How are booksellers doing after last year’s supply chain snags?

It’s been a bumpy few years for book publishers and retailers. Demand for printed books soared early in the pandemic, as paper shortages and other supply chain issues hampered the business of producing them.

We heard last year that profitability declined during the industry’s most important time of year — the holiday shopping season. So how is it holding up now? I visited a store in New Mexico to find out.

Red Planet Books and Comics stands out on a retail block in downtown Albuquerque. A colorful space scene is painted on the front of the store, like the cover of a sci-fi movie graphic novel Store manager Aaron Cuffee said there was something else unique about the store.

“This is the most comprehensive and arguably the most impressive exhibition of indigenous comics anywhere in the world,” he said.

One of the newest book titles is A Howl – “it’s all about wolves, werewolves and rougarou,” he said. This is a shape-shifting monster that appears in stories from Metis communities in Canada.

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The book “is selling like hotcakes,” added Cuffee. “I just sent 12 of these today.”

These customers have been waiting for the book for a while. It was supposed to debut over a year ago, but its editor, Lee Francis, said it didn’t happen.

“It was pushed further and further back,” he said – until spring 2022.

Francis is co-owner of Red Planet Books. He also runs a small publishing company, Native Realities Press, that had to adapt to printing shortages caused in part by paper shortages early in the pandemic. The specialty paper needed to print comics and graphic novels is particularly hard to find, Francis said.

“It just made us adjust our timing. So mostly now, right out of the gate, we’re looking at – when we start pre-sales – that it’s going to be three months,” he said.

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For this werewolf anthology, the delays extended beyond what would have been a key sales window between Native American Heritage Month and the holiday.

It wasn’t the only victim, said Kristen McLean, an analyst at NPD BookScan.

“The worst-case scenarios had happened,” she said. “You saw things like books that were specifically tied to holidays not making it to the stores in time.”

Ahead of this holiday shopping season, McLean said some of these supply chain imperfections are smoothing out and the industry is adjusting to those that aren’t.

“The printers in the US are busy,” she said. “Publishers need to change their expectations of how long it takes to complete a book.”

For retailers, this means reducing customer satisfaction. Expectations, Cuffee said at Red Planet Books and Comics.

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“You know, it’s really important for us to let people know, ‘Hey, we ordered the books for you, but we just got a message from the publisher, the retailer. It won’t be here for six months.’”

Red Planet started ordering Christmas inventory in August this year to ensure they have enough on their shelves. It encourages customers to place their gift orders early as well.

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