116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Supply chain issues continue to wreak havoc on many industries, including the retail sector. The latest on the hit list — book publishing.
Corridor bookstores said they are preparing for a potentially challenging few months as we head into the holiday shopping season.
“The whole publishing industry is very concerned with being able to get books to us for the holidays this year given trucking industry problems, paper shortages and a shortage of shipping containers for books that have been printed overseas,” said Jan Weissmiller, co-owner of Prairie Lights in Iowa City.
“As a result of supply chain staffing challenges, we’ve been told we can anticipate shipping delays the closer we get to the holiday shopping season, and that some titles may be on backorder for an extended period,” added Bart Carithers, owner of Next Page Books in Cedar Rapids’s NewBo District.
This is due to a combination of factors — as in many industries — including a paper shortage from increased lumber costs, the increased production timelines related to COVID-19 protocols at both printing presses and in shipping warehouses, a shortage of shipping boxes, and shipping delays internationally and domestically.
Talk of these challenges first started in late summer, according to Terri LeBlanc, co-owner and operations manager of Swamp Fox Bookstore in Marion.
“Our publishing reps are telling us that there's going to be some issues getting things in, and that for some books that are in high demand we would be sent our stock for the holidays but that there would be a chance we wouldn’t see it again once we sell out,” LeBlanc said.
“For more complicated books, like a six-color recipe book for the holidays, it’s possible that once supply is exhausted the book won’t get a reprint.”
The challenges extend to the warehouses where they are experiencing high demand as well in terms of workforce.
“Last week, I called about some books we had an order that had not arrived yet and I was on hold for an hour,” LeBlanc recalled.
Some adjustments are being made to help ease the challenges, however.
“The publishers are working with us to help make it affordable to order early by extending billing times and discounting orders placed earlier than usual, and we are hopeful we can stay on top of the ordering,” said Jan Weissmiller, owner of Prairie Lights in Iowa City.
She added staff is encouraging customers to place orders now for the hot titles to be published later.
This can be a big shift for small retailers, however.
“In years past, I felt comfortable placing smaller orders throughout the holiday shopping season confident the store would receive books in a matter of days,” Carithers said.
“Due to the supply chain concerns this year, I’m placing substantial orders now to ensure we’re not scrambling for books come late November and December.”
He said this is placing a significant financial strain on the business, forcing Next Page Books to approach the holidays from a much different angle.
“I’m speculating on what my customers will be looking for which aren’t necessarily New York Times bestselling books,” he said.
“If I’m lucky, I will have made the right book choices and the right quantity. Time will tell.”
Carithers noted that because the store occupies a small space with very little storage capacity, he’s also scrambling to find places to store that additional inventory.
At the very least, independent bookstores know that at least they aren’t facing the challenge alone.
“I suspect all independent bookstores are strategizing on how best to approach the fourth quarter,” Carithers said.
As for solutions, book retailers are encouraging — now more than ever — that shoppers shop early when trying to cross off items on those gift lists.
“Last year we promoted October as being the new December. We’ll do the same thing this year,” Carithers said.
“If customers know what they want now, they should pop in and make their purchase or place a special order if we don’t have the item in stock.”
“We are encouraging customers to come into the store to browse whenever they can,” added Weissmiller. “Our well-read staff can recommend things they might not know about.
“We have a huge selection of books and it is not just the well-reviewed books that are exceptionally good and relevant.”
“If there is a special book you are looking for, come in for it now as things can take six to eight weeks,” LeBlanc added.
“We can’t guarantee that if you want until the last minute we can get you what you want. And please don't get angry at us or blame bookstores or any other small business because we're doing what we can to try to get the books.
“If you see something that you think somebody might like for Christmas, snag it now.”
LeBlanc noted independent bookstores work together as much as possible, too.
“Don't feel like you're taking business away from you from us if we say, ‘Why don't you call Dragonfly Books in Decorah?’ or ‘Have you checked with Bart downtown at Next Page?’
“We're trying to help each other as much as we can during this time and you are still supporting local small businesses.”
Carithers also pointed out that gift cards are always an option at local retailers that way customers can come in and shop when some books may be available in the new year.
“At the end of the day, I’m hoping folks will be patient knowing we’ll do our best to get what they want prior to the holidays,” he said.
“In many ways, I’m approaching the fourth quarter with the same mindset I had in spring 2020 when we were closed to in store traffic for three months. Take it one day at a time, innovate as needed and survive.”