Printer Jam: Serious Supply Issues Disrupt the Book Industry’s Fall Season

From The New York Times:

This spring, when the pandemic forced bookstores across the country to close and authors to cancel their tours, many editors and publishers made a gamble. They postponed the publication of dozens of titles, betting that things would be back to normal by the fall.

Now, with September approaching, things are far from normal. Books that were bumped from spring and early summer are landing all at once, colliding with long-planned fall releases and making this one of the most crowded fall publishing seasons ever. And now publishers are confronting a new hurdle: how to print all those books.

The two largest printing companies in the United States, Quad and LSC Communications, have been under intense financial strain, a situation that has grown worse during the pandemic. LSC declared bankruptcy in April, and the company’s sales fell nearly 40 percent in the fiscal quarter that ended June 30, a drop that the company attributed partly to the closure of retailers during the pandemic and the steep fall of educational book sales. In September, LSC’s assets will be put up for auction. Quad’s book printing business is also up for sale; this spring, the company had to temporarily shut down its printers at three plants due to the pandemic.

At the same time, there has been a surprising spike in sales for print books, a development that would normally be cause for celebration, but is now forcing publishers to scramble to meet surging demand. Unit sales of print books are up more than 5 percent over last year, and sales have accelerated over the summer. From early June to mid-August, print sales were up more than 12 percent over the previous 10 weeks, according to NPD BookScan. The surge has been driven by several new blockbuster titles, including books by Suzanne Collins, Stephenie Meyer, John Bolton and Mary Trump. Publishers have also seen an unexpected demand for older titles, particularly books about race and racism, children’s educational workbooks and fiction.

“The infinite printer capacity hasn’t been there for a while, now enter Covid and a huge surge in demand, and you have an even more complex situation,” said Sue Malone-Barber, senior vice president and director of Publishing Operations for Penguin Random House, which is delaying titles at several of its imprints as a result of the crunch.

The backlog at the printers is creating havoc for authors and publishers. Reprints for books that are selling well, which normally take two weeks, are sometimes taking more than a month.

. . . .

Print runs for new titles are getting squeezed and pushed back. Carefully calibrated publication schedules are being blown up as books are moved into late fall and even next year.

Knopf and Pantheon are shifting the release of more than a dozen fall titles, including a memoir by the cookbook author Deborah Madison and a biography of Sylvia Plath, due to “severe capacity issues with our printing partners.” The imprints are also delaying fiction by Robert Harris, Martin Amis, Jo Nesbo, Alexander McCall Smith and Tom Bissell, whose story collection, “Creative Types,” is being bumped to 2021.

The reshuffling is impacting prominent, award-winning authors and first-time novelists alike. Doubleday has postponed the publication of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joby Warrick’s forthcoming book, “Red Line: The Unraveling of Syria and

America’s Race to Destroy the Most Dangerous Arsenal in the World,” until February of next year.

St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan, pushed back “Tsarina,” a debut novel by Ellen Alpsten, from October to November, a month many publishers had been avoiding because of the election.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to DM for the tip.

1 thought on “Printer Jam: Serious Supply Issues Disrupt the Book Industry’s Fall Season”

  1. The backlog at the printers is creating havoc for authors and publishers.

    Not this one. My ebooks outsell my print books 9:1, and those on paper are Print On Demand. Another reason to NOT be involved with Trad Pub.

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