When it comes to purchasing books for the upcoming holiday season, October is the new December, says Bob Dobrow, owner of Zenith Bookstore in Duluth.
That's because with the trickle-down effects of the supply chain crisis, there will be no guarantees that bookstores can keep in-demand books on the shelves. Between paper shortages, backups at ports, shipping delays and the global labor shortage, it will be harder and harder for booksellers to get their hands on books as the holidays approach.
“Almost at every level of the traditional supply chain for books, we’re seeing significant impact,” Dobrow said. “All of it is sort of a perfect storm for the book world.”
Dobrow said some of the most-impacted products are books that are printed with multiple, complex colors — like cookbooks, children's picture books and art books — because most of these books are printed in China. Jennifer Jubenville, store manager of the Bookstore at Fitger's in Duluth, said she's also faced extended delays with calendars, and said stuffed animals are hard to keep in stock and to restock.
Duluth children's book author and illustrator Deborah Marcero has seen the impact of the color printing delays first-hand. Her emerging reader series, "Haylee and Comet," had its first book release delayed by a few weeks in June. The sequel, which was originally scheduled to come out in September, was pushed back several times, and is now slated for a January launch. This consequently pushed back the release of the third book in the series, too.
“This is not personal; it’s happening throughout the schemata," Marcero said. "But it is slightly discouraging to feel like there are things out of my control. But also the books will come and they will have their life.”
She's had other books impacted, too. "The Boy Whose Head Was Filled With Stars," which Marcero illustrated, was released in January, but sold out quickly and was difficult to restock. The book's publisher, Enchanted Lion Books, was able to find a domestic printer, which saved several months of wait time for the restock, Marcero said.
“It can come out on publishing day, but if it sells out and people have to wait, it kind of misses its moment,” she said.
Local independent booksellers have struggled with restocks, too. Jubenville said she's able to make educated guesses about how many books to order, but sometimes a book will be featured on a talk show or book club list, and its popularity will spread "like wildfire" unexpectedly.
“Sales have been great, which is really good, but it’s making orders last less time when we do get them in stock, and we don’t have a ton of room for back stock,” Jubenville said. “I think we're going to have plenty of inventory, but as far as having the specific thing that someone is looking for, we can’t really promise that.”
Orders of new books and restocks can take months to be delivered, and the timelines of deliveries are frequently changed, so they can't always count on expected timelines. Dobrow said at a Zenith Bookstore launch event for local author Linda LeGarde Grover's book "Gichigami Hearts" earlier this month, the books didn't arrive until a few hours before the event.
Both Dobrow and Jubenville said they've been bulk-ordering books they expect to be popular, but those bulk orders take up precious store space that could be used for other merchandise.
"Where before we might order in the ones and twos, we’re now ordering in the 10s and 20s and 50s," Dobrow said. "That creates challenges. Where are we going to put them all?”
Dobrow said while Zenith Bookstore may look well-stocked now, with books piled high in any free space, he expects the shortages to begin to show in about a month. If shopping early or preordering an upcoming book doesn't pan out for customers, Jubenville and Dobrow said the staff at local bookstores are more than happy to recommend other options that are in stock, which is a service they feel large, online retailers can't match.
“We have a lot of experience with matching the person to a book,” Dobrow said. “If the book is not in, we can work with people to come up with a good replacement or alternative.”
Jubenville said in addition to personal recommendations, which can come in handy for hard-to-shop-for people, there is also a level of customer service independently owned bookstores can offer that makes shopping local worth it.