As the holidays loom, book shortages abound. 'Preorder, preorder, preorder' – MetroWest Daily News

As MetroWest approaches its second pandemic winter season, curling up with a good book might be a balm for many. But finding the perfect tome to while away a snowy evening might be more complicated than it used to be — and require more forethought.
“Preorder, preorder, preorder. If you know that there’s a book on the horizon that you desperately know you’re going to want, call the bookstore. Email the bookstore,” said Mary Anne Coveney, book buyer at the independent Tatnuck Bookseller in Westborough. “Anything that’s new for, say, the holidays — I’m not getting any delays on what my initial order is. If I see an increase in demand before the book comes out, I’m pretty likely to get extra copies.”
But some books are having their publications delayed, and other books are one and done, Coveney said, meaning that once the shipment comes in, she might not be able to get more copies of a certain book.
Factors like being a Reese’s Book Club pick, for example, aren’t necessarily an indicator of popularity, and she said it’s sometimes difficult to restock “sleepers” — books that gain popularity a few weeks after publication.
“It’s a tricky game now,” Coveney said. “It’s causing me to try to be a mind reader, and order extra of what I think will be popular.”
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Supply chain issues, an umbrella term used for everything from lack of delivery drivers to a scarcity of materials, is hardly a new topic. But as the holiday season approaches, Coveney suggested customers put book buying higher up on the to-do list for shopping.
“We have not put any kind of email alerts out or social media because I guess it’s our feeling that most people know that there are supply chain issues,” she said. “It’s not really so much a book shortage, it’s a delay in printing. The books are still coming out as far as I’m concerned, it’s just delayed.”
Alyson Cox, owner of Marlborough’s Word on the Street, which sells mostly children’s books and gifts, said she hasn’t had as much trouble stocking books. But some of the store’s toys and non-book items, such as toy trucks made from recycled milk bottles, have been delayed or back-ordered.
“Every day people are saying, ‘I’m looking for something other than the Big A — we don’t say the word out loud in bookstores,” Cox joked, in reference to online commerce giant Amazon. “I’m seeing a lot people wanting to seek out local businesses to shop from.”
Word on the Street hasn’t been operating long — Cox was a librarian before opening the store on Main Street just over a year ago — so she’s not sure what’s typical for a holiday season. But she remembers experiencing some delays last year.
“Seeing that it’s taking longer than usual, I’m kind of like, ‘Oh goodness, we have to order now for Christmas,’” Cox said. “It’s just something we’re keeping in mind, but so far — knock on wood — not a serious issue.”
Nevertheless, Cox suggested potential Word on the Street customers order as soon as they can so she can make sure the store is stocked with everything everyone needs.
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“We carry most of the required reading for the local schools, so parents find that helpful,” she said. “We’re really well supported by our community. There’s not another store like this in Marlborough, so people seem to be really happy to see us here.”
She said puzzles and games are still proving popular, and she also has a selection of new releases in fiction and can special order anything if people are looking to shop locally.
Steve Bankuti, owner of FSP Books, which sells firefighting, EMS and police books in Hudson, said he hasn’t experienced too many delays. But, he said, he frequently sends things via media mail, and around the holidays last year, many orders arrived late.
“It’s tough for retailers that ship, but it’s a shipping economy now, so we have to do that,” Bankuti said. “Until we have our own courier service, like Amazon does, it’s out of our hands. We have to depend on the post office and UPS and FedEx.”
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Bankuti said he’s considering sending things by priority mail this holiday season, which costs more and might even mean he could operate at a loss — but could lead to fewer frustrated customers.
“It’s that or I have my ratings dinged as a seller,” Bankuti said. “People were tired of hearing about how it was the post office’s fault, but that’s what was happening.”
Lillian Eden can be reached at 617-459-6409 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LillianWEden.

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