The 2021 Holiday Publishing Crunch: There’s good news and bad news here

First, let’s be thankful for the good news: Since the start of the pandemic, people are reading more and are buying more books to satisfy that voracious appetite.

Then, the bad news is not entirely new, if you have been watching the publishing industry in recent years. The fourth quarter of any year, October 1–December 31, has become a perennial challenge for book publishers, manufacturers and retailers. Those pressures have worsened due to the increased strain on supply and shipping lines, complicated by holiday scheduling challenges and significant spikes in consumer purchasing around the world.

Even before the pandemic—as early as the final months of 2016—publishers nationwide began experiencing a holiday crunch. In our Front Edge columns, we have reported on this problem repeatedly, mainly as a warning to authors and readers to stock up early on holiday shopping for books. Here’s just one earlier example: As the 2018 holiday crunch hit the industry, we reported on “Hot off the presses—for the lucky.”

Unfortunately for publishers, authors and book lovers, the forecast for the fourth quarter of 2021 appears to be worse than previous years. New health practices, social distancing requirements, rising material costs, labor market challenges, and a significant increase in online ordering have greatly increased these challenges, even since the final months of 2020.

Manufacturing and shipping challenges persist amid increasing supply line and material costs. Issues from 2020 have not been resolved, and in some cases have only worsened. Fatigue is beginning to set in throughout production lines and in terms of customer patience. In addition, a desire for normalcy may have people who had a more muted 2020 holiday season increase their holiday purchasing in 2021.

This is why Front Edge Publishing books typically don’t launch in November and December. In addition to long lead times for book shipments in the fourth quarter, it becomes more difficult to move nimbly and react to market conditions, as well as provide books to readers, allies and events in a timely way. There is also much less flexibility available to our ordering and fulfillment team. If a misprint is detected or a printer nozzle gets clogged at the print-binding plant, there is much less time available to correct the error in time for events.

We encourage you to order books for the holidays well in advance.

If you already know what gifts you’re planning to give, don’t wait to order!

You may also want to consider giving the gift of ebooks, whether via gift card or an ereading device. Your family and friends will be able to download books in minutes, keeping them reading all winter long, before picking out their favorite print editions in January, when shipping speeds return to normal.

Care to Read More?

Our publishing house professionals are not alone in heralding his looming shortage. Dozens of news stories are popping up in national media. Here is a sampling of headlines you may want to explore:

Plus, the crunch also is tough on a number of popular niches within the publishing industry:





About Dmitri Barvinok

Director of Production Dmitri Barvinok works on the digital development, print layout and distribution of new books. He coordinates Front Edge editors and designers and works with the BookEdge software suite.

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