Holiday Demand Plus COVID-19 Disruptions Equal New Challenges for Indie Authors in 2021

The emails and articles started showing up a couple of weeks ago. First, there was an email from the team at Ingram:

This fall, the global publishing business can expect disruption in shipping, increases in costs throughout the supply chain, shortages in consumables used for packing and shipping, and shortages in manufacturing supplies for books and printed matter. Like many other companies that rely on warehouses, trucking, and manufacturing, IngramSpark expects to be challenged by labor shortages and transportation challenges. We expect to have difficulty finding available workers in many of our warehouse locations and manufacturing plants. We may also lack enough transportation assets to keep books moving at our typical speed.

The IngramSpark team outlined their strategy to deal with these disruptions and shared tips for authors and publishers, who were likely to be impacted. Next, there were emails about higher paper costs from both Ingram and Lulu. We expect to see more paper price hikes from other printers. 

Finally, there was a revealing interview with author Adam Croft from the Alliance of Independent Authors: “The Uneasy Relationship Between Ingram and Amazon.” Among other things, the interview shed light on Amazon’s “book not available” messages, which have been mysteriously appearing on authors’ Amazon product pages for the last year. If your book is published print-on-demand—which is how we publish most books here at Bublish—copies of the book should always be available because they are printed at the point of sale and demand does not rely on inventory. Spoiler alert: Amazon doesn’t seem to be telling authors the whole truth about who is at fault. Having dealt with this issue several times last fall, we can confirm that our team received the same explanations from Amazon that Adam Croft received. Those explanations appear to be questionable. We highly encourage all indie authors to read the article. It’s very educational and will give you a glimpse into what’s going on behind the scenes.

The publishing industry battled many of these same challenges last year and we had hoped for improvement this year. Unfortunately, things might actually be worse this fall. That being said, there is an opportunity to prepare this year, which wasn’t the case last year. To help the Bublish indie-author community plan for this year’s disruptions, we have some important tips:

  • Order Early. Printing and shipping times will be slower this year, so place your book orders much earlier. Last minute ordering is expensive, yet this year offers no guarantee that your book(s) will arrive on time. Also, if you can afford it, stock up on books so you have them on hand.
  • Have a Plan B. Expect unpleasant printing and shipping surprises. We’re already starting to see printing errors as understaffed printers juggle very high demand for books while facing staff shortages, paper shortages, and shipping issues. If you distribute your book through Bublish, we can go to bat for you to try to get refunds and replacement copies when warranted, but we can’t stop these problems from happening. We strongly suggest that you always have a Plan B just in case your launch or marketing campaign has to be delayed. If you’re not distributing through Bublish and are using a foreign printer, delays can be even longer. Here’s a good article on the situation from the September 3, 2021, issue of Publisher’s Weekly: “The Book Biz Tries to Avoid Supply Chain Disruptions.”
  • Don’t Change Book Files. When books are published, two files are uploaded: a cover file and an interior-pages file. One of the nice aspects of print-on-demand publishing is that you can easily change files to correct errors in your book, update information, or change covers. While we rarely recommend making such changes during the holiday sales season, this year we are strongly encouraging author to wait until the new year to swap out files—unless absolutely necessary. Every time you make a file change, you risk upsetting your book’s availability. During the pandemic, that risk has skyrocketed. We do not recommend that you gamble with your book’s availability—not this year.
  • Focus on Digital Formats. eBook and audiobooks are not experiencing the same delays as print formats. Utilize eBook price promotions and giveaways to increase sales and your book’s Amazon best-seller rank. For audiobooks, try distributing to a broader audience to expose your audiobook to new buyers in both the consumer and wholesale markets. 
  • Check Your Product Pages Frequently. In times like these, it doesn’t hurt to visit your book’s product page on all the major online book retailers to make sure everything is in good working order. This way, you can be proactive in spotting problems and getting them fixed.

Publishing isn’t the only industry facing such “supply chain” issues. Production and delivery problems are spread across many industries. These are tough times, but the good news is that book sales have been way up during the pandemic. People are reading more. To make sure your book remains available, we strongly recommend that you place book orders early, set up a Plan B, refrain from changing your book files, and boost sales of your eBooks and audiobooks. Together, we’ll get through the tough times and keep providing eager readers with amazing indie books.  

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