Global Paper Shortage Challenges Books Availability

By Tom Abadie and Marcello Filibeck

February 23rd 2022. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many people turned to books to stay entertained. However, this trend coincides with a global paper shortage, most notably linked to the increase in food deliveries and the global supply chain crisis. This development puts customers, publishers and book stores in a problematic situation.

Research by Global English Editing has shown that there has been a steep increase in people purchasing books worldwide. The report describes that, in 2020, lockdowns and social distancing caused 35% of the world to read more than before, with 14% of people stating they read “significantly more.” While many of these readers choose eBooks, there is an increase in physical book sales throughout the pandemic. Now that restrictions started lifting, and stores are opening up again, books sales are experiencing a new wave of growth.

However, since December 2021, there has been a growing concern regarding the supply of paper. With a steady decrease in readers over time, publishers were getting access to cheaper paper. With this sharp return to books, prices of paper and publish have gone up, while stocks have shrunk. In response, newspaper outlets and publishers have been forced to make staff and budget cuts, with other organisations shutting down altogether.

As reported by Financial Times this month, European print companies have expressed their concerns regarding these shortages. More companies are having to put orders on hold, while they wait for the situation to improve.

9to5 asked publishers how these shortages affect their activities. Mendo, a book store and publisher based in Amsterdam, told us that, while they are not currently publishing at the moment, they have noticed a price change in books. “Some prices are rising up to 5€. It really depends on the books, sometimes 2€, sometimes only a few cents,” Efther, a Mendo employee who did not share her surname, told 9to5. “Prices are going up for books, especially in the area that we buy,” she added.

Efther does not believe that there have been fewer customers in consequence, as the prices go up everywhere and the paper shortage reports have been in the news. This is the general consensus from the other book stores 9to5 contacted. “People understand, they read the story in the news. There is nothing I can do about it,” Roelf Barkhuis owner of the Barkhuis academic texts publisher told 9to5.

One of the biggest issues is the extended waiting time for when books are republished. With a newly growing community of readers, some books are selling out faster due to these shortages. “Some books are really high in demand. But when it is someone’s first book and they did not expect for it to go so well, then there is a shortage,” Efther explained.

9to5 spoke with Ingrid Sibum, bookseller and assistant manager at Boekhandel van der Velde in Groningen. She described the situation at her bookshop, outlining the main difficulties she and her team faced, especially near the Christmas holidays. The full interview is available below.

To get a book reprinted, in regular times, it would usually take around a week to ten days. These days, it is a lot slower. “I’ve had some (reprints) done in 2 weeks, but I’m also waiting for books which are taking three months or six months. But those are not done in The Netherlands,” the Mendo employee added.

This delay means that customers who want popular books are usually left waiting a long time while they continue “checking and checking and checking whether the book has arrived.” “I can tell them it’s arriving in two weeks, but now it often closer to two months”, the employee added. Disappointed, customers are left wondering why it is taking so long, even when they fully understand the paper shortage situation.

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