Concerns for independent publishers amid soaring print costs caused by ‘perfect storm’

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Publishers say they are grappling with increases of up to 40 per cent in printing costs due to a “perfect storm” of factors including Brexit and the pandemic.

Robert Davidson, managing director of Highlands-based publisher Sandstone Press, said the most damaging thing is the uncertainty.

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He told Scotland on Sunday: “Right now, we have uncertainty, because who is going to decide that the prices go up?

“If we and other small publishers put our price up now, and larger publishers manage to hold their prices down because they are printing in much bigger numbers for very successful authors and television series and celebrities and the like, will the public keep on buying our books?”

Mr Davidson believes a rise in the price of books is inevitable, adding: “The question is when and how much.”

He said: “Prices are too low. As a country, we do not value our books. We do not value our literature. Look what we’re doing to our libraries, it’s everywhere.”

Mr Davidson said: “We’ve done two reprints since this broke, and one has come in at 4 per cent higher than the previous pricing.

“The most recent one, which we’re going through right now, is at 6 per cent more. Now, that’s actually quite a lot.”

Laura Jones, publisher at Dead Ink and co-founder of Edinburgh-based 404 Ink, told trade magazine The Bookseller that she had been faced with a 40 per cent increase when she compared the cost of a print job in October 2021 with one in January .

She said such a rise could “throw a number of publishers into loss or eventually closure.”

Robbie Guillory, a literary agent who previously worked in publishing, said he had clients whose books have been delayed due to a paper shortage.

He said there had been a “perfect storm” of issues contributing to the problem.

He also believes the price of books will have to rise.

Mr Guillory told Scotland on Sunday: “Margins are already so tight for publishers, when you think the price of a paperback hasn’t really gone up for the last 20, 30 years.

“A paperback costs the same as two Christmas cards from Paperchase or something.

“I don’t think that we are paying the real value for books at the moment.

“If you look at the price of books in the US or in Australia, the prices are much higher than here.”

He said small publishers may have to increase the price of books, while larger publishers “can probably withstand this” and absorb costs.

He added: “I worry for them, I do worry for them.

“I think we need to pay more for our books, because they’re worth more.

“It’s not just going to affect the publishers, it’s going to affect so many other people as well – the authors will be really hurt by this.”

Marion Sinclair, chief executive of Publishing Scotland, said rising prices remain “a significant worry for this year”.

She added: “This, coupled with Brexit difficulties relating to selling into the EU, and the impacts of the pandemic, are making things very difficult for small and medium-size publishers in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

“The retail price of books have remained static for some time and represent amazing value – readers in the UK enjoy low book prices in a fiercely competitive market – but this does mean that publishers’ margins are getting squeezed, and this will have a chilling effect on what they are able to commission, and their terms for writers.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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