Demand. If you’re using a printer for a print run and distributing through a distributor, you’ll definitely want to check on their timelines. Most printers are at a 3 month timeline right now. If you’re using KDP, this is unlikely to impact you greatly at all.

If you’re doing a print run, rather than Print on Demand options, try and ensure that your book’s initial run is big enough. Reprints will be almost impossible to get until after the holiday season has passed, and delays may linger well beyond. (Only applies to those not using Print On Demand, but do expect it may take longer than the normal 2 days Amazon promises.)

The biggest impact is predicted to be on the kind of books that are prime holiday gifts: cookbooks, gift sets, art books, coffee table books. If that’s what you’re publishing, you’re even more likely to see extreme delays and shortages.

Spend extra time on ebooks, which may increase in sales due to this book shortage.

Be sure you take extra time to format your ebook, because you may see higher digital sales as a result of these challenges. Be sure your digital readers are just as happy with your book and the reading experience as your print readers are.

There’s only so much you can do in the face of these huge, complicated disruptions, but knowing what’s happening and making plans to prepare will help you launch with confidence. (For more tips on launching your book, check out this video.)

What’s the bottom line?

If you’re publishing, you need to get your book out the door, order print copies (maybe even order a few extras!) and get ready to see long term impacts.

If you’re a reader, order your holiday gift books now, as well as any new release print books you have to have. Consider supporting small bookstores, which will be disproportionately impacted by the shortage, when you make your purchase!

How to handle a book shortage as an author