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Book shortage could impact holiday shopping this year

“Books are doing OK right now, but the closer we get to the holidays, the worse it's going to get"

Waiting until the last minute could leave you empty-handed this holiday season. Bookstores are the latest to warn of shortages over the next few months.

"The problem is multifold,” said Melissa Posten, the Director of Inventory at The Novel Neighbor on Big Bend Road. “First of all, there's a paper shortage. Paper mills have learned that cardboard is more lucrative, and with the increase in online shopping during the pandemic, they are printing cardboard boxes instead of making paper.

That problem is compounded by printers backed up due to social distancing and lack of workers. Then, you factor in the shortage of shipping containers, backups at ports on both coasts, and the lack of trucks and drivers to move products around the United States.

Since most color books are printed in China, that will specifically cause problems for children’s picture books, as well as photography and art titles. Graphic novels and manga will also be harder to find due to being printed in China, and a 250% increase in interest, which is partially attributed to binging their TV adaptations on Netflix during lockdowns.

“Books are doing OK right now, but the closer we get to the holidays, the worse it's going to get," Posten said.

While the pandemic is to blame for the issues, Posten believes it’s also responsible for the rise in demand for books.

“Paper books are more popular than ever, and I truly believe that’s because who wants to look at a screen anymore?” Posten said. “We just spent the last 18 months on Zoom, on Facetime, only seeing friends and family through a screen. The last thing you want to do when you sit down at the end of the night with your relaxing book is to curl up with your iPad.”

The Association of American Publishers says book sales increased 10% from 2019 to 2020. That growth is continuing in 2021, with sales showing a 17%  increase from early 2020.

The Novel Neighbor is preparing for holiday sales by evaluating recent monthly sales and past holidays, and stocking up on the most popular items. However, there is always some unpredictability that comes with the book industry. Celebrity endorsements and news program features drive interest for particular books that can make them hard to find. This year, social media is also playing a factor.

“The influence of TikTok can not be understated, especially in young adult and in fantasy and romance,” Posten said. “Every day we get somebody coming in for a book they saw on TikTok. It is absolutely the number one piece of social media selling books right now.”

Bookstores and publishers across the country are warning of the expected shortages, but also providing advice for your best chance at getting the book you want.

If the book you are looking for is releasing anytime between now and the holidays, pre-order a copy from your bookstore of choice. That’s especially necessary for books with pictures, like Paul McCartney’s upcoming book “The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present” and “Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide” from Atlas Obscura. Those are expected to only see one printing run before the holidays arrive.

If the title on your loved one’s wish list is already on store shelves, buy it now.

“There are books that are already in reprint, so they already sold out their initial print run, and because of all of the issues, the reprint won’t come in until after the holidays,” Posten said.

The closer we get to the holidays, the harder time you’ll have finding this year’s hottest reads, and you might need to change course.

“If you can’t shop early, just try to be flexible,” Posten said. “We know you found what you think is the only book dad might really love, but there are probably other titles, and any booksellers are happy to help you find those titles.”

Booksellers at The Novel Neighbor are sharing recommendations in a fun way. Customers can order Mystery Boxes and either pick them up or have them shipped around the U.S. The shopper selects a price point and provides a few details about what genre they are looking for. Employees scour the shelves for the best fits, as well as gift items.

Posten also recommends gift cards if you can’t find what you are specifically looking for.

“Our customers are generally very nice,” Posten said. “We don’t typically get yelled at by people, but we will have unhappy people, sad people, disappointed people.”

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