You might have thought 2020 was the year to end all years. A global pandemic, extreme politics, and a crashing economy affected every industry, including book publishing. But the reality is that our industry has been evolving every year — so COVID-19 was really just one more thing in a laundry list of changes and disruptions we’ve experienced in the past year. What’s next? Here are some of the book publishing trends you’ll see this year.
Supply chain issues still plague us
Most print publishers are already feeling the sting of some minor supply chain disruptions this year — and certainly experienced them in 2020. COVID-19 did a number on the paper supply chain, along with other commodities tied to the publishing process. We’ve seen the price of paper increase, along with the raw material costs of pulp since packaging demand is higher. This will probably not improve in 2021, and the recent port backlogs for cargo are not helping the matter.
Print-on-demand markets are accelerating, and the demand for physical books is still beating out the eBook. That’s because nothing beats the tactile sensation of holding a book in your hands — or at least that’s what a lot of customers tell us. So, while demand will continue to make publishers feel warm inside, the steady availability of paper and other commodities necessary to the printing industry will cause some consternation.
Adjust your turnaround times
If COVID taught us one thing, it’s that production needs more time because they’re the ones being squeezed by the supply chain struggles. There will be more pressure this year to meet deadlines (e.g., academic deadlines before the school year starts) as well as client demand, while still trying to adapt to supply chain disruption.
It’s a good idea to review your lead times to accommodate what we anticipate to be a challenging year for things like paper delivery. Talk to your suppliers about what mechanisms they have in place to help alleviate some of the risk with these supply chain problems. Internally, consider taking steps now to mitigate the risks associated with generally longer turnaround times.
Embrace on-demand run lengths
There has been a massive shift in publishing, illustrated by print run lengths. You may remember the days when lithographic printing required a run length of 5,000+ copies. Today, on-demand printing with modern printing processes has cut run lengths to as little as 100 — or even one copy to order.
Replacing traditional long-run lengths with efficient shorter digital runs is the new supply-and-demand mantra. The benefit for publishers is that they will be able to accommodate an entirely new client market. It’s also a win-win for printing companies and book publishers who can keep titles in print longer while eliminating inventory costs.
Facing the challenges
No matter how you look at it, it’s an exciting time to be in the book publishing and printing industry. COVID-19 may be challenging our supply chain, but the innovative ways book publishers are shoring up their offerings will help them thrive this year.