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Austin book lovers be warned: Shop early for the holidays this year

Sarah Asch
Austin 360
Customers browse for books at BookPeople on Dec. 10, 2020. Staff are encouraging customers to shop early for the holiday season this year, in order to get ahead of supply chain issues that may affect which titles are in stock.

The American Booksellers Association has a message for book lovers as the holiday season approaches: Shop early this year. 

The pandemic has continued to cause disruptions in the global supply chain, including in the publishing industry.

“Booksellers and other retailers have been experiencing supply chain issues since the pandemic began, but this year's holiday season is anticipated to be even worse than last year's,” said Allison Hill, the association’s chief executive officer. “Shopping early will ensure that customers find what they're looking for and that they're able to find the perfect book to gift someone in time for the holidays.”

Hill said that the supply chain problems go beyond the publishing industry, but for books specifically, there are problems at pretty much every stage of production. There are paper shortages and a limited global printing capacity — both issues that predated the pandemic but have gotten worse in the last year, she said. There are also labor shortages at every stage of the supply chain that have caused shipping delays, especially for books printed overseas. 

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Meghan Goel, the children's book buyer and programming director at BookPeople, Austin's largest independent bookseller, said that these problems in the supply chain make it difficult for shops to keep titles in stock, as reprints of books are delayed and shipments of books that have been printed take longer to arrive. BookPeople’s non-book merchandise has also been affected by supply chain disruption, Goel said. 

“There are fewer printers printing books in the world right now. Many of those printers are in China, especially for full-color printing. There have been major delays in shipping across the globe," she said. “It’s a real challenge this year, and there are so many factors that nobody can control. ... If the books get printed at the printer, they are still often getting stuck in shipping pipelines. Everything is taking longer.”

Goel said that BookPeople is trying to get ahead of the holiday shopping rush by placing big orders on highly anticipated titles for the fall and winter season.  She added that it is hard to predict which titles will be affected. Full-color books such as picture books, art books and cookbooks likely will feel the toll, she said.

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If popular titles sell out, Goel said, restocking time might be delayed, which could affect the availability of new books by well-known authors including "Cloud Cuckoo Land" by Anthony Doerr, "Harlem Shuffle" by Colson Whitehead, "The Sentence" by Louise Erdrich and Amanda Gorman's upcoming poetry collection. Popular young readers titles that could be affected include a new "Dog Man" book, a new "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" book and a new Rick Riordan book, Goel said. 

Susan Post, owner of BookWoman on North Lamar, said her shop started seeing orders increasingly delayed in July. She said her plan is to order more books at a time and place orders less often, to compensate for the delivery times. She said that gives her less flexibility to respond to trends in what is selling well and might risk her ability to attract customers to the store. 

“You’ve got to hoard the books if you want to have them," said BookWoman owner Susan Post about challenges facing booksellers.

“For a year and a half, book stores really have been impacted,” she said. “You’ve got to hoard the books if you want to have them.” 

Some publishers also have responded to the delays by pushing back publication dates for new titles, which can cause its own problems for stores, authors and readers. 

Chuck Wendig, who has written several books, said the release of his debut middle-grade novel "Dust & Grim" was pushed back about two weeks to mid-October. Pushing back release dates can affect marketing windows, like the chance to have your new book promoted on book lists or in roundups. His book, for example, was timed to come out around Halloween, and any further delays might disrupt that plan, he said. Authors facing publication delays also might have to scramble to reschedule promotional events like book talks and signings.

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Goel said that BookPeople has been working with authors to shift event dates as publications move around this season, which can cause a bit of a scramble since the store typically maintains a full event calendar.

Wendig said he feels lucky to have an established readership and online following to promote his book despite the delays, which might not be true for debut authors who might be more affected as they try to market their new books. He said that as dates and events change, it’s important to get information out to readers and that is where local bookstores come in. 

“It’s where the value of independent bookstores really comes into play,” she said. “They are keenly aware of all this stuff and they are a local neighborhood person you can talk to. ... Independent bookstores and even physical locations of Barnes & Noble will be good touch points for authors and readers.”

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Goel said that in addition to shopping early for the holidays, customers should consider pre-ordering titles that will be released in the coming months to reserve a copy.

“Think about your fall needs now, think about your holiday needs now. If there’s something you know you want, come get it, reserve it now, pre-order it,” she said. “We are part of a national campaign to shop early and shop local. The great thing about shopping locally is if you come to talk to us and something is unavailable, we can help you find another great option.”