Skylark Bookshop asks customers to shop early to avoid the holidays exacerbating supply chain issues.

Skylark Bookshop is letting customers know about the supply chain issue causing book shortages. “The more we inform our customers and are honest about what's going on, the better our relationship with them is,” manager Carrie Koepke says.

As Halloween approaches, retailers are already focusing on the upcoming holiday season, marking it with displays full of turkeys and Santas. But for the book industry, the usually jolly season might put more stress on the supply chain.

The book industry is experiencing large issues with its supply chain across many aspects of production. Bookstores have limited stock, publishers are facing printing delays, and customers are not able to get the books they want. In Columbia, small local businesses are trying to combat supply chain stress.

“It's just a mess,” says Carrie Koepke, manager at Skylark Bookshop. “I don't think there's any one single problem. It's a whole lot of problems that are just breaking the system down.”

These problems are the result of various factors, including shortages around the world and a rise in demand. According to Yolanda Ciolli, publisher at Compass Flower Press/AKA-Publishing, labor shortages due to COVID-19 have left factories with fewer workers, and lumber shortages have led to less paper, increasing the price of printing. These issues result in printing times being pushed back, which has caused delays in publishing. This not only affects initial publishing but also reprinting of books, meaning that bookstores are encountering delays when trying to reorder titles to replenish their stock.  

Skylark Bookshop is experiencing unreliable stock and shipping delays.

The supply chain issues are affecting all kinds of book businesses, including large corporations and small independent businesses. “If anybody is dealing with books, they are dealing with this,” Koepke says.

Increases in the price of printing means that royalties are affected and publishers have to keep a close eye on every book on the market and make sure the price doesn’t need to be reviewed.

“I’m doing more work than I ever have,” Ciolli says.

All of these issues are exacerbated by an overall increase in demand for books in 2021. According to Publishers Weekly, as of July 2021, there was an 18.5% sales increase in books compared to 2020. The young adult fiction section had the highest increase in sales and went up by 48.8%.

These sales increases aren’t expected to slow down before the holiday season, and bookstores in Columbia are having to plan around unreliable shipping estimates and delays, Koepke says. To combat these delays and shortages, bookstore staff are trying to anticipate the books they'll need for later in the year to avoid reordering stock.

“I just got an email that said ‘Order now and cross your fingers it’ll get here by Christmas, good luck,’” Koepke says.

The Columbia community can help ease the strain on the book supply chain by getting their holiday shopping done early so bookstores don't have to accommodate a spike in demand at the end of the year, Koepke says. They can also help by not walking into the shop with one book in mind and instead listen to experts in bookstores and their recommendations of what other options are out there.

The book industry isn't alone in their struggles, as many Columbia businesses in different industries are also experiencing labor shortages. 

“All of us in Columbia are experiencing it,” Ciolli says. “You can’t go to any street, shopping mall without seeing a 'now hiring' sign.”

Ciolli recommends that community members shop locally and support products made in the United States. These practices will help to ease the supply chain issues within the book industry this season.

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