Booksellers fear stockouts amid supply chain problems

The turmoil comes just as the Canadian book industry seemed poised to recover, sales data suggests.

BookNet Canada, an agency that tracks publishing trends, reported that national print sales totaled nearly $ 464 million in the first six months of 2021, an increase of about 11%, or $ 47 million, compared to the same period in 2020.

These gains put the market on track to return to almost pre-pandemic levels. But that momentum could be compromised by supply chain issues at a peak time of year for book purchases, said Steven Beattie, literary critic and writer.

The months leading up to the holidays are when book companies make a significant portion of their profits, as literary rewards and the spirit of abandonment spark interest in reading, said Beattie, who covers the industry. of the edition on his blog, Shakespearean Rag.

Beattie said the concern is that publishers and retailers will not be able to meet the demand for titles at the top of readers’ wish lists, resulting in a “Christmas backlist” – an industry term. for books printed for more than a year.

“There is a lot of very delicate back and forth between booksellers, distributors and publishers trying to figure out what is the optimal level of stock to order at this point to make sure we have enough, but not too much. “

Of particular concern are so-called “black swan” titles, Beattie said.

Fraser said Dundurn Press was faced with the double-edged sword of surprise success when Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s “The Son of the House” was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Award last month.

Normally, the publishing house reprinted the book in a large run at one company for a wholesale discount, Fraser said. But with many large printers reserved, the press has made do with small runs from at least four different vendors at a higher unit cost.

It has also become more difficult to anticipate the size of first runs, as consolidation in the book industry has given large retailers more leeway to place orders closer to the publication, Fraser said.

In some cases, this has put Dundurn Press in the unfortunate position of catching up as a new version takes off, he said, noting that a book sold out of stock on Amazon even before it was released. to be marketed.

For the authors, he said, missed opportunities can be devastating.

“This is a major source of anxiety because they don’t get paid if the books don’t sell.”

Chris Hall, president of the Canadian Association of Independent Booksellers, said many sellers decided to stock up early in the year rather than risk missing out on the season’s must-read.

The co-owner of McNally Robinson, which has branches in Winnipeg and Saskatoon, said that at about six weeks into Christmas Day, the bookseller’s worst fears had not materialized. Stores are even busier than usual, Hall said, and he remains on “high alert” for stockouts.

While Hall said independent bookstores can’t match the buying power of big box retailers, they do have another kind of competitive advantage: relationships with their customers.

He urged book buyers to buy early if they have a specific title at heart. But even if your top pick is sold out, Hall said, the staff at your local bookstore will be happy to provide you with a recommendation.

“We’re going to have a store full of good books throughout the Christmas season,” he said. “There will just be titles that may not be available.”

However, Edwards of the Association of Canadian Publishers warned that problems in the book supply chain appear to be a challenge well beyond the holiday season.

Many of these issues predate the pandemic, she noted, and the industry must adapt as the literary landscape continues to change.

“It won’t be resolved in 2022, maybe even 2023,” Edwards said. “Everyone must be agile and strategic and be able to respond to the unexpected.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 18, 2021.

By Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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