The Broken Links in the Supply Chain
Have you driven by any new car dealerships lately? Look closely. That lot full of new cars is probably only one row deep. Dealerships have resorted to parking the cars from the service department out front, just to create the illusion that they have a full lot! Something about a global shortage of microchips, along with numerous logistical challenges stemming from the pandemic.
Well, the book business is in the same boat…and that boat is probably moored a hundred ships deep off the California coast (we can literally see them out the window at Y&Y world HQ in Orange County, CA).
The supply chain problems in the publishing industry are a perfect storm of the pandemic-related labor shortage, shipping and transportation problems, and in recent years the bankruptcy and consolidation of US-based printing companies. Plus, with the stratospheric growth of online shopping, many mills switched their manufacturing from paper to cardboard (all those Amazon boxes are made of paper, too).
So, manufacturing times for books have reportedly increased 400%. What used to get turned around in 2 weeks, now takes 8. Then you need to find a truck…and a truck driver…to ship it. If you’re printing overseas – which is where nearly all color and Bible printing happens—you’ll be hard-pressed to find a shipping container, not to mention a ship. In fact, Costco has started leasing its own ships to address its problems. And as you can see from the photo above, if you are lucky enough to find a container and room on a ship, good luck finding union labor to off-load it when it finally gets a spot at the dock!
For consumers, this means shop early for the readers on your holiday shopping list. Probably wise to shop early for EVERYTHING. For authors, this can (and has, for a number of Y&Y clients) result in the delayed release of your book, after you painstakingly took months lining up promotions of all sorts for a release date that was determined 9 months ago.
I wish we had some sage advice or miracle cure for this multifaceted supply chain conundrum, but we don’t. Unless you know how to drive a truck….
Good News from the Merger Front-for a Change
Unless you’re a first-time reader of this Market Update, you know that the publishing industry has been awash in a sea of mergers. That’s almost always bad news for authors…and agents. Less competition for books will tend to deflate advances and other financial terms. And when two of the Big Six merge–twice--that could spell disaster!
When Random House and Penguin merged in 2013, No. 1 swallowed No. 2, and the 800 lbs. gorilla added about 400 lbs.! Then, last year the 1200 lbs. PRH gorilla got hungry again and decided to devour No. 4, Simon & Schuster (pending approval of federal regulators). That’s one big ape! That kind of consolidation is how anti-trust acts get made, right AT&T?
The combined imprints of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster
But last month in a webinar for agents and industry insiders, PRH CEO Markus Dohle announced that (at least for the foreseeable future) PRH and S&S will operate as separate entities for purposes of competing for new books, even when they are bidding solely against one another. That’s big and very welcome news in this age of consolidation.
Now if we could just get the Justice Department to nix the merger altogether….
Bookstores Continue Their Resurrection
The retail phoenix that is the brick-and-mortar bookstore segment is soaring to new heights. After a decade and a half long struggle against extinction– followed by last Spring’s pandemic-induced coma – the U.S. Census Bureau reported that July bookstore sales were up 63.8% over July 2020, hitting numbers not seen since a very different retail landscape in 2012. For the year, the channel is up almost 35% over the prior year, outpacing the entire retail sector that was up only 21.8% year-to-date.
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