Summing it Up: Navigating the Supply Chain and Material Challenges in Book Manufacturing

by Leann


Webinar Laptop

I’ve been in the book manufacturing space for 6 years and have been witness to many changes within the industry, especially since COVID. To keep up on the latest industry buzz around the issues we currently face, I recently attended the Book Business and Printing Impressions webinar The Powerful Case for US Book Manufacturing in the face of Global Supply Chain Challenges, Paper Shortages and Raising Distribution Costs.

So, what is going on?

Jim Milliot, editor of Publishers Weekly, spoke about book sales over the last few years and what the future may look like. The last two years saw unexpected growth in many categories including:

  • K-12 Instructional Materials were up ~35%
  • Children’s/YA titles were up ~13%
  • University Presses were up ~12%
  • Trade titles were up ~9%

A good portion of the webinar was the presentation from Bill Rojack, VP of Sales at Midland Paper. He made an insightful remark about the state of the paper industry when he stated “This is not a new trend. We have been going paperless for 25 years.” There will always be consolidation, through mills closing, converting their machines to make other paper goods, or being acquired by another mill.

The consolidation of the mills has brought to light the number of options for text stock. Rojack shared a graphic highlighting the different text stocks choices, noting “The way you have chosen a sheet of paper for your book in the past may need to change. Price and look and feel will always be important, but they need to be balanced by what works best for your paper manufacturers and print providers.” Using a stock that is efficient for the mills to produce or going with a niche stock will be favorable moving forward. We have already seen this starting to change with the struggles of sourcing specific stocks. 

How do we move forward? Communication! Rojack believes this is a solvable problem in the long term if conversations between the publisher, printer, and paper mills continue. Short term, he believes paper challenges will continue to get worse before they get better. Keeping the line of communication open will help set expectations and set a standard with trim sizes, cover stocks, etc. to maximize usage.

Last to present was Matt Baehr, Executive Director of Book Manufacturing Institute. Baehr spoke about the trends we are seeing from consolidation in the marketplace to paper market changes to transportation/freight challenges to labor challenges. Most notable was the labor challenges, with many in book manufacturing taking the opportunity to retire early when COVID hit where an estimated 1.2 million left the workforce. He also noted that workforce participation is down, where only 62.2% of adults 16 or older are employed or looking for a job. To sum up the workforce challenges, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 4.5 million gap in the labor force. This gap sheds a light as to why there are transportation challenges and long schedules in getting books produced – not enough people in the workforce.

In conclusion, books will continue to be produced and sold, and consolidation in the marketplace will continue. Paper options will change and bringing more people into the workforce will help lessen the challenges we are experiencing with labor and transportation. It’s a long road, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.