Good luck, publishing. Get in line. We’d all like a new normal, but the new normal might just be constant change. In a weird way, I suspect this cultural brushfire will make the entire sector finally wake up and realize the world has changed around us and we need to adapt. It just did it slowly for about 100 years and now it’s really ramped up. I’d like a new normal as well, but as much as the “old normal” benefitted me, I don’t want it to be that. Adversity has always yielded something exciting from the arts sector. Let’s just be thankful that this time it’s not war, oppression, or the Black Plague. Oh, wait, it’s the Black Plague. More of a Dark Ochre Plague, really. Peuce? Something like the colour of the fingertips of that shop kid who wore the Led Zeppelin 3/4 sleeve shirt in high school and who had a whole section of the parking lot for smoking in.
The supply chain, an aspect of publishing that is generally overlooked by most in the industry, was the focus of intense interest in 2021. Stories began appearing in early summer detailing how forces connected to the pandemic were causing severe supply chain problems in virtually all industries, especially those that depend on overseas vendors.
Publishing supply chain issues were first brought to the fore in a July 6 BISG webinar, which said truck driver shortages, widespread port congestion, and skyrocketing container costs had already begun to put pressure on the industry’s ability to deliver books in time for the holiday season. Exacerbating the situation were widespread labor shortages that made it difficult for Amazon, Ingram, and other companies that operate large warehouses to find enough workers. The book manufacturing industry was also confronting its own long-standing problem with finding skilled workers, while also dealing with paper shortages, all of which combined to result in capacity issues at printers in the second half of 2021, and experts believe the printing crunch will spill over well into 2022.
To confront the immediate problem of getting books on shelves for 2021, publishers engaged in a juggling act, focusing on timely delivery of their big frontlist titles while delaying the releases of other books. Publishers also looked to move more printing back to the U.S., while also using print-on-demand more often. Speakers at an October 6 PW/Westchester Publishing Services webinar said that the long-term solution of addressing supply chain issues was more automation.