The Supply Chain – A Problem and Opportunity

The Supply Chain - A Problem and Opportunity

You might’ve heard how this holiday season, it might be more difficult for readers to get the books they want. Blame the international supply chain.

A supply chain is a system that a product goes through to go from raw materials and labor to a product delivered to the end customer. With a book, a manuscript is turned into physical books and ebooks for readers. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this process has been complicated.

The exact causes vary, with CNN and Vox having comprehensive articles. In summary, there’s a book shortage because of the following reasons:

  • increased demand for at-home delivery due to more shoppers staying inside and ordering online
  • increased demand during the holiday season, an already busy time of year amplified by delivery being at all-time high levels
  • increased demand for books because of consumers staying indoors and returning to literature
  • shortage of paper because of environmental concerns and increased need for cardboard in multiple industries
  • shortage of workers because of the pandemic, especially in transportation
  • lack of printing plants in the United States, especially after years of factories closing
  • commercial ship congestion at seaports. And yes, that includes the one ship that went viral after getting stuck in the Suez Canal.

The result? The supply chain has a traffic jam. Demand is high, and supply is low.

Book publishers wait in line for their titles to be printed and shipped at a time where readers want books more than ever. Booksellers and book stores can’t stock enough copies, publishers are postponing releases, and readers contend with delayed deliveries and more expensive shipping and handling.

Ask publishing professionals, and they’ll say it’s hard to overstate how much this is A Big Problem.

But even with these issues, you as a self-publishing author can find opportunities to adapt.

For instance, self-publishing authors can still get their books out there in ebook format. While electronic books still require work to convert a manuscript into a readable format, they don’t require paper, they can be read on devices that most people already own, and readers can buy and download them in seconds.

With these benefits, you can essentially skip the supply chain line and get your book to readers months before traditional publishers. This is an opportunity for new authors, because there’s an influx of new readers looking for stories to fall in love with.

What if you still want your book in print? While the publishing industry thought that ebooks would supplant physical books, printed books continue to outsell their electronic counterparts, even as ebooks are here to stay. With the two formats coexisting, a successful author shouldn’t rule out either.

Self-publishing authors can still get paper copies through print-on-demand (POD) books.

Traditionally, books were manufactured in large print runs, requiring a lot of money up front and a lot of sales to justify the endeavor. This gave traditional publishers an edge over self-publishing authors who couldn’t secure both, with the latter only entering the industry with the rise of computers.

More recently, print on demand has emerged as a profitable printing method. With POD, single copies are printed and shipped as individual customers order them. Furthermore, self-publishers can outsource distribution and fulfillment to an outside vendor and focus more on writing and marketing. POD titles can be restocked on a moment’s notice, and self-publishing authors don’t have to risk wasting money on unsold copies.

Because self-publishing authors retain a larger share of their titles’ revenue, they can take advantage of their leaner profit margins to get paper copies to their readers at reasonable prices. Pair POD with a primary ebook model, and self-publishing can thrive even in the middle of the book shortage.

Now, don’t forget about pre-orders.

Traditional publishers, authors, and booksellers are pushing readers to order in advance to more accurately gauge how many books to print and order and better plan around delays.

Self-publishing authors can also find much in making their books available for pre-order. The other benefits of pre-ordering stand, such as giving you time to do book promotion, allowing you to lock in sales before release day, and getting reviewers sooner.

On top of that, pre-orders can help readers receive an e-book automatically on release day or to shorten delivery times for physical books since you can produce and ship a physical copy beforehand.

Finally, the book shortage is one more opportunity for self-publishing authors to connect with readers. Some readers may not understand the book shortage’s severity, so you can use your social media platforms to practice transparency with why you may encourage them to be flexible with pre-ordering or buying ebooks.

If you’re honest about your situation, your readers will gain a higher appreciation of the publishing process, and your readers will be more invested in your career.

It’s easy to panic about the messed-up supply chain, but don’t let it scare you from self-publishing. The book shortage will remain in the short term, even as experts predict that supply chain congestion will decrease in 2022. The publishing industry has proven itself durable over decades of downturns, and it will survive the pandemic.

In the meantime, see the shortage as a challenge that will push you to grow as an author and a self-publisher. With a growth mindset, you can frame the supply chain problem as another interesting time in which to write and publish.

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