Publishing Supply Chain Disruptions

The impact of supply chain disruptions in the Covid era is proving to be a major threat to the book industry.

Every indication is that printed book availability, particularly for a product typically produced offshore, will unquestionably be more challenging in Q4 2021 than the comparable quarter of 2020. The fourth quarter is the make-or-break quarter for trade publishers and booksellers alike, and the potential damage to the industry could be unprecedented. What is behind these publishing supply chain disruptions? And how can publishers best mitigate the damage?

What’s Causing Supply Chain Disruptions?

Even before Covid’s onset, reduced capacity in the domestic book printing industry introduced severe delivery constraints, initiated by consolidation and post-acquisition capacity rationalization, and as a result, many publishers had begun to accelerate their move to specialist offshore printers in China and Eastern Europe. Covid simply exacerbated a problem that was already underway.

Many of the serious delays are caused by delivery challenges at both outgoing and incoming ports. The reasons for the current disruptions are well known, if not well understood, and result in delays that are felt by all participants in the book industry supply chain. Most notably, the independent book retailers and chains face existential shortages that larger retailers are better equipped to handle.

Additionally, Covid spurred sudden and dramatic labor shortages at every level of the publishing supply chain at home and abroad, resulting in extraordinary congestion at most major ports (outgoing and receiving) and skyrocketing demand on domestic transportation resources. Printers are finding themselves unable to fill orders due to a lack of staff. It’s clear that these issues will not be fixed before the 2021 holiday season, and supply chain experts are suggesting that our current experience is likely to be with us through 2022.

How Publishers Can Prepare for Supply Chain Disruptions

How are publishers and their supply chain partners contending with an environment in which the cost of a container has escalated by a factor of five? Where the queue of massive container ships, waiting to load and unload cargo at any major port is growing? Where even small, domestic print orders get canceled at the last minute? There is no simple answer.

Publishers must focus their management of priorities and make difficult decisions about what can and cannot be done to maintain profitability during this critical holiday – period. This applies particularly to publishers of four-color coffee-table and heavily illustrated four-color books that are typically printed offshore. Many retailers are attempting to accelerate pre-orders at the urging of wholesalers and distributors, but at times like this, there’s only so much that can be done.

From a publisher’s viewpoint, this has produced a cascade of publication date changes. Publishers have already been planning much further out on front-list titles and reprints for the holiday quarter. Here, a flexible ERP system can help in managing information and adapting to rapid changes in demand and delivery data.

How an ERP System Can Help Manage Crises

An ERP system can help to alleviate day-to-day questions of inventory availability, product costs, and the task of managing the changing publishing dates and incoming and outgoing product deliveries.

At this time, it would be valuable for a publisher to have a well-developed POD network, supported by an ERP system that can automatically use up all available print inventory and then switch automatically from offset printing to digital print on demand. POD is a necessary strategy for the long haul, and the ERP system can play an important role in such rapidly changing conditions.

A flexible ERP system can properly reflect landed costs and cost of goods sold for each title so that the back-end financial software can help publishers make those informed but uncomfortable decisions about which titles to prioritize and which not. A flexible editorial and book production system can help publishers remap the publishing plan after the delays have been identified, and new arrival dates from printers have been confirmed. An integrated ERP system can do both these things.

Just like working-from-home and other adjustments that Covid has forced upon us, there is no doubt that many of the lessons we have learned in these times will stick, and change the way that publishers manage their costs and incoming product deliveries. With over 30 years of experience in publishing software, knkPublishing offers a flexible solution that helps publishers manage crises in challenging times like these.