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Global Supply Chain Issues and Self Publishing

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

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You’ve probably seen stories in the news about the post-pandemic global supply chain woes and how it might impact the availability of print books, especially during the holiday season. Here’s what you need to know about the current supply chain issues and what it means for self publishing.

What is a Supply Chain?

Briefly, a supply chain is all materials and services that go into creating and delivering products and services.

For print books, that includes a host of entities including paper mills, ink manufacturers, printing companies, advertising platforms, warehouses, stores, labor, and shipping. For eBooks, it includes software providers, computers, servers, internet services, e-readers and apps, and selling platforms such as Amazon.

But those are lists of just a few of the players. Behind every single entity and step in the process, there could be layers of supply chain entities of which we are not aware. Take Amazon for example. Behind that platform is an army of people, places, products, and processes that go into delivering goods and services to customers. A disruption at any step can bring down an entire chain.

What are Supply Chain Concerns for Publishing?

The coronavirus pandemic threw the publishing industry into a tailspin. Here’s just a quick overview of issues that are currently plaguing publishing, and which may continue going forward.

Labor shortages drive up labor cost, as well as stall print production and shipments. It costs more to warehouse and ship, and it takes longer to receive book stock due to truck driver shortages.

The need for home or remote schooling books and materials during the height of the pandemic and beyond, as well as people wanting print books to read while staying at home, has been driving an increase in print books sales. That’s typically good news for the publishing industry. However, that increases the demand for paper, ink, allied materials, and manufacturing capacity. There also has been consolidation and closures within the printing and printing supply industries, too. Fewer suppliers and reduced supply mean higher prices all around.

With the pandemic seeing more and more people shopping online and opting for home delivery, the demand for shipping boxes and materials has further increased the demand for paper, cardboard, ink, and other materials. Even more pressure on the supply chain.

For the holiday 2021 shopping season, the concern is over not having enough print books to supply reopened bookstores. However, those holiday orders are probably already in the works, with supply just waiting for shipment. If the demand for more stock or more titles increases in the interim, there will be shortages on the shelves. This is a problem for brick-and-mortar bookstores who struggled to be open during the pandemic, but who now may experience low sales by not having enough stock to meet demand. Then there’s the specter of higher prices looming due to all of this which could impact sales, too.

It's Not All Due to the Pandemic

It’s important to note that some of these issues are not just pandemic related. Labor shortages, particularly in trucking, have been increasing. Many people don’t want to drive a truck because it’s grueling work with a lot of responsibility. Shipping and warehousing technologies, such as robot driven trucks and the infrastructure that supports them, are not yet mature enough to handle the entire load of work.

The preference for print books, particularly during the pandemic, is puzzling to me. Audio books and eBooks offer convenient, immediate, and no-contact content delivery.

Although audio books are experiencing increased consumption, text-based eBooks still have low adoption, pandemic or not. Are we still in an early adoption phase for eBook technology? What causes readers to still cling to print? For some, it’s an opportunity to unplug from devices. Print books also engage multiple senses which is why some readers prefer them. Surprisingly, too, print books can still be read even when electronic technologies become unavailable or obsolete.

How Does the Global Supply Chain Affect Self Publishing... Or Does It?

Since it is very unlikely that self published print books will be inventoried in brick-and-mortar retail bookstores, these global supply chain issues don’t even apply to most self publishing. Actually, it’s a great time to be a self published author because you can sidestep many of the supply chain concerns that plague the traditional publishing and book retailing players.

With readers’ penchant for print, authors who self publish on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) can emphasize that their print books are printed as ordered and shipped from an Amazon facility that is closest to the customer, reducing the time and expense of delivery. But the paper and ink shortages and increased prices for materials will increase printing costs, even on KDP. This can reduce the print royalties you receive. I’d recommend spot checking your print costs on KDP occasionally (printing cost and net royalties are shown on the pricing page for each of your print books on KDP). Then adjust prices as needed to protect your royalty payouts.

Of course, authors who self publish Kindle eBooks on KDP and Audible audio books through ACX have zero supply chain shipping and material concerns. No reader disappointment that a book will be out of stock at a store. Kindle eBooks and Audible audio books can be delivered immediately to the reader, or can be “shipped” electronically as gifts with zero shipping costs.

The only concern would be if Amazon goes down. Is that likely in the near term? No. But it is something to think about.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Heidi Thorne

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