Worldwide paper shortage threatens holiday book sales

·2 min read
Paper is the latest commodity to be in short supply as buyers compete for the material used in catalogues, shipping boxes, wrapping paper and packing material. Now, bookstore owners are concerned they too will be affected, just as the holidays approach. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo - image credit)
Paper is the latest commodity to be in short supply as buyers compete for the material used in catalogues, shipping boxes, wrapping paper and packing material. Now, bookstore owners are concerned they too will be affected, just as the holidays approach. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo - image credit)

Renewed interest in reading, a dip in recycling and surging transport costs are all behind a global paper shortage, and readers risk paying the price.

Bookstores usually stock up as the holiday season approaches, but Philippe Sarrasin, owner of Verdun Bookstore in Montreal, says he's taken extra precautions.

"We are stocking up even more this year, because we were warned that many titles would likely go out of stock faster than usual."

The number of books sold in Quebec rose by nearly 30 per cent between April 2020 and April 2021, taking paper companies by surprise. Because of the seemingly dwindling interest in buying printed books, some businesses had pivoted to packaging paper while others had stopped operating altogether.

"During the pandemic, people began to read, which no one had expected," Serge Loubier, president of Marquis Imprimeur, said. "The demand [for paper] increased and supply fell at the same time — the perfect storm. It is very difficult to get paper right now."

Soaring prices expected

Although paper mills might be running at full speed, competition between Canadian and American printers remains fierce.

"In my 40 years of experience in the field, I have never experienced anything like it ... and I don't think, my grandfather, my father ever experienced that either," André Gauvin, director of Imprimerie Gauvin, said.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

Quebec publishers who print in Asia also came up against the spike in costs for container transport.

Sarrasin says West Coast forest fires over the summer caused further shipping delays.

"There were books that arrived late because the train wasn't running anymore because of the fires," he said.

Élodie Comtois, commercial director at Éditions Écosociété, says publishing houses are scrambling to adjust to the demand.

"We have to make decisions very early on, with very large print runs, so [taking] big risks, while hoping we're not making a mistake," she said.

The additional expenses risk could affect the price of books.

"We buy more expensive, we sell more expensive," Sarrasin said. "Unfortunately, that's the case in almost all situations. Consumers will ultimately have to foot the bill."

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