Global paper shortage threatens holiday book sales

Renewed interest in reading, declining recycling and soaring transportation costs are all causing a global paper shortage, and readers stand to pay the price.

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

“We’re stocking even more this year, as we’ve been warned that many titles will likely run out of stock quicker than usual.”

The number of books sold in Quebec increased by nearly 30% between April 2020 and April 2021, taking paper mills by surprise. Due to the seemingly waning interest in buying printed books, some companies have turned to wrapping paper while others have gone out of business altogether.

“During the pandemic, people started reading, which no one expected,” said Serge Loubier, president of Marquis Imprimeur. “Requirement [for paper] rose and supply fell at the same time – the perfect storm. It’s very hard to get paper right now.”

Expected price spike

Even though paper mills are running at full capacity, competition between Canadian and American printers remains fierce.

“In 40 years of experience in the field, I have never experienced anything like this… and I don’t think my grandfather, my father experienced this either”, declared André Gauvin, director of Gauvin Printing.

Canadian pulp and paper mills compete with their American counterparts. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec publishers printing in Asia have also been faced with soaring container shipping costs.

Buckwheat says wildfires on the West Coast over the summer have caused further delivery delays.

“There were books that arrived late because the train was no longer running due to the fires,” he said.

Élodie Comtois, commercial director at Éditions Écosociété, explains that publishing houses are scrambling to adapt to demand.

“We have to make decisions very early, with very big draws, so [taking] big risks, while hoping that we do not make a mistake,” she said.

The risk of additional expenses could affect the price of the books.

“We buy more expensive, we sell more expensive,” said Sarrasin. “Unfortunately, this is the case in almost all situations. Consumers will ultimately have to foot the bill.”