The Christmas campaign is one of the key moments for the book industry to balance its accounts. And the traditional nervousness this year is joined by the consequences derived from the lack of paper or, hopefully, its delay. The tension is translating into both an increase in initial runs and a concentration of reprints to avoid the uncertainty of running out of material or having to queue at the printers and find themselves without copies to cover the campaign.
These are practices that have not been seen in the sector for at least a decade, which, thanks to the analysis of market data, were already making more tight runs and going to specific reprints. The anticipation and volume of orders from distributors and bookstores, as well as the increase in the presence of foreign publishers (mostly from France and England, but also from the United States), who seek Spanish printers to alleviate their same situation, stress as never the production of books, in a sector that already assumes a price increase by 2022.
Play it out. An increase in paper of 30% and a delay in its supply by the paper mills of almost four months, when the normal was three or four weeks, is today already an axiom in the sector. The domino effect was inevitable: “September and October we have had a certain traffic jam and our delivery time for a book has gone from about 10 working days to almost three weeks; we are already recovering ”, admits Elisenda Romanyà, from the historic Catalan family firm Romanyà Valls, which prints labels such as Anagrama and Acantilado / Quaderns Crema. It is a calendar very similar to that of large workshops such as those of the Navarra EstellaPrint, which reach 45 million copies a year: “Before we delivered in three or four weeks, today we are between a month and a half and two months and, moreover, with a lot of committed production ”, assures Jesús Uranga, its general director.
Its nuance is key: due to the fear of not arriving in time for Christmas, publishers, especially those of large groups or the most powerful ones, have accelerated the delivery of originals, something always more difficult to fulfill for small labels. And not only that: with such full calendars, placing a reprint seems like an impossible mission. “I can’t risk running out of books on December 5,” says Diego Moreno, editor-founder of Nórdica, who, following the celebration of the publisher’s 15 years, has just launched a special title for the campaign: The Guide Film Affinity. Brief history of cinema. It is paradigmatic of the moment: with more than 400 pages and a hard cover, “the initial expected print run was 3,000 copies, but I expanded it to 5,000 because I know that a reprint would not reach … Christmas ”, he assures. Without naming names, he claims he is “helping colleagues find printers to make their books.” The general feeling, however, is that there will not be as many problems in carrying out the planned programming as in reprinting highly demanded titles.
Moreno believes that his will not be a momentary decision. “The first semester of next year my initial runs will surely be higher and I will do fewer reprints; we will go back to old models, at least for a while ”, predicts Moreno. “As a specific strategy, it is as interesting as it is dangerous because the tendency is not to store; If you calculate wrong, the return can then be a burden ”, points out Eva Congil, general director of Anagrama. In their case, they have not opted to print more output, but rather to retouch, for example, the cardboard of a collection, since they anticipate difficulties in the supply of raw materials before the summer.
“If it’s a title that you trust, you have to be less cautious than usual when launching because we can’t reissue at the same speed; What you had before in eight or ten days, now it is two or three weeks and at this time you cannot risk it ”, assures Ofelia Grande de Andrés, director of Siruela. “Danger of return avalanche? That is always there, although you only do this with important bets and what you see is already being sold… But now the problem is more one of time than of quantities ”, he concludes.
EstellaPrint has confirmed “very recently” this increase in print runs, although “in very specific titles”, confirms Uranga. “The demand has been complicated for the printing press: while the novelties are planned in advance, the reprints are wanted now and it is not known when they will arrive; The unanticipated part of printing has increased a lot, which has been greatly helped by the demand from Amazon, more erratic with the titles that soar in sales and when ”.
The demand slows down. To the publishers’ fear of not having books has been added that of distributors and booksellers who, as in other commercial areas, stockpile in advance due to the lack of supplies. “We have distributors who have been telling us for weeks to order more copies because the reruns of certain titles that are not top but they work well, they can arrive after the Christmas holidays ”, they admit from a chain of bookstores in Barcelona.
But these requests are being made at a time when “the demand is beginning to slow down,” warns an executive of an editorial group who demands anonymity. Thus, if until just less than a month ago the sale of books had an unprecedented growth of 28% compared to 2019 (14% higher if compared to 2020), in recent weeks that rise “has faded to only 2 % “. The recovery of a certain pre-pandemic normality in leisure could explain the decline.
With the belief that demand will grow by mid-December (and that e-commerce will not be as powerful as last year), large publishers have increased runs and reprints to satisfy their customers. “If in 2020 we followed the market rhythm with three or four reissues, now we have anticipated and concentrated them and thus also optimize the deadlines for entering machines”, agree various editors.
The foreign ‘pressure’. Lack of supplies and transportation problems have brought to the fore a little-known situation that has worsened in recent months: the orders that Spanish printers receive from large foreign publishers, mostly French (with the big three at the helm: Hachette, Editis and Gallimard) and some Italians, but also English and Americans (Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). The requests of the latter are directed more to the pocket format, capital there the first months of the year. The sensation of the sector is that they have increased these months. “It’s logical: their warehouses are a day or two away from the printer’s truck,” notes an editor from a large group. “Fewer people today want to print in China due to costs that are already higher and because transport is delayed and has become more expensive,” reflects Congil. “The approach is not from now but from the last three or four years: book production is returning to Europe,” says Uranga from EstellaPrint, where 60% of the copies they print are for export.
Foreign orders tighten even more the chain of the book in that link. “Local printing returns and it does so when there are fewer printers and many have gone years without reinvesting,” says another editorial manager. “Between 2009 and 2015 in Spain many workshops have closed and the loss of competitiveness has been high; the graphic arts sector is a scarce resource in a context of lack of materials and editorial pressure because the book is doing well ”, sums up Uranga.
The psychological price barrier. “Everything has gone up: electricity costs, some plates that are made of aluminum, inks and glues; that apart from the paper, although in our case 90% of the publishers bring it under their arms and we only store it … The price increase in 2022 will be inevitable, between 7% and 10% “, predicts Uranga about a aspect that the sector avoids talking about. “It is fair enough, we need to pass on this increase in costs: since 2008 we hardly touch rates”, explains Romanyà, who recalls that “the large publishing groups even made us lower prices; now it cannot be postponed ”.
Runaway inflation and a slower economic recovery remind us once again that the book is not, for many, a basic good. “There is a tacit agreement in the sector that it does not affect too much, jumping the psychological barrier of the famous 19.90 euros is delicate, you leave the market”, admits Congil, who, however, is already considering an increase in the price of the book of “between 50 cents and one euro; margins will have to be reduced ”. The diagnosis is identical at the editorial top: “If they occur, the uploads must be very discreet and, in the case of fiction, very small,” they say from another large group. Moreno agrees: “I don’t think the market is willing to pay two more euros, jumping from 20 euros is dangerous,” he admits. As he acknowledges that he has paper left in reserve, “I have not yet paid for it at exorbitant prices, but I will notice it in the first half of 2022.” Strategy before it? “The programming I am not going to cut it, another thing is that I rethink the quality of the paper or the binding.” In any case, it is about resisting until June, the majority of a sector agrees, as few, resilient and particular as it demonstrated during the confinement.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.