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"Don't Run Out Of Paper"

Sunday, July 28, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Brian O'Leary

In the mid-1980s, admittedly a while ago, my second job in publishing took me to Singapore. I moved there to oversee printing and distribution operations for a weekly magazine, with an office in the printing plant we were using.

I had only a year’s experience in publishing at the time. So, before I left, I asked one of my New York colleagues, someone whose career included time in a different printing plant, for advice. “Sure,” he said. “Don’t run out of paper.”

It proved to be good advice. At the time, Singapore was a long ways removed from the mills in Europe that made the paper for international versions of the magazine I worked for. Lead times were months, and there was a serious penalty for ordering too little or using too much paper.

I moved to Singapore when digital was starting to take hold. All of our editorial pages were created digitally, transmitted to nearly 20 printing locations each week, and converted to film only at the last moment. Barely a decade after I started, even film became optional.

Through all those changes, though, we still needed paper. The growth of customer-valued digital formats has changed some of the demand profile, but so far, only some of it. The digital landscape for magazines has changed more than it has for books, where more than 80% of the demand for trade titles remains in physical formats. And those books still need paper.

That’s not to dismiss the long-term trends. That long arc of formats does bend toward digital. Look at journals and weekly magazines to see how things might evolve. But we also have to produce books today, and those books are most typically still delivered as ink-on-paper physical products.

Capacity planning for printing and paper presents challenges across the supply chain. Over the past several years, a number of printers have been acquired or closed. During that time, overall capacity for producing book paper in North America has also dropped, a function of several macro trends, including growing demand for other types of paper, and shuttered machines.

Last fall, the book industry found itself struggling to secure enough printing and paper to deliver the books it had promised the trade. These shortages were chronicled in detail at the time, and we’ve continued to talk about the issues at BISG.

The opening “fireside chat” at our annual meeting in April addressed the many issues. In May, we worked with the Book Industry Guild of New York to bring together a group of industry representatives to talk about whether last year’s crunch could happen again (consensus pick: it could) and what we might do to address the issue.

In a couple of weeks, Janet McCarthy Grimm (Lindenmeyr Paper) will lead a BISG webinar on the current state of the market for book publishing paper. This is the third time Janet has provided us with an update of what’s happening in a dynamic, constrained, and global part of our business. The webinar takes place on August 10 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET. If you can’t make that window, signing up guarantees access to the recording.

No single conversation, meeting, or webinar solves a supply-chain challenge like access to paper. Each provides context that the industry can use as it plans both purchasing and production. Join us on August 10, and let us know what else we can be doing to help you not run out of paper.


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