British Columbia writers and publishers fear supply chain issues as the holiday season approaches

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We understood. It’s only September. December is months away. Surely it is too early for a vacation story.

But the holidays are where Surrey-based children’s author and illustrator Paola Opal thinks: a critical sales moment for her series of brightly colored little hardback books for very young children.

“These books make great little stocking stuffer gifts,” Opal said.

But this year, his books could be sidelined by supply chain issues impacting the publishing landscape in British Columbia and beyond.

Paola Opal said if her new books don’t ship in time for the holidays, it could mean thousands of dollars in lost sales. (Submitted by Paola Opal)

Opal expected to have her last books in stores by October, but her publisher tells her they might not arrive until 2022, missing the holidays altogether.

“It’s a whole year of missed sales, really. And it’s really sad,” Opal said.

“It’s hard to make a living as an author and so when you take a few thousand dollars out of an author’s annual salary, that’s very important.”

Many in the British Columbia publishing community are worried about disruptions in their supply chain, saying it could lead to lost sales and book purchases for consumers with fewer choices or long delays. expectations for specific books.

“Lots of uncertainties”

Heidi Waechtler, executive director of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia, said that in British Columbia and beyond, publishers are watching closely.

“I think they’re all worried,” Waechtler said. “There are a lot of uncertainties.”

Small publishers could be the hardest hit, she said. With fewer staff, they will be challenged to navigate the situation. They also tend to favor emerging or lesser-known authors who have less sales data, making it difficult to forecast demand.

“They have to look at who’s coming up and make tough decisions about which ones to go for,” Waechtler said. “It could mean lost sales.”

Writers who seem particularly vulnerable are those who have books printed overseas. Most color books are printed overseas, so many children’s book authors are concerned.

“If they can’t get the new versions in [store] … It’s going to have a ripple effect on royalties, ”said KA Wiggins, President of Children’s Writers and Illustrators of BC

KA Wiggins said that the works of many children’s authors, especially those who write for very young children, do not translate very well into e-books, making the availability of physical books for purchase extremely important for them. sales. (KA Wiggins)

“We will absolutely see authors, illustrators take a step back from their attempts to publish … They are discouraged.”

Not all writers will be affected, said Barb Drozdowich, board member of the Federation of BC Writers.

Authors of eBooks will be better isolated, she said, from those who produce children’s books, tabletop books and other types of books that are typically consumed as a physical product.

Overwhelmed printers, scarce paper

When a book wins or is shortlisted for a literary award, or when the author appears in the media, or even when a celebrity highlights a book on social media, demand for that book will increase and publishers will print it. usually more.

Doug Climie, vice president of sales and marketing for Burnaby’s Hemlock Printers, says printers are struggling to keep up with demand on the fly across the industry.

Doug Climie said all publishers who haven’t placed their holiday orders for printing will likely not have them completed by Christmas. (Tristan Le Rudulier / CBC)

“We are now seeing that turnaround times, which were maybe three to six weeks ago, will now drop to three to six months,” Climie said. “We are now saying you need to book for 2022.”

Paper is a problem, Climie said. Some factories that previously made paper for books have closed in recent years or have switched to making cardboard packaging for online sellers like Amazon.

The price of available paper has increased several times since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s absolutely unprecedented… that we’ve had a supply shortage, as well as significant price increases at the same time,” said Chad Friesen, CEO of Friesens, a book printer in southern Manitoba.

A Hemlock Printers employee on one of the presses. Climie says that while the printing industry has seen challenges in the past, it hasn’t seen so many come together for so long during his years in the field. (Tristan Le Rudulier / CBC)

Even recycled paper is harder to find, said Ian Larouche, marketing director for Quebec-based Marquis Books.

“All offices are closed,” Larouche said. “Everyone works from home, so they don’t have a lot of paper to recycle.”

Over the years, some printers in North America have closed or moved overseas, reducing capacity in North America.

Some North American printers are also facing a labor shortage, with the pandemic hampering the recruitment of foreign workers.

The stores are jostling

Kelly McKinnon, co-owner of Vancouver’s Kidsboooks bookstore, says there won’t be a shortage of books in stock this holiday season, but specific books might be harder to find.

An example of a hot item at Kidsbooks, McKinnon said, are manga – Japanese comics or graphic novels. McKinnon said it can take months for new inventory to ship. (Tristan Le Rudulier / CBC)

McKinnon and other retailers always want the right books on the shelves, but said 2021 has been “exponentially more difficult” as retailers have less sales data and need to order more books earlier.

“I need a crystal ball,” McKinnon said. “We are used to supplying the market fairly quickly.

McKinnon said those looking for specific books as freebies should consider buying as soon as possible.

Climie said he expects supply shortages to last until 2022. The good news, he said, is that more factories could reopen and start producing paper for books. .

Another solution that some are calling for is a return to more prints made in Canada.

“It’s something that I think we want to understand,” Waechtler said.


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