Two weeks ago I wrote of the Slushpile Blues. Today is another scintillating topic. Supply chain blues.
By “supply chain” I mean the various steps along the way for a vendor to have a final product to sell to a consumer.
For electronics, like your phone, it means collecting various pieces before assembly: the battery, the camera lens, the transistors, the memory chip, the glass, and more. If any of these pieces are delayed, the supply chain is interrupted, and the finished phone cannot be assembled. For the iPhone 6 there were 34 separate components: six from China, three from South Korea, one from Japan, six from Taiwan, 14 from the U.S., two from Germany, one from the Netherlands, and one from Great Britain. Imagine trying to get all those in one place, on time.
As of today the delays in the supply chain have affected the auto industry too. From the Associated Press: “Automakers reported that U.S. dealers had fewer than 1 million new vehicles on their lots in August —72% lower than in August 2019.” This is due to a parts shortage at the assembly plants. It also means your used car is more valuable to a car dealership today than it was two months ago.
Book Production & Distribution
We often take the book-production supply chain for granted. But we forget that it, too, can be disrupted. As of this writing, the book industry is facing unprecedented delays.
There is a worldwide paper shortage. Before the pandemic, there had been shortages in the U.S.; but they had been supplemented by overseas shipments. But the pandemic severed that link for quite some time, and the inventories are feeling the pinch.
A paper mill can make the paper, but they need loggers to cut the trees. Truckers to move the logs to the mills. Workers in the mills to make the paper. Truckers to ship the paper to the printers. . . . Do you see the problem?
Many authors are unaware that a rather sizeable amount of books are printed overseas, mostly in China (Beijing and Hong Kong) but also in India and South Korea. In addition, there is some capacity in Europe. The inexpensive labor reduces costs, especially for specialty books like full-color printing or special paper (like Bible paper). Domestic printers cannot compete, so publishers use overseas facilities.
Again, the pandemic shut down much of that production for months; and printers are still trying to catch up to the demand.
Add in the fact that the products must be put into containers and shipped by sea. That’s okay–except when a container falls off a ship in the middle of the Pacific (which happened to one of our client’s print runs).
Eventually, a container ship arrives fully loaded in the Los Angeles or San Francisco harbor. On August 20th there was a record 44 ships stuck outside the LA harbor, waiting to be unloaded.
Once they enter the port, there must be workers to unload the containers and move the content onto trucks. If there are enough trucks and enough drivers.
Then they must make their way across the country to a publisher’s warehouse for unloading–if there are enough workers on-site to do the unloading. If not, they wait in storage (and the vendor must pay for the storage).
Most publishers who plan on using overseas printers are working on at least a four-month turnaround from the time of placing the order to its receipt in their warehouse. Plus they must take greater risks in the size of the print run because if a book sells faster than anticipated, the warehouse could be emptied in 24 hours (which happened to one of our clients last fall). If you are a publisher reading this post and have better news (or worse, or confirmation), please chime in! I’m basing this article on the multiple conversations I’ve had with publishers and printers this past month.
Enough Logistics Already!
Sounds like a lot, and it is. You may wonder, So what?
Traditionally Published Authors: You need to plan ahead for the Christmas season if you have events where you’ll be selling your books off the back table or if you have a robust direct-to-reader sales operation. Talk with your publisher today and find out what inventory they have in stock, and order what you need now. If you wait until November, you may be too late.
Reprint turnaround time is at least two to three weeks longer than it was before.
Independently Published Authors: If you utilize print-on-demand technology to print only a few copies you need, be aware that you, too, need to plan ahead. One author I know recently placed an order for three physical copies of his book from Kindle Direct (Amazon). Instead of a few days, it took more than two and a half weeks for the books to arrive.
In addition, those who use Ingram Spark received a notice this past week that print costs will increase 6% per book printed, starting the beginning of November.
This is not a time for hand-wringing but a time for planning ahead.
Try not to let Mr. Grumpy create distress.
Some publishers are looking ahead to 2022 already and are setting new publication dates for books that are in the editing process right now. Title-release dates are being bumped by up to two months. This is to help the publisher spread out the demand for printing and warehouse logistics.
We’ve faced disruptions before. With the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this past weekend, many of us remember how things got very quiet for some time. A friend of mine had a new book release on 9/10. Imagine how that “book tour” went back twenty years ago.
Another thing to remember is that we cannot control everything. There is One who can:
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven?
You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations.
In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you”
(Proverbs 19:21; Job 42:2; 2 Chronicles 20:6).